(Belle Chase, LA)- When traveling Highway 23 through Plaquemines Parish, one might expect to see homes, farmland, and businesses. There is the occasional ‘cattle crossing’ sign every few miles on the divided four lane road, warning drivers of livestock on a casual stroll. There’s flooding in areas like Port Sulpher and Ironton, visible from the roads. Cemetaries, with overturned and cracked crypts, stained by watermarks from standing flood waters.
What you might not expect to see is a Pastor, praying and chatting with people, as they wait in their cars for a bulk distribution of disaster relief supplies. In the sweltering Louisiana heat, Captain Jamaal Ellis leans toward the window of a vehicle, and begins to pray. He is praying for purpose, guidance, and God’s direction. It is a request the driver made- despite the long road ahead following Hurricane Ida, the people in the car have a spiritual need that Captain Ellis can provide. God’s Word and comfort.
“Man, I needed that word,” the driver said as the car window rolled up slowly. A brief glimpse down Highway 23 shows a line of cars and trucks, each patiently waiting to turn onto the parking lot of Greater Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church for a drive-thru distribution of cleanup and hygiene kits, laundry detergent, masks, food, breakfast boxes, MREs (Meal Ready Eat), water, ice, children’s toys, toddler kits, and infant kits. While the material need is being met, Captain Ellis adjusts his hat, and begins the mile long walk to minister to the emotional and spiritual needs of survivors.
As the Emotional and Spiritual Care Officer on scene for this disaster, Captain Ellis says his role is to “bring a holistic approach to serving; we will meet the need for meals and supplies, but we are also here to help people through the emotional and spiritual toll disasters have on them.”
Ellis says, “When a hurricane hits, things are shifted, shaking, and broken down. Structures can crumble, but the foundation is immovable. As Emotional and Spiritual Care Officers, we remind people that things may look dismal right now, but let me point you back to God, who is with us through every storm, every challenge.”
“There is an unmet need that we didn’t realize. I see it in people’s eyes through tears and smiles-there’s a fullness.” Ellis says this deployment has been a blessing to him because he has had the privilege to take time with the people being served.
Captain Ellis is also responsible for providing emotional and spiritual care to members of the disaster relief team. “The reality of a disaster is that things shift and change daily, you’re working straight days, and long hours away from home. ESC brings us all together, it brings cohesiveness, and most importantly, reminds us that the work we are doing is not for us, but for God.”
Captain Ellis says he was able to support the emotional and spiritual care needs of hundreds of people during Thursday’s bulk distribution. In response to Hurricane Ida, Emergency Disaster Services crews have made 19,560 Emotional and Spiritual Care contacts with survivors.