My good friend Kyle from back at A&M, who is a campus minister with my old student group (the United Campus Ministry) and is an ordained PCUSA pastor, had some amazing experiences to share w/ me on the phone the other day regarding what Texas A&M is doing for hurricane victims. So I asked him to type something up for me… since this isn’t the kind of stuff you’ll be reading about on the news, yet we need to be hearing. And, it gives me a good reason to be proud of where I went to school (except maybe not President Gates….putz.) So, here ya go:
Howdy from Texas!
Josh offered to let me use this forum to post some musings about my experience doing pastoral care with those sheltered in Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
Just to give you a little orientation…bread appears on my table by virtue of my ministry with college students at Texas A&M University. I’ve never been much on limiting ministry to job descriptions so I go where called and try to cover the job description in the meantime.
One such call came Sunday from a member of the cadet corps here at A&M. They were running a shelter for victims of Katrina. They arrive at midnight Sat. night and by Sun morning were demanding to know where their loved ones were. These folks traveled 18 hours from full shelter to full shelter.
I met a young couple right off who were separated from their 1 year old daughter. We carefully read the morgue listings as well as the shelter listing. Her name appeared nowhere. Her mother’s blood pressure had risen so high that she was in severe danger and needed her BP medication.
They got their good news that their daughter was found alive at the Astrodome in Houston. We prayed and prayed and I listened to stories about their lives as this couple was very happy they were here and all safe.
Never have I been so proud of this university. The cadets were running this with love and concern. General Van Alstyne is awesome! He has been there 24 hours a day seeing to it that this shelter is run well. God’s grace has been embodied in a state institution of higher education. This university is doing more than any church anywhere around. Where do I think Jesus is? Yes, at Texas A&M University. To see the look on an elderly woman’s face when a young cadet says “Howdy ma’am, may I carry those bags for you?” She hasn’t heard that kind of concern for her in her week of horror.
I also saw pictures on camera phones that are unbelievable. Yes, white rushing water cascading through the streets, carrying semi-trucks, lifting cars, small portable buildings, etc. These people have slept on their pitched roof for 2-3 days. Ever tried to sleep at a 45 degree angle with rushing water at your feet so if you roll off you are washed away?
Heroic tales of people getting boats with holes in it and having one person bale out water fast enough to keep the boat floating while they ferry people out of harms way.
My first day closed in euphoria. These people felt God had blessed them with our efforts. Who wouldn’t go home charged up after that? God’s grace was easy to feel and these good good people seemed to be getting on their feet.
Tragic tales came quickly. A mother tells me, while her daughter sits next to her, that a man was shot in the head by national guard before the man could get her daughter’s clothes off to rape her. A man tells of losing grip of his nephew who was in the water outside his boat trying to crawl in. Stories of seeing bodies, and bodies, and bodies…all ages…and tales of multiple bodies with gunshots to the head.
These people are traumatized. They are hurt. People who don’t pray, will pray with me now…because they figure anything is good enough to try. Jesus for them is not a doctrine, an invisible friend to believe in, or someone who makes empty promises of faith rewarded by prosperity. Jesus is water, food, a shower, reunion with family, and a safe, good night’s sleep.
I have cried to have them tell me to my pained, resistent ears that I represent Jesus because we have provided food, clothing, shelter, and safety.
I have cried to hear that these people love Jesus Christ in the face of the largest disaster in U.S. history, amidst racist presumptions by the media, abandonment by their police and government, and being ignored by their President and Congress until it was too late for the estimated 10,000 death toll.
People are being reunited with their families. They are getting jobs. We moved several people out today because they have found a place to live and maybe a job lead.
Still there is a dark reality. Today I carry home a list of names of relatives not found. I am the one who, while they are in shelters, can look on TV, newspaper, internet lists of dead and lists of shelters….Lord, help me to find just one,Lord….just one. “Please help me look for my husband and my son” is the one that is the most painful to hear and it rings in my ears…ringing,ringing,ringing.
That couple I mentioned at the beginning? He hit her last night. The police officer told me that she egged it on. He watched it. History of mental illness. He will end up in jail. She will end up at a mental hospital potentially. I told the office,”Please let me talk and pray with them”…”Okay he says”…I approach…they are different people. They do not want me around right now they say. They are ashamed. I grab their hands and tell them God loves them. I fear for them when they still have not reunited with their daughter. What life lies ahead for this young one?
God of Grace and Glory…Why does your grace have to be mixed with so much pain? Why does your glory have to be mixed with so much shame? Why does your Easter demand a Good Friday? Why does love felt in this frail heart of mine get called forth for people only when tragedy is real and present? I know today that I love these people…I love them not because they love you…or because they are lovable or because they need it in pity. I love them because I know that they deserve your love more than I do. They deserve it more than anyone else I know. They deserve it because Matthew 25 is probably the most true piece of your Word I can think of right now.
It is easy for me to live Matthew 25 now. It is on our minds. Who of us will remember that verse 3 mos from now when these New Orleans folks show up in a homesless shelter not having found a job yet? Will we remember to keep giving financially when it is no longer popular? If so, we are blessed by you. If not, we are most to be pitied for our eternity is set.
Found out today that A&M will end this shelter on friday because we have to have an “engineering fair” next week…and first yell next weekend. I was furious. I told the General, “how can we let these people exit here without a place to go” He tells me that he “won’t let that happen”…I find out from a secondary source that the President of the university is saying it should end friday. General Van Alstyne is fighting to keep it open until the job is done. I don’t know about you, but I’m standing behind the 3 star General. God bless him.