Wednesday, September 3, 2008

When a storm hits

For two years now I have gone to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi to help with rebuild efforts. The first year was stark. There was very little open and only a few homes that were in decent shape. There were a lot of vacant lots, felled trees, and damaged roads. To return the second year offered a lot of hope, namely, for what the churches have been doing to restore the Gulf Coast to a state of "normal". Last April, I was very encouraged to be able to drive through a neighborhood and think to myself, "this area looks like nothing even happened." That was a really good sign.

Then this morning I heard word of how Hurricane Gustav slammed the area. When I'd return from mission there were always people who balked at those who would return to the gulf coast, they had no understanding for such a cemented concept of home, one where you simply couldn't leave, it was what you knew and loved, and it was the only place that makes sense to live. I would regularly find myself explaining people's connection to the land and how they thought we Californians are crazy for staying in the land of earthquakes, mudslides, and fires.

I myself rarely questioned the people's desire to stay and rebuild...until today. It's hard to see nature challenge your work all over again, to see pieces of it washed away, as if it were inconsequential to begin with.

Being a theologian and a practicing social advocate I was promptly reminded that the damage of Hurricane Gustav is a metaphor for what happens in the work of the church. We dedicate time and energy and money into helping someone get sober, or get out of an abusive situation, or get away from gangs, or...and often we will begin to see signs of hope and then another storm will strike and it will wash away so much of our labor, making it seem as if it were inconsequential. And it's heart-breaking and hard. And yet the call is not to walk away because it broke our hearts, but to keep working because we believe the seeds of hope are more important and that if we could achieve some semblance of normal once, we could do it again.

When apathy or despair or frustration win, then hope loses and so does the Kingdom of God. But I think a lot of people stay away from these types of ministry because they don't want to be disappointed, they don't want their hearts broken, and yet if we can hold out long enough and remain dedicated in our efforts, we'll find that the rewards are far greater than we might ever have imagined.

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