Saturday, several from our church gathered in the kitchen to assemble lunches for flood victims. We all wanted to do something to let people know we loved them and were concerned about their plight. A lot of thought went into figuring out how we could help. We decided that many might still be working on their homes and yards…especially since the weather had finally turned warm and sunny. Lunches…we knew we could afford to purchase food. We knew people would need to eat. We knew no matter how many volunteers we could put together, they would be able to assemble a lunch. And, we figured not having to worry about the noon meal would mean that people could dedicate more of their time to working on their homes.
We had no idea how people would receive us. We penned an article for The Citizen to let folks know we would be in the area. We made sure we knew all the streets where homes were affected. We learned from city officials the exact number of homes affected by high waters and estimated 4 people per household. That led us to putting together 320 meals. The church board approved funds for the purchase of food. Robert and Cheryl Stone donated lettuce for the sandwiches. George Kissick did all the shopping…this was his idea! At 9:30 a.m. 16 people were crowded into the church kitchen in an assembly line: labeling lunch sacks, cutting bread, weighing and stuffing food onto hoagie buns, stuffing sandwiches into Ziploc bags, stuffing desserts into Ziploc bags, stuffing sandwiches, bags of chips, condiments and desserts into lunch sacks, stuffing lunch sacks into boxes and stuffing boxes into the church van…all as fast as we could so we delivered everything fresh.
As we made our rounds to neighborhoods, the receptions we received were quite varied. Some didn’t want to open their doors to us…maybe they were afraid we were trying to sell them something. Some homes were vacant…perhaps the houses could not be lived in and they were taking a break from the work. Others were thrilled to see us and overwhelmed that someone would take their time to do such a thing. Still others did not want to accept our offerings…they wanted us to share it with someone else who might have more need. It was not easy doing this kind of work.
The hardest moment for me happened when we pulled the van into a parking spot near Ike’s Boat Dock. These houses had obviously seen some serious water when the floods came…some water was still standing in shallow areas. An older man and woman were working in the yard. Someone living here had been affected by the floods. When they saw the van pull in, and our volunteers fanning out with our boxes, they quickly started gathering up their materials and literally RAN to get away from us. We called out a friendly greeting to let them know we were delivering free lunches. They waved us off and told us they didn’t want anything. The look on their faces and their actions broke my heart. I can only imagine what ‘Church’ meant to them. It was obviously something they wanted no part of…they couldn’t get away fast enough. It made me wonder what representation of church they had witnessed in the past.
Friends, there are many churches in our world. We live in a nation that freely allows for religious expression and churches everywhere are expressing themselves…loud and clear! But what message are they sharing? What message do you want people to know about us? Our love for God through Jesus Christ is the message we should be sharing with our words and our actions. A radical kind of love for others…even the least of these… is what we are called to share. The kind of love we bring ought to be welcomed by the masses! The type of love we offer is what so many search for, sometimes giving up on because they cannot believe it really exists. The love we offer should be the very love we have known from God: an unconditional, overwhelming, radical, unbelievable, forgiving, exalted kind of love…a love that knows no beginning or end…a love that overcomes all pain, all loss, all sorrows…a love that fills us so full that we overflow with it…a love that compels us to love others! I suspect that what these people have known of church did not meet my understanding of what it means to be the church. This experience only confirmed for me that our voices need to be raised louder and clearer than ever before. Our cry for love in the world needs to drown out the cries of ‘crucify!’ If we truly intend to represent God’s love, then we have a WHOLE LOT OF LOVING to do! I am so glad to be loving with all of you!