We care. We really do. We care about flood victims and refugees and tragedies around our globe that leave people homeless and vulnerable. But what can we do? What matters most? Christine Beebe shares her thoughts and offers a nudge to action.
By Christine Beebe
Dressed in long pants, boots and an orange t-shirt, I suddenly realized I was drenched. As I breathed behind an N95 dust mask, my glasses kept fogging up, distorting the world around me. My hair hung soggily in my face, and I kept trying to push it back without using my gloved hands. I imagined I must look a bit like a drowned rat as the sweltering heat and humidity took its toll. Everything was wet - and then it started to rain again.
Rain. Merciless rain. It had fallen in record numbers, causing rivers to overspill their banks, filling up cities like bathtubs, forcing people to flee by boat. They said it was a 1,000-year flood. It had left nearly every building in the region soaked through and through.
The house I was standing in had taken on nearly 8 feet of water. Imagine a home filled with a toxic stew of water and sewage, and once drained, left to bake in the heat of the Louisiana sun. Soggy, putrid and now molding, every possession had to be carried out and discarded. A lifetime of memories now sat unceremoniously dumped by the driveway.
The owner of the house was an elderly man. He had spent his years here collecting comic books, John Wayne memorabilia and family photos. His wife's clothes still hung dripping wet in the closets and folded neatly in drawers. He left to visit her in the nursing home while we worked. She wasn't expected to live much longer, and so he didn't tell her about the flood. He wanted her to remember the home they had built, filled with love and laughter and children now grown. He would shoulder the burden of picking up the pieces alone, except for the strangers who had shown up to help gut the house.
Driving through the surrounding neighborhoods, it was obvious his was just one story among thousands. The streets were lined, house after house, with the possessions of each family. There was the piano that would never be played again, the wedding dress never to be handed down, and the priceless heirlooms that were now worthless.
In August, I watched the stories of these families unfolding in Baton Rouge's historic flood. While the national media was largely silent, social media had become a lifeline for so many. They turned to Facebook to tell their tales of rescue, as well as search for hope and help. I joined dozens of groups, trying to provide information to people who were desperately searching for missing loved ones or lost pets. Often it was like searching for a needle in a haystack. The scope of the disaster was beyond imagination. It quickly became apparent that social media wasn't enough.
When tragedy strikes we are quick to post a note of sympathy or prayer on social media. Even in the most heinous of events, we turn to memes to "Pray for Paris" or Orlando or Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, we have no real impact on the lives of people in their time of need.
Flying south to volunteer in Baton Rouge, I learned that what people need most is not our sympathy, money or thoughts - though all of those are appreciated. What they really need is us. They need the Church to show up and be the hands and feet of Jesus. By being present, we can be part of the miracle that God works in the midst of someone's darkest days. Jesus meant what he said in Matthew 25:40, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me." And he meant for our "doing" to be more than posting a social media meme. The need in Baton Rouge is far from over. With more than 140,000 homes impacted, the cleanup and rebuilding process will be a long one.
Perhaps you can go to Baton Rouge, or support others who are going to provide the essential ministry of presence. Or you may not be in a season where you can go to Baton Rouge. Well, I'm pretty sure there are needs next door to you, around the corner or over the office cubicle wall ...
Christine Beebe is the scheduling producer for an internationally recognized radio ministry. With a passion for exploring the world, she is the writer behind Red Wolf Adventures. She resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado.