|Over the next several weeks, critically acclaimed author Connie Neal will be contributing to CBN.com with an exclusive semi-weekly column devoted to the aftermath of and spiritual recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
dealing with disaster
Jesus on a Roof Top: Devastated and Displaced?
By Connie Neal
They stood together, seemingly alone in the path of the approaching storm, on an immovable rock that protruded out into the ocean. Turbulent winds ripped at their clothes; waves crashed about them with unbridled fury. Heavy clouds advanced from off shore like a lumbering herd of dark misshapen animals, picking up speed, pounding earth and sea with each thundering hoof-beat. The menacing force came bearing down on them as if taking aim at all they had accumulated in life. Lightning broke through the darkness like the talons of a concealed predatory bird readying itself to fall upon its helpless prey; great shadowy wings seemed to beat the air above their heads. The leaves escaped nearby trees and raced away. Dirty branches and broken palms raced past, skittering across the ground as if whispering a warning. The storm was at hand. It was too late to run, so they stood together, the man behind the woman, encircling her with his arms. I viewed this scene from above. It was only as I awoke that I realized I had been dreaming and that the man and woman I saw facing the approaching storm were me and my husband.
My dream on the morning of January 15, 1989 turned out to be prophetic; within moments of waking from it we received a phone call that set in motion a circumstantial flurry of events that almost destroyed everything we held dear. My husband and I both lost our jobs, for months we had to depend on the kindness of friends and fellow Christians just to survive. We received groceries on our doorstep, medical care that was covered by those who felt led by the Lord; we had to accept charity – which was very humbling – even to provide school clothes for our daughter entering kindergarten that fall.
We eventually had to give up our home and move far away from family and friends in order to get the help we needed to put out lives back together. However, we were blessed that those God had appointed to care for us in our extremity were careful to guard our dignity while taking care of basic needs.
As I watched newscasts of the approach of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, thoughts of this dream recurred to me. I have never been through the physical devastation that came upon those in the hurricane’s path, but I have been through a catastrophic storm of life that left us in need of the love of the church, left us temporarily poor, left us far from home, and in need of basic necessities of life. Perhaps that was why my heart went out to the people I saw suddenly stranded on their rooftops or escaping by boat, or disoriented in some new town, dependent on the kindness of strangers and extended family members.
Surviving our catastrophic storm and rebuilding afterward left me with compassion. It showed me how powerful God’s love demonstrated through his people can be to restore that which life’s storms have destroyed. It also left me with lessons about how to minister to those who’ve been devastated and/or displaced. This can apply to anyone who has gone through severe difficulties and has to start over in a new place.
We in the body of Christ need to prepare to reach out to people in such situations. They need the love of God in action more than most, and they will be receptive to our kindness much more than those who have their needs covered on their own.
Even in the Old Testament God made sure to cover such situations in the laws handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. God declared, "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Further on, the Lord declared, “`If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.” (Leviticus 25:35)
The key point here is what Jesus also declared: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
If we let the golden rule guide us in how we treat those in need we will know specifically what we should do. For example: Would we like to have to dig through sacks and sacks of clothing trying to find something that would fit us and our children after losing everything? No, of course not; therefore, we should take care to give clothes to those in need, but give it as if you were giving to a friend. Don’t give clothes you would not wear yourself: soiled, worn out, torn, or stained. Wash the clothing, hang it up on individual hangers. Sort it by size and style. Let the person receiving it have the dignity of knowing that someone took care in the way they prepared the clothes. Pray over what you give and the people who will receive it. This makes a tremendous difference to those receiving it.
When people “become poor” it is usually a shameful experience, even if it was caused by something entirely out of their control. Try to imagine what it would be like if you were unable to support your own family, unable to provide the food they need, the school clothes or supplies. Even though there has been a tragedy that may have brought on temporary poverty there can still be a stigma attached in the eyes of others, especially among children and youth. Therefore, let us consider how to provide for immediate needs but along with our help provide hope that the time will come again when that person or family will be able to provide for themselves. For example: If you take someone in need out to dinner and you notice they seem to be uncomfortable receiving your kindness, you could make a simple comment that someday they will be able to return the favor. This respects their dignity and offers hope for the future.
Many churches across the country will be within reach of those devastated and displaced by Hurricane Katrina. This is our opportunity to love them with the love of God and Project Church Welcome is helping to make the introductions. However, even if you live far from hurricane survivors, there are people within your community who have been devastated or displaced by life’s circumstance. Why not let the concern over hurricane survivors stir up compassion in your heart to put yourself in their place and respond by treating them the way you would hope to be treated if you were in such a situation. When we do so, the world will see the love of God made manifest, much good will be done, people will be helped, and God will receive the glory.
Connie Neal is the author of dozens of Christian books and contributor to several Bible projects including the Kids’ Devotional Bible. Her book Dancing in the Arms of God includes the story of how her family lost almost everything over fifteen years ago and how the love of God demonstrated through caring individuals in the church helped miraculously turn their lives around. God has restored much more than was lost, and opened doors to see their God-given dreams come true.
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