A sign posted in a stairwell at C.F. Rowley Elementary School in Chalmette, La., delivers a warning: “Absolutely no mucky clothes upstairs!! No exceptions! This is for your health!”
Another handwritten sign declares, “No muck boots.”
Yes, don’t you hate it when people track in muck?
This elementary school, in the heart of a New Orleans area parish ravaged a year ago by Hurricane Katrina, no longer serves as a place of education.
Rather, it goes by the nickname “Camp Chalmette” and operates as ground zero for Hilltop Rescue and Relief’s effort to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes and their lives.
What a beautiful sight it is each evening when up to 450 volunteers — church groups, college students, retirees, even high school football teams — return looking absolutely filthy after helping clean up the muck that still marks thousands of homes in this devastated community.
The volunteers shower and do laundry downstairs and sleep in classroomsupstairs. The Hilltop Community Church of Christ in El Segundo, Calif.,oversees the ministry.
It’s just one of countless examples of Churches of Christ reaching out in remarkable ways to show God’s love — in tangible fashion — to the people wrecked by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. We wish we had the space to name them all, but God knows who they are.
The federal government may have failed to meet victims’ needs. Insurance companies may have relied on fine print to shirk their responsibilities. But God and his people were there.
We praise God for the compassion, generosity and sweat of the countless Christians who have responded to Katrina — and Hurricane Rita after that — in such exceptional ways. At the same time, we pray that God’s people will not rest as long as vast swaths of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the New Orleans area continue to hurt. One year after Katrina, it is clear that the recovery will be a long-term project.
Our brothers and sisters along the Gulf Coast need our prayers that God will give them the faith to pace themselves in the rebuilding process — and provide them the strength to wait on the healing and renewal.
Our brothers and sisters need skilled laborers to help them rebuild. Unskilled, non-professional volunteers eager to work hard in the name of our Lord can accomplish much, and have.
But ultimately, it will take trained electricians, plumbers and carpenters to get the job done. Will qualified Christians meet the challenge?
Our brothers and sisters need counselors and ministers to help deal with the emotional trauma and bring spiritual understanding. Our book review this month points the way toward theological decipherment in the wake of natural disaster. Moreover, we laud ministries such as the Christians On Call Network that have organized Christians in this area.
And, yes, our brothers and sisters still need ordinary Christians willing to offer a smile, a cup of cold water, a hot meal here and there. If you haven’t been, will you go? If you have been, will you consider another trip?
The aftermath of a natural disaster reminds us, a year later, that progress can be made, that lives can begin to come back to something close to normal again, but that this world is a mucky place and faith in God’s grace is the only real relief.
Faith, courage and God’s grace do not change, even when a hurricane leaves our lives a literal mess bigger than anything we can clean up.
Sept. 1, 2006