When your whole community has been devastated by a flood, where do you turn for help? Insurance and institutional help is important, but complicated, slow and often inadequate. Neighbors are in the same situation you are in. Volunteers are willing to come and help, but after the initial response the volunteer stream slows down dramatically.
Just after Christmas in 2004 many countries were hit by a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands and people and destroyed the coastal communities almost entirely. In Sri Lanka, over 30,000 people died in minutes and close to 400,000 were left homeless. The Methodist Church has been established in Sri Lanka since 1814. It provided an incredible and years-long response to the coastal communities and the people who had lost everything.
Near the city of Batticoloa on the eastern coast of the country, a refugee camp was occupied with thousands of displaced people. I had the privilege of accompanying one of the Methodist pastors there who had interviewed candidates to receive a home built by the Methodist Church’s relief effort. He took me through the refugee camp and into the surrounding country. Their church team had put forward a dozen people to receive a home. Among the recipients was a
former Tamil child soldier from the ongoing civil war whose home had been washed away. We met an older Muslim woman whose refuge was a mud hut in the middle of a swamp. None of the people this pastor and his church put forward were Methodists.
As I traveled back to the capital, I asked the General Secretary of the Methodist Church about the young pastor and his church. He told me, “Their church building was washed away in the Tsunami and most of the church members also lost their homes. The pastor and his family are living in the refugee camp as well since his parsonage was destroyed.”
“Why didn’t they ask us to help build homes for the church members?” I asked.
“Steve,” he said, “They have each other to depend on and to get through this together. They also have the whole church to rely on to get through it. The people they put forward were people who have no one to help them, no one to advocate for them. If they aren’t the church for those people, who will be?”
There are years of rebuilding and grief to endure after a community wide disaster. Just as Jesus came to join us in our brokenness and weakness, so the church is best the body of Christ when we are for people who have no one to accompany them in their brokenness. If we aren’t the church for these people, who will be? Will you help Louisiana recover? Go to www.la-umc.org to offer your help.