WHO are these good Samaritans?

Hey Ryan, we feel your pain.

That’s my first response to the reader who contacted GetReligion concerning a CBS News report on the Joplin, Mo., tornado relief effort:

This story was just beyond weird and frustrating as you can’t help but want to yell, “Who are these strangers showing up to help?”

Check out the headline and subhead on the piece:

Strangers flocking to help Joplin residents

84-year-old Joplin widow benefits from the kindness of total strangers as she rebuilds after the disaster

Not only are the mysterious helpers strangers; they are total strangers.

Ryan said his favorite paragraph from the report was this one:

About 30 volunteers suddenly appeared one day, and they lifted Mary’s furniture and her spirits for a while. But when there is so much need, help has to keep moving.

Ryan’s commentary on that graf:

This makes it sound as if people are like clouds and just appear out of nowhere. What brought these people? This might even be worse than a religion ghost behind it all, as I am left wondering in general what the motives are of these people just suddenly showing up to help strangers.

Just the other day, I scratched my (bald) head over tornado coverage by CNN that nailed the religion angle in the written version of a story but totally ignored God and faith in the video report.

In this case, I clicked the embedded CBS video to see if it matched the story Ryan called to our attention. In fact, the video itself helped answer some of the perplexing questions — as much as CBS tried to ignore them.

A soundbite from one of the volunteers says:

We prayed that morning that if there was a need that we would know it, and God works these things out.

Hmmmmm, does it sound like — just possibly — there’s a faith angle here? The woman quoted has a son who’s wearing a green T-shirt that appears to display a Scripture on the back. Again, hmmmm …

In the same video, many of the “strangers” who show up to volunteer are wearing orange T-shirts. The writing on the front of the T-shirts says, “Samaritan’s Purse.” I do believe that Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical Christian ministry with disaster relief experts and volunteer teams on the ground in Joplin. Even the video fails to mention Samaritan’s Purse, but you can’t miss the T-shirts … or the volunteers giving the older woman a Bible and asking to pray with her.

My, my, my.

Hey Ryan, did I mention that we feel your pain?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    This imbalance of coverage directly feeds public perception. If all we read and hear are the misdeeds of priests and ministers, there is an impression formed that nothing else exists.

  • Ryan K.

    Thanks Bobby for the post about this.

    I try not to impugn the motives of journalists and realize they have tough jobs, but I just do not think it is asking to much to ask “why?” of these total strangers just showing up to help out.

    As you mentioned with the telling shirts, it seems the writer has to go out of their way in order to avoid what might be motivating these helpful strangers. I can only guess as to why they would want to avoid on reporting the motivations of the strangers…

  • Chris

    The entire article has an incoherent feel to it–as if some of the piece had been struck out or space limits prevented necessary expository sentences. However, the sudden appearance of “30 volunteers” suggests organization, and I suspect the name of the organization would have been the price of a simple question.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    the press routinely ignores the volunteers and religious organizations that help after every flood and tornado.

    Samaritan’s Purse, being evangelical, of course would be an invisible man…. not even the presence of the Palins working with them to clean up after tornadoes earlier this month in Alabama didn’t get much publicity,LINK and usually the press reports everything about Sarah…

  • Philip Ferguson

    Remember the Haitian earthquake? The first help came from CRS, Catholic Relief Services. They have been on the island nation for years. No mention of them or their help from CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC. Brian and Catie, were you not observant? We should pray for the secular media – throuhout the world.