Wandering Through the Wilderness

As a disaster case manager, Paulette Obrecht sees her most important role as wandering through the wilderness with survivors. She explains. “You show them that someone cares about what happened, and that allows them to move beyond despair towards hope.

“To do the job, you must listen; then, you listen some more. You help them find the missing pieces. At the same time, you prepare them on how to be ready if disaster strikes again.

“This role involves a curious mindset and a little serendipity. Throughout, you’re asking questions, networking with others, and learning what’s involved with recovery, such as the technical aspect of engineering a bridge. Then, you make a discovery, an unexpected connection, something that will help a survivor move forward. And at times it feels like the answers come out of the blue.”

She’s finding that relationships and networking lead to other survivors and resources.

“While working with Pastor Mike at Prince of Peace to help a church member replace a private bridge, we discovered three additional bridges that were washed out by summer floods.

“I’ve observed that Lutheran Disaster Response and its partners in Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are adept at finding volunteers and resources, including funding to help survivors recover,” she adds. “Government agencies also recognize VOAD’s value. In addition to resources, these grass root organizations come to the table with idea people who can solve problems.”

Paulette’s background in education has prepared her well for disaster case management. She intuitively knows the right questions to ask and how to pull a thread to dig deeper. With her professional training as a pastor and hospital chaplain, she’s also able to provide spiritual care to survivors.

Looking toward the future, Paulette sees an opportunity to motivate young people to get involved with disaster prevention, recovery and mitigation. She plans to suggest that Youth Gatherings within the local Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) focus on disaster work as part of their baptismal call to get involved with justice issues.

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