This week marks five years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. By any measure, it beggared belief: one of the strongest (category 5 at one point), costliest ($80 billion in damages), and deadliest (1,800 lives lost) storms ever. Even now, looking at the satellite images of a white spiral that seems as big as the Gulf itself, gives me chills.
It was the first storm that prompted a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, and in an instant, it seemed, countless residents became evacuees. It was hard to keep track of how many arrived in each city, but a likely count for Shreveport-Bossier was 25,000. Our cities are as far away from the storm as you could go and still be in your home state, a fact not lost, I presume, on many who chose to come here and all who’ve chosen to stay.
Jessica and I had been residents of Louisiana for about a year when all of this happened. I was a complete novice when it came to ministry, still figuring out the basics of how to preach (every single week!) and lead a congregation. When the storm hit, and people started arriving, and everyone started asking what WE were going to do, I was clueless. I have a strong memory of feeling like a laughable phony as I talked with members of the congregation, pretending like I knew what we should be doing in response.
In the blink of an eye, there were so many hurting people. I went to meetings hastily organized to coordinate the efforts of shelters, churches, and non-profits, but they seemed to only imitate the chaos outside, people talking over one another, all passionate, all confused, all confident of different approaches.
Ever noticed that it’s when you need to make a big difference that you feel the smallest?
Or when you need to have courage, you find yourself unusually dis-couraged?
Psychologists use the term “decision paralysis” to talk about a frustrating tendency we humans have: when something is so big that we don’t know where to start, we tend to not start at all.
Ask someone if they want a cookie or a brownie and they may pick the cookie. Ask someone if they want chocolate chip, sugar, peanut-butter, snickerdoodle, oatmeal-raisin, cranberry-walnut, double-fudge, or russian-wedding, however, and they’ll take a brownie.
Too many options, even good options, and we freeze. The bigger the moment, the more we battle the temptation to just walk away.
Which makes you think, “How exactly has Jesus enlisted so many people throughout history in a mission so huge as redeeming and restoring all things?” How is it that none of us are freaking out about the enormity of this challenge?
Perhaps it’s because Jesus so often talked about such small things. When a widow offered two copper coins in the temple, he spoke of her sacrifice as the model par excellence. In Matthew 25, describing those who most pleased the Father, he talked about people who offered to others such basic gifts as food, clothing, and shelter. Another time, he commended gestures like offering thirsty people cups of water.
Which gives us clarity about what to do, even in the aftermath of a disaster like Katrina–Whatever you can.
You don’t focus on what’s beyond your grasp, but what’s within reach.
You don’t try to solve the problem. You start filling cups of water.
You don’t end homelessness. You pick up a hammer.
You don’t tackle poverty. You sponsor a child.
Headway is made against the biggest problems in the world one meal at a time, one shelter at a time, and one clothing donation at a time. One cup of water at a time–You can bet on it.
So what did everyone do after Katrina? Whatever they could.
For some churches that meant opening up their gyms as temporary housing, for some that meant emptying their pantries, and for others it meant cooking meals for relief workers. For us it meant providing clothes, shoes, and backpacks for kids of evacuees who enrolled in schools near our building. They’d show up for orientation, and a counselor would ask them if they’d like to go shopping. Their eyes would brighten, and then they’d be given a map to the makeshift “store” in our fellowship hall.
We helped dozens of families, and all it took was us not trying to solve the problem.
No related posts found. Bummer! They would have been great.