The devastating chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio, has raised concerns for local residents about lingering contamination of drinking water, groundwater, and air. Local officials encourage individuals to reach out to their local authorities, the state, and the EPA to get their homes tested for air and water quality to ease their fears and confirm that their properties are safe. Others are concerned about the impact to local wildlife as well as what appears to be potential contaminants that have entered tributaries of the Ohio River.
Questions still loom even as we watch the state government, the EPA, and Norfolk Southern Railway collaborate with local officials to respond to immediate concerns, restore the community’s sense of security, ensure their safety, and help the community recover. Why did this happen? What needs to be done? And how do we live in a world in which disasters happen, yet we know we have a loving God?
There’s so much that is beyond our control, but there are ways we are called by God to live in the midst of crisis. Here are some particular, and paradoxical, steps we can take to live in a chaotic and unpredictable world.
Be Shrewd as Snakes, and Be Innocent as Doves
When Jesus sent out his disciples, he said he was sending them out “like sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:15-16 NIV). Someone who is shrewd sees the world for what it is. They are able to discern and judge what’s really happening under the veneer of “everything’s alright, there’s nothing to see here.” They are perceptive, calculating, and astute. They are called to act with intelligence. As Christians, we have an obligation to shine the Light into the dark corners, where dishonesty and disaster might lurk, to call for truth and for justice.
And yet Jesus also calls us to be innocent, as innocent as doves. In seeking justice, in speaking up for the defenseless, in standing up for the truth, we’re also called to do no harm, to be as harmless as doves. This form of nonviolent resistance stands up for the truth and protects people without injuring others. The Norfolk Southern Railway should be focused on being a good steward of the community they’ve been running through, and are now trying to clean up. Their efforts need to include meetings with a community that is afraid in order to be good partners, and many of us can help encourage that.
One of the best examples in the Old Testament of this kind of intervention is the story of Esther and Mordecai. When Mordecai learned about the plot to destroy the Jews, he sought the help of Esther, who thought if she tried to intercede for her people, she’d be put to death.
But Mordecai replied, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14 NIV).
Esther decides to go to the king, and in doing so, she is able to spare the lives of many. As Christians, we have to be people of trust and discernment, sniffing out the truth like a sniffer dog and then going boldly forward to advocate for change. In doing so, we may save lives.
Don’t Worry, and Be Prepared
Joseph warned about the coming famine and helped Egypt prepare so that their people wouldn’t starve over the course of the next seven years… and Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow. He even told a parable in which a man built barns to save his crops, only to be told his life would end that very night.
How can both of these be true at the same time? Doesn’t God want us to take care of our families, to be responsible with our resources?
The difference between Joseph and the Parable of the Rich Fool is motivation. Joseph was in a position to decide how to portion out a great harvest in Egypt, and the rich man in Jesus’ parable also had an abundant harvest. Joseph stored up resources for the good of the people. The rich man stored up his surplus grain for his own good, and no one else (Genesis 41:47-54, Luke 12:13-34 NIV).
Jesus condemned the rich man and proceeded to tell his disciples not to worry about their lives, “For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (Luke 12:23 NIV). “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (Luke 12:29-31 NIV).
God doesn’t want us to live in fear, but God also calls us to love others, care for the poor, look after the widow, and respond to the needs of the least of these. In order to be able to do those things, we have to be prepared.
Christian Schauf, founder and CEO of Uncharted Supply Co., offers four pillars of preparedness to empower people during times of unanticipated emergency. Not only does the company provide preparedness supplies for moments like these, but a newsletter offers continuing education on these pillars. (Sign up here.) These are: resources, resourcefulness, mental and physical strength, and community. For Christ followers, all four of these pillars stand on the mighty rock of Christ.
Don’t Grow Weary, and Take Heart
Paul wrote to early Christians in his letter to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NIV), and in the Gospels, Jesus promises us that “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
There’s a lot of good that needs to be done for people everywhere, for people in Turkey and Syria, for people in East Palestine, for people in Ukraine, and for people in your own backyard. Next week, there will be more people in more places affected by disasters. It’s easy to become weary of the work that has to be done. The foundation of the love of God in Christ Jesus is essential to continuing to persevere during times of duress.
Ultimately, what sustains us is the hope and promise of Jesus. Jesus has overcome the world. In him, we are more than conquerors. Nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:36-40). Our faith in his love carries and renews our strength everyday, to continue the good work of loving our neighbors.
Here are ways you can help the people in East Palestine recover from this disaster. Visit United for East Palestine (Ohio) Public Facebook Group for the most up-to-date needs of the community in East Palestine.
•The Brightside Project https://www.brightsideprojectohio.org/
•The Way Station http://www.thewaystationinc.org/
•First Church of Christ and Community Action https://cocep.org
•T-Shirt Campaign https://www.bonfire.com/united-for-east-palestine160/
•EP Firemens Association, PO Box 101, E. Palestine, OH 44413
•E. Palestine Community Foundation, PO Box 42
East Palestine, OH 44413 About – East Palestine Community Foundation
•Social Concerns, 375 E. Grant St., E. Palestine, OH 44413.
•Community Action Center https://caaofcc.org/
•River Valley Organizing https://www.rivervalleyorganizing.org
•Salem Salvation Army 1249 N Ellsworth Ave, Salem OH, 330-332-5624