I cannot help but compare this flow of volunteers and the dispersion of them to my childhood when I was taught to irrigate a field on my family’s farm. In Wyoming one of the major ways to get a field watered is to “flood Irrigate” the field. This was how I grew up irrigating, though now we have several pivot sprinklers which help in the irrigation process. When we irrigated a field we had a ditch at the top of the field where our water would run. When we wanted to water a section of the field we would place a canvas dam into the ditch stopping the flow of water thus “flooding” it out into the field. This process had to be timed properly and a lot of preparation was put into place before we would ever stop the water from flowing down the ditch. We had rows in the field we wanted the water to go into and we had tubes which would funnel the water to these rows. We had to first dig the rows up to the ditch with a shovel so when the water would flood out it would have a place to go. We had to place the tubes out (one per row) so when the time was right we could set the tube to flood that particular row, and we had to place checks (smaller dams in the ditch which would slow the flow of the water) so we could set the tubes. My Dad would tell us, “The important thing is getting the water to the end of the row. We do all of this work so when the water gets here it can get to where it needs to go, and help the plants it is supposed to help.”
The tubes had to be the right size because a tube which would channel out too little water would never get the water to the end of the row, and a tube which was too large would flood out of the cultivated rows wasting water and causing erosion to the field and chaos in the irrigation process. The checks had to be placed in the ditch properly to slow down the speed of the water so the tubes could be set and channel the water all day. They also had to be placed so they would allow water to move down the ditch to the other tubes and checks until it reached the canvas dam. Every bit of water was used in the irrigation process, and every bit was provided a path to take to get to the end of its respective row. Hours of planning and preparation as well as sweat and sun burns went into getting the field ready to be irrigated.
Once the dam was in place it was a mad scramble to get the tubes set, and the water channeled into their rows. With the water flowing into the field all that was left for us to do was simple maintenance. We would fix any breaks in the rows, clear any debris from the row blocking the flow of the water, and adjust how much water was flowing into the rows. We would make sure it was working on its own before we would move on to a new field. Though we left the field for the day the water would run all day on its own, flooding down the rows until it reached the end of the row. The soil would soak up the water and the plants would receive the help they needed to survive and grow. If we did not do all of the preparation to the field, when a dam was placed in the ditch stopping the water it would flood out uselessly into the field drowning the plants which received too much water and starving the plants which were far away. The water would be wasted, the field would be a destroyed, and the crop would be lost.
The work we did in collecting data for the Tornado relief was very similar to this process of irrigation, but instead of water, we had people. With the hundreds of people “flooding” into Alabama on May 7th we were going to have an abundance of help, but they needed to know where to go. Eventually they were going to reach a location which acting like the dam would gather the volunteers into a large area. All of the organization, and all of the planning was akin to digging rows in the dirt, placing the tubes in the proper location and preparing the field to receive the water. Once the volunteers were here they were turned loose through the proper channels to particular locations. Like the tubes which controlled how much water the row needed, we were controlling how many people would go to a work site. Some sites needed more people, some less. The area I was part of was just one field of the many which were flooded with help this past weekend.
Armed with chainsaw’s, gloves, sunscreen, and water bottles the Mormon Helping Hands went out into Alabama like a flood. Yellow t-shirts washed over downed trees, broken fences, and blocked roads. Within hours whole trees would be removed, roads would be opened, houses would be covered in tarps, and tears of gratitude would be shed. Over and over this process was repeated throughout the weekend, as more and more “Helping Hands” embraced the tired hands of homeowners who had lost hope of receiving help in their time of need. Other hands would rush out to help and join forces with the Helping Hands, and in turn we all became His hands.
“A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: ‘You are my hands.'” President Dieter F. Uchtdorf “You are my Hands”
One could not help but feel the power of God sustain us as we worked from sunrise to sunset. The work was hard, and the conditions humid and hot, yet none of that seemed to matter. We were doing a good work, and we felt fortified against the elements. We were an unconquerable crew of “captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens,” and throughout the sunburns, blisters, sweat, scrapes, headaches, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, and heat we were a happy set of Mormon Helping Hands.