Finding Hope in Katrina’s Wake

The news is horrifying. It gives little cause
for hope…but for the actions of caring people who are demonstrating that
openness to other human beings can be redemptive and healing.

My daughter’s voice on the telephone this morning trailed off in tears. She said, “Dad, these people are too poor to be able to leave town. They don’t have savings. They were just left behind. What will they do? What can I do?”

I’ve felt the same feelings and asked the same questions in too many places to remember–Mogadishu, northern Kenya, Ethiopia, Indonesia–to recall but a few. Now it’s here in the United States. Who could believe it?

A disaster like this lays bare what is overlooked and invisible under normal conditions. In our day-to-day traffic it’s easy to look past those people who live at the margins, those who are unable to move about because of lack of mobility or money. Clearly when Jesus spoke of ministry with the least of these he had in mind those brothers and sisters among us who are most vulnerable and also least visible. I think this is why he specifically spoke of the poorest and most vulnerable as if he is incarnate in them. It’s because we overlook people too easily.

In virtually every major disaster it is the poor who live in areas prone to flooding or other natural destruction. They live in housing that is less substantial. They don’t have the transportation to flee, nor the money to pay for transport. They lack insurance and their jobs are the first to go away in a disaster like this.

But, sad as it is, that’s not the whole story.

I spoke with Bishop Janice Riggle Huie in Houston yesterday and the Texas Annual Conference has taken upon itself the feeding of those persons re-located to the Astro Dome for a week. They have also allocated a significant amount of money to assist internally displaced people. She said she has lost count of how many churches have opened their doors as shelters for the homeless.

I’ve been receiving reports throughout today of United Methodist institutions, camps, assembly grounds, local churches and individuals taking in displaced persons. One facility in Houston is receiving 106 mentally challenged individuals from New Orleans on Saturday.

A small church in Arkansas is providing shelter to 30 persons. A large church in Houston is caring for 375.
I’ve heard of conversations already underway about finding longer term housing for the displaced.

This is the other part of the story, the reason to hope. I hope because people are opening their hearts, minds and doors to others. They surely know that this is not a short-term commitment,not something of this magnitude. We hope because through interaction we will learn from each other, grow in understanding, make new, lasting relationships that will strengthen community now and in the future.

There will be difficult days ahead. Temporary shelter will not be sufficient for families to start over.

But the seeds of hope are sown. In Katrina’s wake we are seeing the face of Jesus.

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