My wife Lise and I flew down to Louisiana in order to help with the relief efforts for people who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These hurricanes ravaged not only the city of New Orleans but also many other cities along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The damage, as many of you saw on T.V., was incredible. Total destruction of entire parts of the city. Thousand of people left homeless or without use of their homes for months. Many hundreds died as a result of the terrible flood (20ft.)
Those who were there said that it was as if an atomic bomb went off - the destruction was so bad. Just north of New Orleans there is a community called Mandeville and there is a church of Christ located there called, the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ with about 200 members. Although this area suffered a lot of damage from the storm (trees falling on houses/water and wind) the church building was not affected.
Tammany Oaks members had just built a new church building and was about to dedicate their new church when the storm hit. The day after the storm several members began organizing a relief effort and transformed their brand new building into a warehouse for food/water/and other supplies that were given out to people who had been affected by the storm. As the days went by churches from all across the U.S. began to send food, money, cleaning supplies, medicine and other goods to the church for distribution. All new that had been purchased.
Some of our friends who are members of this church asked Lise and I to come and help out so we flew down for 10 days to join other volunteers who came from all over to serve this church in its hour of need. When we got there this is what we saw:
- Each day trucks filled with donated supplies arrived to be unloaded and stored in their auditorium.
- Over 100 volunteers worked to classify, pack, and distribute the goods. They slept on the floor between boxes, or in classrooms; showered outside; ate in the church kitchen.
- Each day hundreds of people from different parts of the city and state would come for food, medical attention, water, counseling, or just a simple hug.
- Some volunteers went into city with chainsaws, Mops, brooms, to either clean people's homes or remove trees that had fallen on their homes or cars.
And all of these supplies and services given away for free in the name of Jesus Christ and His church. The time that Lise and I were there it is calculated that the church gave away over 1 million dollars in food and equipment - all donated by churches of Christ from the U.S. and Canada. Lise's task was to work at filling orders at the counter and working in the office on the computer.
- Because I have a bad back and cannot lift heavy things, I was put at the door and processed people as they first came in for help.
- This means that during our time there I spoke to and interviewed over 500 people about the effect that these hurricanes had on them and their present needs.
v This experience taught me some very important things that I'd like to share with you this morning.
Things Katrina (and Rita) Taught Me
1. Ordinary People Are Very Brave
We pay money to watch Hollywood actors pretend to be brave, but I witnessed true bravery in Louisiana. For example, The Tammany Oaks Church lost ½ their members in one day as people lost homes, jobs, were transferred to other cities. And yet they chose to organize a relief effort that would require twice their membership to succeed. They "trashed" their brand new building by converting it into a warehouse and dormitory for 100 workers. This is faith in action, this is courage, this is bravery!
Also the people who came in everyday for help were very brave. People who had lost their jobs, their homes and everything in it were smiling, patient, in line, hopeful, and still trusting that God was good and would help them. This is bravery at the highest level because they had every reason to complain and be bitter. I learned that courage is demonstrated in ordinary people continuing to do ordinary things while going through terrible suffering and loss.
2. The Potential of Women in Ministry
One of the interesting things about this benevolence project is that it was mostly led and organized by women in the church. The elders blessed the effort to begin with but it was a sister (Janet Hines) who was put in charge. She had experience in organizing these types of things and has done a fantastic job. In addition to her, other women filled key positions in coordinating finances, volunteers, deliveries, medical assistance, etc.
Yes there were men there doing all kinds of tasks but the women had most of the key roles. The wonderful thing that happened however was that when Sunday worship was organized (They moved boxes and set up chairs and a pulpit) the men took leadership of the public service - just like the Bible teaches. I observed a beautiful balance of shared responsibility with the sisters taking the lead in an important work of the church and then the brothers taking the lead where the Bible directed them to do so. What impact the church would have if we could unleash the power of women in ministry. My experience in Louisiana taught me that it is possible to do this without crating conflict in the church, and without compromising the teachings of the Bible. All that is needed is humility and submissiveness by both men and women.
3. God's Ways Are Really Not Our Ways
The newspapers said that the churches were able to bring assistance to victims four days ahead of the government services. The U.S. is the most powerful and wealthy country in the history of mankind yet a little church of 100 people was able to organize itself and begin serving the disaster victims and 4 days before the government. Humans make speeches, raise money, send in the military but God works in the hearts of men.
The government can't make you want to serve, but the Spirit can move one person to influence another to serve as He did with us through the e-mails pleading for help written by Janet's husband, Doug. In times of crisis God not only helps the victims but He manages to mature the volunteers through their service (No government can do that).
And in times of chaos, God can bring order - as we saw at the church where each day brought overwhelming problems that were resolved through His grace and the wisdom He gives to those who serve Him in faith. In the end I saw no wasted effort, every little thing being done was contributing to the overall good of both victim and helper. My experience taught me that God is present in all stages of His work and helps us take every step of our journey in serving Him.
We're back home now, and it all seems so far away. Back to our comfort and routine. But the lessons learned there will remain with me here at Verdun.I will not forget:
- The potential for courage that resides in each of us and I will encourage that in you.
- The power that women have for ministry and I will encourage our sisters here, to aspire to greater works of service.
- God's ways are so far above our ways. I will always seek His way first, and in everything.
Let's pray for our brothers and sisters at Tammany Oaks and their ministry.