For the past 17 years, Tim Serban has served as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Yet, he doesn’t deliver food, water nor even relief supplies like thousands of his volunteer counterparts across the country who drop everything in times of crisis to help those in need. Instead, he provides help through spiritual care.
“We ensure the whole person is supported,” said Serban. “We walk alongside both those who are impacted as well as our volunteers who are spending weeks on end supporting those in need,” said Serban.
Today, nearly two weeks following devastating floods in Louisiana, more than 2,400 people continue seeking shelter in Louisiana through the Red Cross. Tim is working tirelessly to help coordinate spiritual care teams on the ground where rain flooded much of the state with more than 6.9 trillion gallons of water.
“This is a big, big disaster,” said Serban. “This is one that I think rivals Sandy and that is one of the largest disasters we have experienced.”
It’s a little known fact that the Red Cross even deploys Spiritual Care teams during times of disaster – but Tim says it’s a critical part of the response and recovery process and offers tremendous support for those suffering.
During times of crisis, disaster spiritual care volunteers often find that people need more than food, water and shelter. These are often the worst days of their lives, and volunteers find that those who have lost so much typically seek spiritual meaning and comfort.
“We help to orient them in disaster shelters,” said Serban. “We provide support that is appropriate for each person as they request it and work to meet the short-term spiritual needs of those directly impacted by disaster.”
“Often, people in shelters will be reaching out trying to find a way to connect to their faith community,” said Serban. “They may be displaced altogether from their geographic community, and they may have a need to have support. So if they have a particular faith tradition, then we do all we can to help connect them to their ministers and their pastors.”
Sometimes a volunteer will offer to pray with those suffering, whether individually or communally, and sometimes it’s enough to simply provide a listening ear and compassion.
“There is the Christian tradition, there are those who are Buddhist, those who are Muslim, those who are Jewish,” said Serban. “Each tradition has their respected rituals and processes.”
Tim says they also work with community faith-based leaders who want to offer support, however he says it is important for anyone entering shelters to be respectful and appropriate.
“When we are in those shelters, it is as if we are walking into their rooms in their homes,” said Serban. “We have very specific areas that we really want to make sure continue to be respected as their sleep area.”
Spiritual care volunteers respect the Fundamental Principles of the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The principles ensure that services are provided with neutrality and impartiality in a way that supports the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering.
“We ensure that we are supportive of the whole person, body, mind and spirit,” said Serban.
Residents of a Red Cross shelter praying on Aug. 13 at a shelter established for those affected by flooding in Louisiana.