"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
As I watched the continuing coverage of Katrina's devastation on CNN last night, I had a powerful feeling of familiarity. As the neatly-groomed reporters described the people living in fear, hunger and squallor, the inability of the government to maintain order, the people left dead and dying because there was no one to help or even a place to put them, it became more and more clear.
I have seen this somewhere before -- many of us have. In fact, more than one billion people live like this every day -- with no food, no schools, no electricity, no access to proper sanitation or safe drinking water -- many living in political instability and in fear of random violence.
We Americans are in shock, and rightfully so. Just as September 11 was a wake-up call to a world from which we had previously insulated ourselves, Katrina has woken us up to what extreme poverty looks like up close and personal. ERD president Robert Radtke said it best when he called the devastation "tsunami-like." What previously only happened far away and (seemingly) far removed from us is now inside our front door.
Thankfully, we have a God who provides gifts of opportunity in the midst of the deepest darkness. This awakening can be such a gift -- if we open ourselves up to receiving it.
If your email box is like mine, it is full of appeals from relief agencies collecting funds for Katrina's victims. Even Google has a black ribbon button linking you to stories and opportunities to give.
Moments like this are teachable moments ... moments of great devastation and tragedy that could overwhelm us but in the midst of which we somehow grasp that one person can do something. So we take out the credit card or put sheets on the pullout sofa and say the prayers.. And what's so amazing is that at times like this when the need is so obvious and in their face, people aren't thinking twice about sacrifice -- they're just doing it. What's so amazing is that we are hearing the call for help, and we are realizing that one person really can make a difference -- and we do.
But this moment is a teachable one in another way. If the power of what one person or one congregation can do is so tangible in the face of a disaster whose coverage we can't escape like Katrina, it is just as powerful with the chronic disasters that so often get choked out of our daily news coverage by Tom and Katie and the Runaway Bride. Moments like this are moments to rejoice in God's gift of the power of what one can do ... and to remember that power and use it elsewhere.
Disasters like the tsumani and Katrina often have ancilary casualties far, far away from the storm center. They are the NGOs and other organizations battling chronic poverty, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy and other endemic and pandemic problems far from the camera eye. That's because all too often people give to relieve the highly-publicized disaster that has touched their heart instead of giving to stop 30,000 children from dying each day in places where Matt Lauer and Katie Couric are not on location. By taking what should be a both/and and turning it into an either/or, Katrina claims victims not just in New Orleans and Biloxi, but in Juba and Kamapala and Port au Prince.
The opportunity of the Gospel and of the heart that Katrina provides is to take our belief that one person can make a difference here and apply it there. To not just write that one check and say that one prayer, but to give and pray and work for those who die without making the headlines.
We've only started to see the stories of everyday heroes in Katrina's wake. In the days and weeks to come, we'll see more and more. Stories that will surprise us, inspire us and move us. We will truly be seizing God's opportunity and light in the midst of darkness if they do more than make us rejoice for what one person has done but make us dream about what one person can do wherever there is tragedy and brokenness and suffering.
Because if what has happened in Katrina's aftermath is teaching us anything, it's the power of One.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."