The opportunity is before us
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
To even the casual observer, the last few weeks have been an exercise in agony and heartbreak. We have had front row seats as spectators and witnesses to unimaginable suffering and misery heaped upon thousands and thousands of people who happened to have the misfortune of being in the path of one of the most intense storms to ever strike the mainland of the United States.
Throughout the day and well into each evening, our televisions have chronicled the grief associated with losing a loved one, the desperate plight to locate family members, the unending struggle for the basic essentials of life, and the stark realization that there is no longer a place called home.
These images haunt us. They won't let us forget the tragedy.
People want to know, "Where is God in the midst of all this suffering?"
Still others ask, "Why?"
And in the absence of quick and easy answers, it doesn't take long for people to politicize an event of this magnitude. We foolishly assess blame, pointing at Republicans and Democrats, and we imply that the local and state governments should have been better prepared for what they knew could eventually happen.
And at the lowest levels of human existence, the predators that capitalize on circumstances and exploit people caught in difficult circumstances surface from the gutters to take advantage of those already victimized.
No one really likes to discuss or dwell upon this kind of suffering and human behavior, not even me.
But I had to put before you the agony and the troubling reality of all that is taking place before I could share with you the ecstasy of a God who is at work within us, bringing hope out of despair, victory out of defeat, and good out of this evil.
The promises of God
The Apostle Paul reminds us that, although we may think we are at the end of the rope, we are never at the end of hope.
We are told that in every setback, every trial, every calamity, God has the power to turn it into an opportunity for Christ to demonstrate his power and presence in and through us.
And this is what is happening in the midst of this current dilemma.
Only two times in my 35 years of ministry have I seen a people and a nation so committed to helping the wounded put their lives back together-Sept. 11 and now!
Congregations of all sizes have collected funds to be sent to the agencies assisting those caught in this natural disaster; people throughout Oklahoma and beyond have been gathering provisions for health kits, school kits and flood buckets; scores of United Methodists are ready to volunteer on mission teams as soon as the affected areas can support outside assistance.
And, last but not least, countless millions have lifted prayers of healing and restoration each day.
Could it be that through this tragedy God is actually teaching us how to be brothers and sisters to those in need? Could it be that the underlying message in all of this lies in the belief that love, compassion and caring are stronger than any disaster? Could it be that we are finally becoming the hands, feet, eyes, arms and heart of Christ?
I certainly hope so!
The real test
As good as the response is now, the real test will come in three months, or six months, or possibly a year or more.
When the front pages of our newspapers no longer carry what happened in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, and the haunting images disappear from the 6 o'clock news, where will the heart of the nation reside?
Where will our hearts reside?
We all know it will take a long time to restore what has been lost, and one of the things of which I'm proudest of as a United Methodist is that our church is prepared to stay the course.
To that end, I have established a special appeal-the Bishop's Appeal-to assist Oklahomans in your choices of -giving.
I urge you to prayerfully consider these three options. A gift simply marked "Bishop's Appeal" will be equally divided among these.
1) The mainstay of our denomination in times of disaster is UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. This organization has been on the ground, working in all three states, since the hurricane made landfall.
Oklahoma Conference's disaster response representatives, Mary Gaudreau and Chris Bills, have been in Mississippi and Louisiana, respectively, working with UMCOR around the clock, trying to bring wholeness to shattered communities.
We are very proud of them, and if you want to give to UMCOR in the assurance that your contribution will go where it is needed, I invite you to give in confidence.
2) Another option is for you to send your contribution made out to "Bishop's Appeal-Oklahoma." These gifts will support disaster response work here in Oklahoma.
3) Your gifts marked "Bishop's Appeal-Clergy" will help United Methodist ministers who have been displaced, including those who have been embraced by Oklahomans. In Louisiana alone, there are more than 80 ministers who have no congregations remaining for those pastors to serve. They, along with others from Mississippi and Alabama, will need support until their conferences can secure appointments for them.
We must remember that we are engaged in a marathon, and not a sprint.
Our actions and deeds over the next few months and beyond will say a lot about us, but more importantly, they will say much, much more about the One whose life is manifested in our body!