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The Lessons of Katrina 08/31/2006

James Robison visits a neighborhood destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

As the nation reflects on the first anniversary of the worst domestic natural disaster of the modern era, I am sickened by the ongoing finger-pointing, denial of responsibility and general foolishness on the part of so many politicians and news reporters. Have we learned anything?

In the weeks following Katrina, I wrote about the response to those in need. In retrospect, these words still hold true:

"Even as the local, state and federal government struggled to engage in rescue operations, the churches across the nation were already in action. On the ground in devastated states, pastors and church members coordinated their efforts to take basic necessities to those in need. Outside of the affected areas, churches and parachurch organizations rounded up resources and manpower to send into the Gulf region. But beyond meeting physical needs, people of faith reached out to provide something the government cannot, by purposed design, provide: the comfort and compassionate touch of people who care." (The Church's Finest Hour, September 15, 2005)
A few days after Hurricane Katrina hit, LIFE Outreach International shipped truckloads of relief materials to the Gulf region. I personally flew into Picayune, Mississippi, just across a saltwater bay from New Orleans, to oversee and document the distribution of our donors' relief provisions to the region. We drove into neighborhoods destroyed and cut off from the outside world. I was told time and time again that we were the first ones to offer any assistance. A few months later, in a meeting with 500 area pastors, I was told that our organization and a few other faith groups were not only the first to provide real relief, but also, in many cases, the only ones. We not only provided fresh water and food, but also chain saws enabling workers to reach those cut off from aid by fallen timber. Little things do mean a lot.

In a free society, the government should play the role of protector, inasmuch as humanly possible, but not major on the role of provider. "Compassionate conservatism" is a great re-election slogan, but government should never be the most effective conduit of compassion. That's the role of people.

It stands to reason that the most compassionate people would be those who ascribe to a worldview of "love thy neighbor." Therefore, the church and parachurch organizations are best positioned to carry out most of the aspects of disaster relief. It's no surprise that the most effective crisis-relief organizations are those with religious roots: Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and so on.

When people help one another, the recipients tend to view the aid as a favor and they're grateful. But when government helps, it's viewed as an obligation and it's never enough. Certainly never soon enough and always misuse of funds.

We will experience more natural disasters, perhaps even worse than Hurricane Katrina. According to TIME magazine, 91% of Americans live in places at a moderate-to-high risk of earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, wildfires hurricanes, flooding, high-wind damage or terrorism.

If we depend on the government to save us, we will be disappointed. Even in the wake of the destruction in the Gulf region, elected officials continue to prove their incompetence. The "Bring Back New Orleans" Commission decreed that "all neighborhoods be included in the timely and simultaneous rebuilding of all New Orleans neighborhoods." In other words, hurry up and build the houses back on sand, below sea level, still unprotected. Such ineptitude illustrates the foolishness of relying on the government for wisdom, protection and, in the event of a disaster, rescue.

Wise and caring people not only count the cost, but diligently seek to protect property and, especially, people. Secure the building sites, before the reconstruction starts. Clean up now, then rebuild at the right time.

Our hope, as a nation and as individuals, does not lie in government. It lies in the people -- especially those people who are the church.

Author: James Robison

Word Count: 655

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at

Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.