Voices: Partnering beyond the storm

Photo: Ken Camp

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In the aftermath of the devastation on the Gulf Coast, Houston and the surrounding areas will be under reconstruction for months and years to come. Events like this evoke questions such as “How can a 500-year flood happen three times in a decade?” and “How can a city of this magnitude be restored in such a way that is fair to citizens who do not have the money to rebuild?”

As we saw in the wake of Katrina, rebuilding after a natural disaster does not always happen in a way which is just. In a different time, we would have space to defer these questions, of what it means to build our infrastructure well and how to rebuild in ways which do not erase those without the money to rebuild. That time is now, and Christians of all persuasions should learn from the past that it not be repeated in south Texas.

After the rescue and cleanup, our collective hearts will be called to another longer and more arduous task: recovery. It will occur long after the news cycle has turned toward another disaster and will take place in mundane spaces—in board meetings and in midnight work details. But it is a work which Christians should commit themselves to, remembering those who will be eventually forgotten in the news cycle.

What your church can do

In this time, I’d like to specifically draw our congregational attention to the groups who make the local recovery possible: the myriad nonprofits and churches, who themselves have been devastated by hurricanes and floods. My friend, Elizabeth Grasham, has put together the following wonderful proposal, which I will simply quote here:

“This level of disaster can be an ‘extinction level event’ for small non-profits, including churches. If the constituents of a small non-profit have to divert all of their income towards rebuilding, or if they are forced to move altogether because of disaster, that hits the bottom line of the organization.

“Here’s my challenge to you:

“If possible, have your congregation choose one of the affected churches in the Houston area (or Corpus, or Port Aransas, or wherever) to become affiliated with. Maybe you send $500 a year to keep their food pantry going. Maybe you pay for their Sunday School curriculum for a year. Maybe you commit to a yearly mission trip to be of service to that church and its community. Whatever – become a long-distance supporter of their ministries to help them stay afloat during what is going to be a protracted recovery process.”

‘A wealth of generosity’

In the middle of 2 Corinthians, Paul asks the fractured, embattled Corinthian church for a huge favor, writing “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia;  for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. … Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others” (2 Corinthians 8:1–2, 7-8).

What Paul is asking here is nothing less than asking a frail, fractured church to give to another congregation in need, one that they have never met, and one which they may never personally have contact with. And in that, they prove their generosity, exhibiting the unity of the body of Christ. What he is asking for goes beyond a one-time gift, but partnership, commitment to another unknown body that will bind them together long after the immediate rescue is over.

Long-term partnering

The Texas Baptist Men Disaster Relief is an amazing group which gives selflessly, but I am asking that churches not let this outstanding group be their only representative. Consider partnering with a church you have never met in a tangible, long-term way, that the witness of Christ in the world would not be extinguished by the storm.

Such an action is more than charity—it is fleshing out the very prayer of Jesus that we would be one, a unity which exists in Christ but which we are ever called to embody in the world in our worship, and now, in our finances.

Myles Werntz is assistant professor of Christian ethics and practical theology and the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene. Email him at Myles.Werntz@hsutx.edu.

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