This weekend and last weekend it was my privilege to experience a significant gift from God in answer to a prayer. When I saw the devastation and damage caused by the flooding in Louisiana, my heart broke for the residents. I wanted to do something. Yes, I knew I could contribute goods and money to assist in the relief effort, but I wanted to do something. I prayed to know how I could do something, what I could do that would answer the greatest need in the Lord’s way. I wanted to help.
We Are The Body of Christ
Songwriter John Mark Hall wrote a song that was performed by Christian musicians Casting Crowns. The title of the song is “If We Are The Body,” and the chorus is this:
But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
Faith and Works
The Apostle James wrote: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:17-18) While we can’t “work” our way into heaven, James was reminding us that our faith in Christ should be driving us to action. Around 124 B.C., somewhere here on the Americas landmass, the prophet-king Benjamin reminded his subjects of one simple truth: “And behold, I tell you these things that you may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when you are in the service of your fellow beings you are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)
I knew that our Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would be organizing a relief effort as soon as conditions permitted. I knew that units would be collecting materials, sending them, and distributing them. Following Hurricane Ivan’s rush through our part of the country, trainloads of goods were sent in from Salt Lake City, and work crews arrived to camp out on the lawn of our meetinghouse and help us get our lives back to normal. After Hurricane Katrina the Church organized work details dispatched from centralized locations in the areas that needed assistance. Workers drove in from unaffected regions and went to work cleaning out houses in preparation for repairs. My husband was a part of that effort, but my children were quite young and I couldn’t participate in that action.
This time was different. My girls are all grown and flown, and my sons are 17 and 15, nearly men. This time, when the call for action went out, we answered immediately. I don’t recall women working on the Katrina cleanup, but the invitation for this project included our entire family. I saw kids probably 9 or 10 years old participating. The organization was conducted at a level higher than myself, so I don’t know what the age limits were, or if it was left to the discretion of the family how to help.
The Church headquarters worked with local Church leadership to establish relief effort centers in several locations. Salt Lake sent loads of goods and materials to use and distribute: sleds to haul debris, drywall saws, short knives, prybars, masks, eye protection, gloves and more. Boxes of non-perishable food items. Bottled water. 5-gallon buckets filled with cleaning supplies. The work centers served as distribution points for the tools, relief donations, and work orders, as well as a camp for workers. Women had indoor showers and men had outdoor showers, and a line of portable toilets prevented constant traffic in and out of the buildings, as well as an impossible strain on plumbing. Some meals were provided for the workers.
The Church worked with other local relief centers to coordinate work parties and dispatch them to homes. Each local ward or branch had a crew leader who was responsible for receiving the work orders, scheduling the arrival of the crew, and assessing the necessary work onsite. Then we got to work.
We removed carpet, drywall, furniture (in one case, pews from a church), appliances, insulation. We hauled, swept, hauled some more, swept some more. We hugged homeowners and listened to their stories. We worked alongside people who had lost everything, or nearly everything, in their homes. My heart is still full, thinking about the humility and gratitude we saw. We didn’t do it for the gratitude. We did it because we couldn’t take back that feeling of walking into a home for the first time since the flood waters forced them out, of looking around and just not knowing where to begin. Not knowing how to begin. Not knowing when to expect to get started. Not knowing how high the damage would continue to spread if it wasn’t stopped. We did it because we all thought about how we would feel walking into that. And we did it because we could.
My sons–I am so proud of them. They worked like men. Both weekends, they put aside the things they had wanted to do and dug in and worked. They gained skills in the process of serving others, skills that will serve them in the future. They learned the value of stepping up to help.
The experience was not without light moments. The members of our crew all know each other well and we know what we can get away with. We will always remember the running line about Jimmy’s Beanie Weenies, and the coinage of the term “Swamp Donkey.”
It was something of a miracle that I never saw a single mosquito during the entirety of either weekend. The entire experience is something of a miracle, in many ways. The efforts of our crew were multiplied by hundreds of other hands throughout the area. At each home where we served, for that portion of a day, we made a friend, we shared a laugh, a cold bottle of water or three, a hug, and a prayer. It was something of another miracle that somehow I think I received more help than I gave.