Disasters—A Time for Acts of Love
By Awake! correspondent in Jamaica
On the average, the world is hit with 26 major disasters per year, with floods taking the lead. They are the most frequent, disrupting the lives of millions of people each year. How would you react if a disaster—large or small—struck your area? Would you show loving concern for others? Would you know how? Perhaps the following story may help.
“WATER, water, the Rio Minho River is flooding! Everybody wake up and run. The river is overflowing!” Frantic voices shouting in the early morning hours of June 6, 1986, snapped Tony Burgher and his wife to attention. This was no false alarm. They hopped out of bed, grabbed their 3-year-old son, and scrambled to the roof. Tony and his wife were not alone in their exodus.
Many inhabitants of the southern section of the island of Jamaica woke up to find muddy water swirling under their beds. What had happened? The hills that rose above the Plain of Vere had heavy, continuous rains for many days. The runoff had raised the level of the Rio Minho River to the point where the river broke its banks and spilled tons of muddy water onto the plains.
The dawn revealed scenes of desolation as the rampaging floodwaters swept through homes, washing away furniture and sometimes entire houses; drowned farm animals; destroyed agricultural crops; and deposited thick mud in the homes not destroyed. Some villages were isolated because of the destruction of roads and bridges. Victims had to be rescued by fishing boats and military helicopters.
The Witnesses at the Watch Tower branch office in Kingston were concerned about their fellow Witnesses in the affected areas. So on the following morning, three members of the Branch Committee traveled by car to the worst-hit area. After many detours to avoid floodwaters, they contacted an elder of one of the congregations in the flooded region. He led them to the home of Tony Burgher, a special pioneer minister. Tony and his family had by then left the rooftop and were sheltered in a nearby public-school building that was being used as a relief center. Tony reported to the committee about the rest of the affected brothers. After a quick assessment of their immediate needs, arrangements were made with elders from a nearby congregation to supply the flood sufferers with food. By five o’clock that afternoon, a supply reached them.
On Sunday, the second day following the flood, an appeal was sent to all the congregations in Kingston to help with food, clothing, and drinking water. The response was prompt, and needed supplies arrived in generous quantities at the branch. By that afternoon a truckload of donated supplies was dispatched to the flood victims.
Acts of Loving Concern
The contributions sent to the branch exceeded by far the needs of those who suffered loss. A 13-year-old handicapped son of a Witness, upon hearing of the disaster, donated his entire savings of $160, U.S., to the branch office of the Society to be used for relief. Another thought of their spiritual needs and donated a Bible wrapped in plastic. “Many eyes filled with tears as we saw the gifts of mercy from our brothers,” said Tony.
One week after the flood, a group of Witnesses returned to the flood area to clean up the homes that were filled with mud and to bury dead animals. In the volunteer group was a sister with one leg. Though she was handicapped, love moved her to travel 60 miles (97 km) to help her spiritual brothers.
The floor of one Kingdom Hall was covered with mud three feet (0.9 m) deep. The brothers, though, knowing they must ‘not forsake gathering together,’ worked late into Saturday night—the day after the flood—to have the hall ready for Sunday. (Hebrews 10:25) How happy they were to see that 16 were present for the meeting on Sunday morning!
Reaction to Acts of Brotherly Love
The government of Jamaica organized relief for those affected island-wide and also organized a national clean-up campaign, but the speed with which Jehovah’s Witnesses moved in to help their spiritual brothers and interested persons clean up their homes caused one observer to remark that “the Witnesses worked faster than the government.”
“Imagine,” one woman confided to her Witness neighbor, “they brought you drinking water all the way from Montego Bay [more than 100 miles (160 km) away]; they are really loving!” The unbelieving relative of another Witness, on seeing the concern and love displayed, remarked: “I don’t believe in their way of worship, but one thing I have to say, They are very loving.”