My Purple Curtains
July 27, 2008
Something great happened. Within a month after Hurricane Katrina, a number of both religious and secular aid agencies banded together to form “Katrina Aid Today” to serve the needs of the victims in Louisiana and Mississippi. “Katrina Aid Today” operated mainly under the supervision of the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church, and received grants from many denominations as well as FEMA. This program took in millions of dollars and helped thousands of people.
But as the money started to run out the various agencies set up there own relief programs to fill in the gaps. I am a member of the United Methodist Church so I will talk about our efforts but similar problems are befalling all the Katrina relief programs. The national church runs the UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) which continues to fund the recovery process but not enough to cover all the people still in need. So the Mississippi and Louisiana Conferences of the UMC have both set up agencies.
My congregation recently sent a team to work on construction with the Mississippi United Methodist Disaster Response Center, which “exists to aid Katrina Recovery efforts through the healing of hearts and homes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” They run children’s programs for survivors. But primarily they run three work camps along the gulf coast to house and feed volunteers who provide skilled and unskilled labor (as well as some of the building supplies) to rebuild homes for single parents, larger families, the elderly and disabled. They reuse as much as they can to make the houses safe, sanitary, and secure. Local church members provide meals for the volunteers. While they were there my fellow church members were able to work on three homes and build relationships with three families, including a grandmother raising her 5 grandchildren in a FEMA trailer, who was able to move back into her home shortly after they left.
When the team came home they brought some disturbing news. The larger agencies are pulling out and the smaller agencies are running out of money. I got in touch with Rev. Darryl Tate, the CEO of the Louisiana Conference UMC Disaster Relief Center to ask him about the funding situation both for rebuilding homes and churches in his conference. He says
“American Red Cross is finish working for the disaster of 2005, and they have closed up as of June 1, 2008 for funding. Salvation Army is still up with funding but they too are running out of funds. And we still need 4-5 million dollars so that we can finish up all our clients that that we have in our files. This is to help people! To finish up with the churches and pastors that UMCOR Funds can’t support Louisiana still needs $500,000 for this present conference year of 2008- [June] 2009.”
l heard an announcement out of the General Conference of the UMC that proudly prclaimed that nationally the church had collected 2 million dollars to fund the rebuilding and repair of the more than twenty affected churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. I guess that sounds like a lot until I remembered that my home church just undertook a capital campaign to raise 2.5 million dollars to remodel the building that they just bought which will be an annex and home to the new contemporary worship service that doesn’t even exist yet. Maybe we need a to remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'” Luke 16:19-24
Notice what it says about the rich man… not much except he was rich. It doesn’t say he was mean or evil or unkind; it doesn’t even say that he was greedy or stingy. All we know is that he was rich and he didn’t help Lazarus. And if I had a guess I’d bet it was because he didn’t even notice him. He was too busy picking out his purple linen curtains. (And, yes those are the curtains I have in my living room… figures.) I think that I’ll wear purple today to remind myself just how rich I am.
There is still a tremendous amount of need and I feel like we’ve forgotten; we don’t notice. As of July 1 more than 3000 people are still living in FEMA trailers in New Orleans. And the residents of trailers are now being asked to leave them because they were always intended to be a temporary housing solution. They will be given rental/hotel vouchers. [USA Today] These people are going to need help now. August 29 will mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Let’s try to remember and keep our curtains open to what’s going on around us.