What Katrina Has Taught Us about the Church
Announcer:The 21st century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask, where is God in today's world? In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture: What Hurricane Katrina Has Taught Us about the Church.
The needs stemming from the severity of recent hurricanes and earthquakes sparked much discussion about the role of the church in disaster relief efforts. This conversation centers about what Hurricane Katrina has taught us about the church.
Dr. Mark Bailey:My name is Mark Bailey and I have the privilege of serving as the president of Dallas Theological Seminary. I am pleased to have in the studio with me today Dr. Darrell Bock, who is Research Professor in New Testament and Professor of Spiritual Formation and Culture, and Dr. Doug Cecil who serves as our Director of Alumni and Church Relations as well as a professor in our Pastoral Ministries department.
Gentlemen, welcome. It's our desire to dialogue about the questions and God's answers as it relates to the recent disasters and the implications of those for us as members of the body of Christ.
Let me begin just with a general question: What should be the role of the church when it comes to a response to a disaster and disaster relief? What should we be doing?
Dr. Darrell Bock:Well, I think one of the beauties of the tragedy that was Katrina is that it allowed the church to find itself on a matter, and what I mean by that is that if you look at the parable of the good Samaritan that Jesus teaches, basically it teaches that anyone is your neighbor, and that if there is a need that you can meet you should make the effort to meet it. The call was to go and do likewise.
And what we had was a rash of neighbors and quite a lot of need. And so we see the church evidencing the very love and care of God for people that He has that's evidenced in the cross. And so as a result, I would say that the role of the church in disaster relief is that it gives the church a chance to demonstrate the very care and compassion of God that was a part of Jesus' own ministry, part of Jesus' own exhortation, and is a part, I think, of the church's work when she matches what she says with what she does.
Dr. Doug Cecil:And that's really what we saw in the response to Katrina. There were a number churches, I think the church was really at the forefront of rising up to the need that was there. And I think very encouraging from that standpoint of just being able to see how the church rallied during this particular time. I was actually very encouraged by the whole response.
Mark:I think one of the things that we hear, and you men have heard it as well, is that often the view of the church by the outside world is that a lot of people who can't get along, different denominations, different belief systems, different church styles.
What is it about a time like this that allows the church to come together, where those things aren't unimportant, but they aren't the emphasis, and it allows us to overcome some of those divisive reputations?
Darrell:Well, I think the need is so basic when you have a disaster, and the pain that you see touches at such a fundamental level, that people instinctively react to help in whatever way they can.
And I think too, in this particular case, this disaster was so close in terms of where it was located that a lot of people knew a lot of people who had been directly impacted by what took place, and so I think that motivates people to get some basic things done, particularly when there's a sense that no one else is in a position to do it.
And I think that's what we saw, and so you did have a lot of cooperation. You had some interesting mixes going on. I was in Houston the week after the hurricane, and we were down there to visit family and of course, the relief effort was going great guns in Houston.
My sister was taking a casserole to a church that wasn't her denomination at all, and then it was all being hauled over to Second Baptist, which was coordinating everything for everybody, and you had churches in contact with churches that normally don't have any contact at all.
And it was impressive to see not only how much they were able to do, they basically fed the people who came to the Astrodome, but they also did it so quickly. I mean, they were up and running within days, and no one else was able to do that.
Doug:You know, I think there's also that aspect that when you get into disasters, any type of disaster, you're pretty well reduced down to the very basics of life, and some of those things that are extraneous all of a sudden get lost, and really the focus of God and family, life and death, and a lot of the other things that might have caused barriers in the past just are reduced, and brought around to a place where, hey let's focus on what the need is.
And you really see the body of Christ now, like what's talked about in Ephesians chapter four, of the body of Christ rallying and recognizing, hey there's a brother and sister in need here, and some of the other things that might have been important aren't important now as we focus on just what their particular needs are.
And it's a great unifying type of thing that happens and we saw it down in Katrina.
Mark:And I think at that same level, the true church of Jesus Christ, the believers, who by faith have responded to His message, can distinguish themselves by the kind of love that they demonstrate.
And in light of the fact that almost every religious organization, every social organization is jumping in, I think it gives us a great time to let the light shine, so that others see what motivates Christians is not selfish, not to be self-serving, but it really does flow, as we've been talking, from the life of Christ, the love of Christ, out to those people.
During disaster relief efforts, how do we seek to balance our priorities of compassion and our interest in evangelism? Dr. Cecil, what would you say?
Doug:You know, as people just give themselves away in ministry and service, and just focus on loving people, evangelism is going to take care of itself. As you meet people's needs and, like I tell a lot of my classes, just love people, genuine love, authentic compassion, people are able to sense your motives, and people are able to sense why you're there. If you just focus on meeting their needs and just loving the people, the evangelism, if you're equipped in evangelism and really are able to articulate the gospel, evangelism is going to take care of itself.
If you get into the situation really focusing in on evangelism, oftentimes, not all of the time, you begin to manipulate it or try to make it happen, or manufacture the scenario to a place where people are able to sense that motive, and consequently you end up doing evangelism in the flesh rather than in the Spirit.
Darrell:I think I absolutely agree with that. I think that the call is to love people and to show God's love to people, and particularly when you're meeting needs, to meet those needs. And if anything is getting in the way of that, even if it's a good thing, it gets in the way. And so I think by the authenticity of your love you open up and begin to build a relationship, which then has built a bridge of trust, and then from there, who knows what God can do with the situation?
Doug: And people are able to sense that.
Doug:They're able to see that genuine love; they're able to sense that authenticity of your compassion, of wanting to help them, and they respond in a very open and warm way.
And that then really provides the opportunity. Usually they'll ask you, why are you here? And that provides the avenue then for maybe the gospel to be shared.
Mark:I don't think anybody that knows us at Dallas Theological Seminary would question our commitment to truth and commitment to the gospel. But I do find it fascinating that Jesus said let your light so shine that they'll see your good works, and glorify your Father who's in heaven.
And so there's something attractive and evangelistic, even about being involved in good works, and especially good works of compassion. Not every time Jesus healed did he preach the gospel in the context. Many times it was meeting a physical need, and that's all we have recorded. And so, not every opportunity is just an evangelistic opportunity.
But that doesn't mean there ought not to be follow-up. That doesn't mean we can't follow up with people that have come to the churches. I've been in a number of churches in the last month where there were families being ministered to. And because they had been ministered to, they also showed up at church, and because they showed up at church, they got to hear the word. And so there's, I think, an interconnection, but it's not a one versus the other, have to solve it kind of a question.
How can a church anticipate disaster, and stand ready to help financially? Most churches are tight on budget. How do you stand ready to meet an emergency with monies that could very readily be used for other purposes within the church? How do we do that?
Darrell:I think that's a priority question that each church has to kind of search its soul about, in the sense of how engaged are we as a community with our neighbors. And how are we going to express that concretely. Most churches have some connection to a food pantry or something like that that they support.
I know that our church has probably two or three ministries that they work with on a regular basis for people that are destitute. These organizations are already primed and pumped to help.
But I think it's an interesting question. And I actually think that one of the things that has happened as a result of these series of hurricanes that we've gone through, is that it's had people look at their budgets and say, "You know, I do have a lot more discretionary money." I'm talking about individuals. I have a lot more discretionary money than I give myself credit for sometimes.
And, maybe some of this would be better directed helping someone else who really has nothing right now. And, all of the sudden, boom, you raise an awful lot of money that, no one budgeted for this. And there it is. And you see compassion express itself powerfully in the process.
So I don't know how often you have to... But it does raise the question: Wouldn't we be better off if we planned for it somehow? And it's a good question. I don't know how many churches have thought about it. I know I didn't have a class on disaster relief help when I was in seminary.
Doug:Well, and a lot of churches already have a benevolent fund that might have been started, but primarily that benevolent fund is used either to minister to the needs immediately within their church family...
Doug:Or within the immediate community, and we haven't really probably thought too much down the line of how much could we use the benevolent fund towards disaster relief. And I think that's probably where we probably need to do a little bit more thinking in that area. Of, Okay, could we use some of the benevolent funds for disaster relief in more of a national level than just a local level.
Another point that you brought up which I think is really very, very true. You've heard a lot of stories where people were more than willing to give up a little cup of coffee or something else, and then take that money to be able to give to Katrina relief.
Great types of teaching tools that could be used in our churches to maybe foster disaster relief types of funds within our churches down the road. And probably we need to give some more thought to that.
Darrell:And again, I think the trick here is not just to think in terms of the individual congregation, but in some cases networks of congregations that work together to bring this kind of relief. Because if you look at the models that we do have in Scripture, where Paul went from church to church, it was many churches who helped to contribute to create a base big enough to really be able to have an impact.
And when you're talking about major disaster relief, no single church is going to be able to meet the need in a significant way. It's going to have to be churches that are networked together and understand how to respond almost by instinct.
Mark:I think there is something healthy to the emergency nature of it as well. I remember when I was pastoring in DeSoto, that we had a special connection to the church in Honduras. And when Hurricane Mitch came through, we did an end-of-the-service voluntary offering at the door. And the irony is, what was given that morning in the offering by the whole church was more than matched by the need.
The first thought as a pastor, I thought, "Well, why wasn't all that put in the offering basket?"
But in reality, I wasn't expecting that. But what it did say is that when people are given the opportunity to act with compassion for the right cause, there can be monies made available, even immediately. And I think the heart gets expressed where, if we plan for it - I think we ought to plan for some - but if we plan for all of it, it doesn't allow the spontaneous act of compassion that can rise to the surface at that point in time.
Darrell:I think the beauty of this particular situation, at least in Houston, was that there was already an existing network of churches that had laced themselves together to meet local needs. And so when a significant portion of the city of New Orleans showed up in Houston, they were already structured, and had given enough thought about what to do if there was a problem in Houston, that the government didn't even have to think about where to turn.
They went to the churches right off the bat. They didn't wait. It took Dallas another week to figure it out. And so they were a little behind the 8-ball in comparison.
But that was one of the interesting things, that Houston was really already structured. They had planned ahead in such a way, that when this came at them - really as a curve ball, in many ways, in terms of what they had planned for - they were sufficiently structured to be able to handle it.
Mark:That's great. Related to that, in what way, if any, are believers obligated to contribute to long-term relief efforts. In other words, knowing that this is not going to be a quick fix, this is going to be months and years in the rebuilding, do we have any biblical basis - do we have any obligation - for long-term aid? Or is it the same as short-term aid?
Darrell:I think a need's a need. And if you're able to spot it and have some means to meet it, then it's a good thing to do. You know, it's interesting. We'll allow our government to do something like this over long term. We'll allow a lot of corporate structures to do this long term. It seems to me that this is a chance for the church to, as I say, concretely express its compassion.
And it's a little bit like the discipleship passage. What good is there to look at discipleship and start on discipleship and then quit and not finish the job. What good does it do to express compassion - get someone, maybe feed them for two weeks, and they need two months of food. They're headed for six weeks of pain, if it's two months that they're out, and you can only feed them for two weeks. So that really helps relief for a short time, but it doesn't take care of the problem.
And the church has a lot of resources. The church has a lot of discretionary money too. We sometimes wonder about that, but I look at where we, in a discretionary way as Christians, spend our money, even to entertain ourselves at a spiritual level. And some of that money could be diverted in this direction, I think, and could generate a lot of money, because those industries are doing quite well.
D0ug:God loves a cheerful giver. I think one of the things we've faced here with Katrina, especially, is that it's not just a short-range type of thing. We've been confronted with the reality that this is going to go on for months down the road. That the relief efforts that we started here just months ago, it's continuing on. The churches are going to need to be rebuilt and they still aren't up to functioning in the normal way. So we've been faced with the reality of, "Yeah. How are we going to respond in the long term? And what obligation do we have to continue on the work that we started?" The need is there. It's now up to us as to whether or not we're going to choose to respond.
Mark:I agree. I think that the long-term need is going to give the church even a better opportunity to demonstrate its core, its love at a core level. So I think we've got a lot ahead of us, and I think the opportunities for youth groups, the opportunities for adults to be involved in cleanup and fix up and repair and outreach, I think is going to be huge.
Darrell:And the beauty of those engagements will be that they will establish relationships with the very people that you're trying to help. And that's important because I think it is through those relationships the core is not only exposed, it's revealed for what it should be and ought to be. And that is, "I'm done this because God calls us to love one another. Jesus Christ represents that love, but I'm supposed to represent that love as one of his children as well."
Mark:That's great. Knowing that many churches and Christian ministries struggled financially following the tsunami of a year ago and some of these hurricanes and some churches lost some of the funding. Some Christian ministries went down, and it put them in difficulties financially. Knowing that that happens, how does a leadership team appropriately lead their people to participate in community emergencies even if it puts stress upon their own ministries?
Darrell:I think you have to trust your people to have good judgment and to sort out their priorities. I mean churches are pretty good about informing people where they stand in terms of their finances. Only each individual knows what their personal financial situation is, how much discretionary income they have, that kind of thing, what they're able to give to, what their tithe is, if you want to think of it in those kinds of terms. And so I think you have to trust your people to have good judgment as you're rolling along. And it may be that there are some programs that you'd like to have that you decide as a church community to defer so that you can really do this.
The beauty of a church is that it actually seems like it's a fairly structured organism, but it actually is a fairly flexible organism. There's a lot of ways to cover, and it may not be ideal but you may decide, "This is worth a six month sacrifice given the need that's been pressed upon us to push this back so that we may not expand in this direction or revamp this Sunday school. We've managed to function up to this point without it. We can go another six months." Those kinds of decisions, it seems to me, are something leadership has to think through once they decide to get serious about this kind of engagement in relief.
Mark:I think one of the open questions that we wrestle with is God re-prioritizing our attention in an area that we hadn't thought of by giving us the emergency. We relate to that in families. We relate to that in churches whether it's a sickness, a death, a loss of a staff member, and we have to deal with those kinds of issues all the time. This was another one, although at a more macro level, but I think it's an important one to wrestle with.
Dr. Cecil, from your perspective as one acquainted with the ministry physically and emotionally destitute and hurting in your role as chaplain and chaplain's assistant and trainer, what encouragement would you give to victims of the severe storms of recent days? If you were beside their bed or their cot in one of these relief shelters, how do you minister to someone like that?
Doug:Well I think the main thing I'd want to communicate to them somehow is that God knows and God still cares. He knows what they're going through. He continues to care. Whatever burden that they might be experiencing right now, in Peter 1:5 he invites us all to, "Cast our anxiety upon him because He cares for you." Human relief efforts, they might fall short. Government efforts might not meet fully the expectations that they might have. It might appear from their perspective that nobody cares. It may appear that they've been abandoned or that they are alone.
I guess what I'd want to communicate to them is that God's faithful. God will not abandon them. God knows where they are, what they are experiencing and He wants to walk with them through this disaster. And if they've placed their trust in Him and they have a personal relationship with Him, that He will not abandon them, especially at this time. And usually He draws closer to those people during those times of great crisis in His grace and in His mercy. The world may be falling apart around them, but there's peace and rest in Jesus Christ. Hang on.
Mark:That's great. Dr. Bock, there are statements that have been made in the press and people ask, "Is Hurricane Katrina and Rita and the tsunami, are those the beginning elements or are those a demonstration of God's judgment?" How do you respond?
Darrell:Well in one level it's a good question. I mean I think that if you look through disasters in Scripture you'll see that sometimes God does bring a shock into the world to make us kind of pause and catch ourselves, and I think it would be dishonest to say that's not sometimes the case. The difficulty here is the generic statement, "Hurricane Katrina is God's judgment," that you can make an absolute, one-to-one correspondence between the presence of a disaster and the presence of God's judgment. I think what we see in any kind of natural disaster, in any kind of shock that comes into life, it presents itself the opportunity to reflect on where I am in relationship to my Creator and how accountable am I to Him. That is always a healthy question to ask.
On the other side we know that Scripture says that, "Anyone who rejoices over a disaster will not go unpunished," Proverbs 17:5. And so this isn't a case of something to rejoice over and certainly it shouldn't be heard to be saying, "Well the reason all this evangelism stuff is taking place is because God has put this disaster in our lap." Nothing like that is the point. I think the point simply is that when the world becomes so engaged with its everyday activities that it forgets the Creator and forgets its relationship to the Creator, it's sometimes a reminder that we are very mortal.
As a healthy reminder, it's a little bit like a doctor saying to someone, "Be sure you take your medicine if you want to stay healthy." And there is something of an element to that to these kinds of events, but no one wishes this on anybody. We all pray to avoid these kinds of disasters and there's no guarantee whether we're righteous or not or however we're living that we can avoid it. It's part of being in a fallen world, and as such it is a reminder to us.
But so also is the terrific testimony of support that comes around an event like this when people rally and reach out to their neighbor. I remember with something as tragic as 9/11, people were saying, "I didn't know New Yorkers could be so friendly." And it did something to the city. It brings out something in the city. Sometimes we need that reminder to, and the sad thing is because of who we are as human beings, sometimes it takes something tough to bring that out in us.
Mark:I think one of the passages that came to mind after 9/11 and it comes to mind in the storms of this year when Jesus posed the question, when the people from Galilee, Pilate had mixed their blood with the sacrifices and Jesus said, "Were these Galileans more unrighteous than all the rest? I tell you no. But unless you repent you'll likewise perish." And, then, when the Tower of Siloam collapsed, he gave that illustration; and a number of people died, and he said "Were they more wicked than all the rest?" And he said "I tell you 'No.' But, unless you repent, you'll likewise perish."
He avoided comparative righteousness and judgmental kinds of questions, but didn't avoid the possibility of asking - as you were saying, Dr. Bock - the long term implications: what would God want us to be thinking about? This is a great reminder of life's being tenuous. What's eternal destiny all about? And, so, I think, in that type of a thing, both the disaster question and evangelism come together with a great balance.
Darrell:Every person, whether a believer or not, has a daily need for God. And I think one of the tough things about these kinds of tough events is that, on the one hand, they expose our frailty, they show the power of the creation, they also expose our mortality; but I also think they expose something else, which we should never forget, and that is that we are creatures. We are not the makers of this world. And we spend a lot of time trying to make ourselves the makers of this world; but we're not. And something like this is a powerful reminder that what is around us in the creation is much more powerful than anything any of us can do. And that's healthy.
Mark: Dr. Cecil, what are some of the questions that have been coming into your office about this natural disaster?
Doug:Most of the questions that we've had have primarily been from churches that are asking, "How in the world can we help here?" We, in our office, have really been bombarded with churches that would like to adopt a church and really be able to try to establish a long-term type of relationship with a church in that particular area. And they're really asking, "How can we help? Can you help us be able to establish that church, and get in touch with affected churches?"
One of the interesting questions is - the churches in America were very, very quick in their response; in a lot cases, they were a lot quicker than we were able to provide the information. Most of the time, we were still trying to find out what was going on down there, and the churches were already rallying to try to provide help. And so we were caught in the middle there for a little while: not really knowing what the needs were, but having a massive amount of churches that were willing to step in and provide some sort of aid, just not knowing exactly how to provide that aid.
So it was a hectic time for us; but it was also pretty encouraging to see the amazing response of the churches out in America.
Mark:That's great. What has changed? Or how did this set of disasters change the relationship between government and the church? You know, everybody's quick to say "Those two ought to be separate and maintain separateness." It's amazing what a little disaster does to bring some forces together. But what changes have you men seen in the relationship between the church and the government?
Darrell:Well, I think this exposed something that probably many of us in the church already knew, but that perhaps had been forgotten; and that is that one of the most basic, grassroots structures we have in our culture are the churches. And, when you mobilize those communities on behalf of meeting a need that's desperate, the response time can even outstrip the military, which is kind of frightening when you think about it. I have joked with some people that that paragon of - that P.R. organ of the Christian church, The New York Times, even editorialized on how healthy the response of the church, and how helpful the response of the church, and of religious organizations in general, had been. And it would be interesting to contemplate where we would have been with Katrina and these hurricanes if there had not been a religious community to respond to it.
Mark:That's a great question.
Doug:I would fully agree. I think that the government probably has realized, more now than it had probably in the past, how the body of Christ can be mobilized very, very quickly to respond to natural disasters, such as Katrina, through not only money but work teams, supplies, distribution of those supplies, were handled very effectively through the body of Christ. And I think the government probably awoke a little bit to that team that's out there.
Darrell:I alluded to this earlier; but one of the beauties of this tragic situation was that a lot of the relief fell on a city that was really already well prepared to deal with it and with a government that trusted that community to help. And, so, when Houston was overwhelmed, the government didn't wait; they didn't ask to get permission from a governor, or from a president, or from somewhere else: they turned immediately to the community that, they knew, would help; and that community, they new, was going to be primarily made up of the churches. And they had help there, feeding 40,000 people, almost instantly.
Other communities wrestled with "all right. Where do we turn? The government isn't able to meet this need; and now we're stuck. Now what do we do?" And you could almost feel the - if I can use a figure of speech - the epilepsy coming into the community as a result as they tried to contort to figure out how to deal with it. And, then, eventually, when they saw what was arising around them, in terms of what was able to help, there it was.
And so my hope is that we've learned from this, that we've learned something really important in terms of our culture. And that is that, at a political level, separation of church and state is a healthy thing, but, at a grassroots, human-needs level, the state needs the church. And the church is ready and willing to help meet basic needs. That's one of the things that the church is called to do, and that's one of the things that the church is capable of doing well.
Mark:I find it fascinating that you have government involved and you have the churches involved - and I'm sure there are other organizations; but you would have to look long and hard to find another organization that was as quick to respond, and as capable of responding, as the church. And I think the relationships that churches have with one another and that ministers have with one another - I think one of the lessons coming out of this is that network of communication - sharing needs, sharing praises - that network can be used for a lot of different purposes.
Now, I know that, just in north Texas, there's a group of churches that have formed a relief coalition that will be posed to respond even more efficiently in the days and the years ahead. And there's great communication, great cooperation, shared storage facility; there's some good administration. And out of this, I think, have come some great ideas and preparations for the future. Hopefully we won't have these levels of disaster very often. But, for other issues, even more miner than a Katrina or a Rita, I think, it could still be helpful.
How have our DTS alumni responded to this disaster? Doug, you're on the front end of that. Talk to me about some of the response.
Doug:Well, there's been a wide range of responses. Obviously, a number of churches and individuals have provided financial resources for us to be able to distribute to the churches that are down in that area.
Just talking about how government and churches have worked together: it was interesting to me that, immediately, within Baton Rouge, there was almost a command post set up to begin to coordinate efforts to go in for relief, into the New Orleans area. And churches then were sending work teams. Within a week or so, there were work teams that were being sent up from some of the churches in Illinois and Iowa and other places, where resources of that nature, supplies - I know that two churches sent semi trucks full of supplies into the area where they had not only gathered but all of the logistics surrounding just to be able to send supplies and quite a response recently here to beginning to rebuild pastor's libraries that had been lost through the flooding. We had a couple of pastors who had lost their entire library and the response to that has been overwhelming.
I think one of the churches that I thought was just extremely warm was they took one week offering out of their four week typical month and took that one week offering and dedicated it towards Katrina relief but specifically took on a pastor's salary for three months as a response to them and just the love. So the connections between church to church and into the disaster relief area has been just phenomenal.
Darrell:One of the things that I am aware of is that I know there were churches that sent teams over on Labor Day weekend, the first holiday that came after the hurricane and they had teams of people who were literally making the drive from Dallas to the Louisiana area as often as they could make it over that holiday break to get stuff in there as quickly as they could because there was nothing coming in. That is an amazing use of human resources for someone to take off their holiday, a long weekend and you make plans to go away with your family or whatever, drop everything and say no, what I think I'm going to do is take as many 400 mile drives as I can in the shortest space as I can to be as much help as I can. It is amazing to see.
Mark:I've loved reading some of the reports from our grads who have suffered loss in those regions and how grateful they are in what God has been teaching them. In reality, it has even brought revival to the true purpose of the church when their emphasis has no longer been on property but the loss of property and how that brings a community together and the true relationships that are being built. I think it is a terrific thing in terms of some of the lessons learned. How can we pray specifically for those affected by the hurricane?
Doug, you mentioned the lost libraries. I have emailed discussions and had phone conversations with a number of our alums who suffered losses of library. I think one way that just comes to mind is when I talked to a pastor right in Louisiana, near New Orleans in Metairie, Louisiana. Our alum Bill Gephardt and he told me that they had less than 60% of their people back and their expectation is probably no more than 75% of their people will be returning to the area. So that is 25% of their church which then means 25% of their support for the ministry immediately is affected. I think some of those areas are worthy of prayer. What other ways can we pray for the victims of the hurricanes?
Doug:Well what you're talking about is also loss of income for not only the church families that are there but also for the pastors as well. All of the jobs in the area have all of a sudden disintegrated. People are out of work. They are not really quite sure exactly how they are going to make it month to month. Plus the fact the churches are not at this point really sure exactly what insurance is going to be able to pay. So what exactly are the costs associated with rebuilding, not just the personal aspects, but also the extended aspects that are there. How are we going to rebuild the church in that area and have an effect down the road?
Darrell:I think my prayer would be that people don't forget that this is going to be a long-term operation. I think that when it was on the television 24/7 and you were seeing the needs on a daily basis, that was one thing but as people get absorbed into these communities or as they try to go home, there are loads of adjustments depending on whether they have moved their entire family operation or whether they have ended up trying to go back and rebuild. These people will need support for a long time and so I think my prayer would be not to forget this is a long-term deal and once it is passed the headlines there is still a lot of work to be done.
Mark:In light of that, one of the topics that has arisen as we feel compassion for those that have been affected, one of the topics that has hit the airwaves especially is the disparity in socioeconomic and racial classes where there was feelings that because they were of a certain race or of a certain socioeconomic level, less was done for them or there wasn't the priority to rescue them. How do we as believers respond and how can we contribute from the avenue of the body of Christ to address these kinds of issues?
Darrell:Well I think I would want to challenge churches to reach out not only to the people that you know but see if there is a special effort if you can reach across some type of racial or ethnic line. I really think that the Bible teaches that one of the most powerful witnesses that the church is capable of giving to the world is when it shows that not only have people been reconciled to God but they have been reconciled to one another.
This is the message that the entire Book of Ephesians, for example which is discussing the church. When people see that in a world where usually as we have seen ethnicity divides. They go; there is something different going on there, what is going on? And I think it represents a fundamental statement that we recognize that every person has made in the image of God. Every race is a race that God is concerned about. Every person whether they be from a foreign country or born here has needs that deserve to be met at a very basic level.
So it is a fundamental statement about our commitment to God's humanity that he has created and so I would hope that there would be an intentionality in some of the outreach that goes and that would touch these places by going across bridges we might not ordinarily travel as a way of making a point that no, these are not groups to be ignored, these are groups to be embraced and supported just like everybody else.
Mark:I think the key word, Darrell, is the intentionality. That we are intentionally looking for those kinds of opportunities. That we are staying involved, not just in times of disaster but even in normal times in reaching across those sometimes imposed boundaries or pre-supposed boundaries.
Darrell:Everybody benefits when that happens.
Darrell:Because you learn that this person who you might have viewed as kind of foreign or strange or from a different culture or a different world really in some ways isn't all that different at all. I know that in the outreaches that our church has been involved in have crossed socioeconomic lines and have crossed racial lines, our church has viewed that ministry as one of the most effective things we have ever done in our 28 years of existence.
Doug:Yeah, you know the church I think has always been a leader in breaking down barriers and we have that opportunity now. It is one of those times when crisis comes along, a family or disasters come that you recognize, people are people. We have that opportunity here to just be able to love people and minister across those barriers that once might have existed. We can be a model in that. Intentionality I think, is a key part of it.
Mark:Do we have any examples in the scripture of disaster relief? I know we have examples of compassion and churches helping other churches but do we have any disaster relief passages that might give us some examples and principles?
Darrell:We certainly have the example of Joseph being available to his family to help. We have the example of the way in which Paul raised money and in some cases sought provisions to meet the needs of famine of the church in Jerusalem in Acts 11. So we do have isolated examples. I don't think, unless I'm wrong, that there is a specific example, of the kind of generic relief that we see here, but to me, that's irrelevant, because when I look at the general character of Jesus' ministry and what he calls us to be as neighbors. Neighbors do show up in the great commandments, that puts you pretty high up on the ladder. It seems to me that the instinctive response of the church to this particular event, which was so overwhelmingly an outpouring of love and support, was precisely the right response. And that what it reflected and tapped into was an immediate recognition that there was something very basic that we can do, should do, and even must do in this situation. And so, when Jesus says go and be a neighbor because someone who you've never known or never seen gets struck down on the street, and a Samaritan comes by takes care of him. Never had a relationship with him, leaves money behind to care for him, that's what the churches were doing in this situation and that's precisely what we should be doing.
Mark:I love that passage that you just mentioned where the question by the one seeking to justify himself was "who's my neighbor" and Jesus transforms it from neighbor being object to neighbor being subject, who proved to be the good neighbor. It's not who would qualify as our neighbor, but how do I qualify to be a neighbor...
Darrell: Mm hmm.
Mark: ...and reaching out. That's great.
Darrell:And I think if you look at the ministry of Jesus as he talks about ministering to a fallen world, that is a world sometimes of great pain, releasing captives, etc., and a beauty of Jesus' ministry, although there was a spiritual point to what he was doing, there was never an ignoring of the physical needs, that were an illustration that pointed to the truth of the spiritual point. Spiritual points are things we don't see, but physical things are things that we do see. What Jesus does in his ministry is to combine the two, he links the two, he says you can understand what I care about spiritually by seeing how I minister to you in terms of your physical needs, and in that process, as we said earlier, there's something automatic that connects and you see the relationship between the two in a powerful way, illustrated, not just with word but with deed, so that when you say God loves you and really cares about you and has a plan for your life, even though it looks like disaster right now, there might be a willingness to stop and listen because this person has understood where I am and has tried, for no reason that I can see that gains them anything, to help me out.
Mark:I think if we compare the events from 9/11 to this year, a big difference in how we understand the events from being human caused...war, initiating, retaliation, hatred...these have none of that. If I could say it, this is God.
Darrell: Mm hmm.
Mark:I think that some people struggle with that. As we wrap up our discussion, how do you help people keep the true character of God in mind when it seems like some of this at the human level is senseless, it seems unfair, it seems unjust. How do we help people wrestle with the character of God as the Scripture reveals Him and still see loss of life, loss of property, loss of jobs, loss of homes. How do we help people wrestle with that?
Darrell:I think there is an element of that that is senseless. It's part of living in a fallen world, and fallen world in one sense is a senseless world. It's a world gone awry; it's a world run amok. Some of us on the one hand ask God, if I can say it this way, we sometimes ask God to prevent bad things in our life, while not being willing to acknowledge His presence or His engagement with our lives on the other side. I don't think you can have that both ways. I think that sometimes as we've talked about, these events are tough, they're not easy to go through, to see, they're not even easy to look at on television. Sometimes I think God is caring enough about us to remind us as communities that He deserves our attention and even our loyalty as Creator.And sometimes that happens in very tough ways. Some people will tell you that in their personal lives that when they've had a particularly tough disease, like cancer or something like that, that even though it was terrible and painful and all the rest of it, in some ways it produced some of the sweetest relationship time with God because they really found themselves being completely dependent upon Him.
I think another thing we can pray for for the victims in relationship to that and relationship to this kind of question is that they would see the light that comes through a terrible event like this because there always can be a silver lining in something like this if you don't concentrate on the fact that the glass is half empty.
Mark:One of our pastors that I was talking with out of New Orleans said that the blessing, and this is sort of like a forest fire, with great destruction comes one of the healthiest things in the forest, and that is the rebuilding and the re-treeing of a forest, and in many ways, what will be rebuilt in certain sections of some of these cities will be nicer than it was when it was destroyed. So there can be, even at the economic levels, and at the socioeconomic help out of this, but that's looking back at that. Is there a bright lining, silver lining out of a dark cloud.
Doug:There's always a reorganization of priorities any time you come into a crisis of any type of nature, but it helps to remind everybody, remind all of us that the temporal types of things are temporal, and it helps us to take our eyes off of the temporal types of things that we normally focus in, the hustle and bustle and all of the things that we accumulate and place our eyes on the eternal and rest in the sovereignty of God and how dependent we are upon Him. That reorganization, that refocusing, whatever you want to call it, is always healthy for the church, not only corporately, but also as individuals.
Mark:That's great. Dr. Cecil, why don't you lead us in a word of prayer as we close, and keep these people in mind, and these issues, and that God would continue to teach us what He wants to teach us through this.
Doug:Father, we thank you, just for this opportunity that we've had, just to be able to gather together here and to be able to talk about this disaster and to be able to give a little bit of perspective. Father we do pray for those churches and those individuals, all of the individuals that are in the affected areas of this disaster. We pray, Lord, that you would encourage them, that you would support them. Surround them with individuals that are going to be able to provide not only physical needs, but also spiritual needs as well. Father, thank you for the churches, for the individuals, the relief efforts that have been mobilized from all around the country, and we pray Lord for them as well as they minister, that you would just give them that ability to be able to minister through the Spirit, and that they would really be able to show your love in everything that they do. Father we do acknowledge our dependence upon you. We can have all of the greatest plans and all of the greatest logistics set up, but you are the only one that's going to be able to bring about fruit, and Father we acknowledge that. As we come into situations like that, we're well reminded of how dependent we really are. We just submit ourselves, we submit our families, we submit our ministries and this whole effort into your hands and pray all these things in Christ's name. Amen.
Mark: Amen. Thank you, amen. Appreciate your time.