May 242010

Sunday afternoon I was sitting in a small duplex hidden behind a church, it is quiet and clean and peaceful. My in-laws are staying there for free for an undetermined length of time, having lost their condo in the Great Flood of Nashville. It really was quite a flood; their place was in the 1000 year flood area while our neighborhood received enough rainfall in two days to be classified a 500 year flood. Amazing.

As I sat and talked with my mother-in-law, I couldn’t help think about the article David Foster wrote about the flood. He had some good points, especially about the impact of despair in this situation. The line that stuck with me, however, was that he said the organized churches had responded poorly and “really suck at getting much done.” He clarified that if you consider the church as its people then this isn’t true, but the organizations had not done well and some were just out looking for credit.

I have to confess this has bugged me since I read it. It would have bugged me if I read it and hadn’t been in the midst of the mess, but it bugged me even more being in the midst. First, we simply have to get past this distinction all the time of the “organized church” versus the “people”. The church is the people, the people are the church. There are some people who are humble and true in their walk with God and there are charlatans. There should be no surprise that the same is true of “churches”…since, you know, the church is made up of people.

That said, I wanted to share a little of my experience these last few weeks. The first day that we went down to work on the condo, just two days after the flood, the devastation was really pretty amazing. The people who lived in the condos were in a state of shock. As we pulled down drywall and loaded up dishes, we would make trips up to the street to deposit the debris. Each time we would pass other people doing the same. I had my truck with coolers in the back opened up and filled with Gatorade and water and pop. We offered it to anyone. That day, in 90 degree weather, the ice never melted and when I left three hours later both coolers were still full, even though people were constantly grabbing drinks. God blesses us even in small things.

In the midst of this activity we saw several acts of mercy. A truck drove through with men who would get out and ask if we needed sunscreen, spraying us down if we needed. A woman came through with a rolling cooler and water. Dominos pizza donated pizzas and kept them warm in one of the usable clubhouses. Pizza Hut donated 100 personal pan pizzas and had a man drive through the condos handing them out. My mother-in-law told me that one morning some women came through with breakfast and when she asked if there was coffee the ladies told her they didn’t have any, but would be right back. They were back quickly with coffee in hand.

There was a crew from my father-in-laws church that helped with demolition, along with a volunteer from our church. They also provided a storage unit and transported everything there once it was boxed and ready to go. Others took the clothing and washed, including precious quilts that have been restored. Others, including myself, took photographs and dishes and papers and are working through them, cleaning and restoring. My in-laws are staying in their little peaceful duplex because of another church that provided it for free as long as they need.

Yes, those are mostly the actions of “people”. So what about the “Church?” Well, when my parents went to church yesterday the 1st and 2nd graders had decorated little buildings, like bird houses, for each of the 44 people in their church that had lost a home. The houses will be their mailboxes as they are staying in a variety of places for different lengths of time. Each mailbox already had notes from the children. The organization of the children’s ministry helped organize that.

My in-law’s church, the Bellevue Church of Christ, has sent out construction teams daily and has helped provide storage units and workers throughout these three weeks. When donations of food and water and clothes began piling up at the church, they worked with Bellevue Baptist across the street to make things simpler; the Church of Christ took the food and water and the Baptists took the clothes. It was all given away to those affected by the flood. There is a United Methodist Church that took in people who could no longer be housed by the Red Cross Shelter. Cross Point church has sent volunteers out each weekend, including 600 that were sent to areas that had not had attention yet. On their website they say, “We are going to let people know that Hope and Help aren’t just reserved to families in our own back yard, but to everyone who asks for it.”

I could multiply the story many times over for the churches in the community. Our church, The Village Chapel has worked on a minimum of 20 houses, some we will be with all the way through their final construction. We had 400 volunteers sign up (and although I’m not sure our membership, I would guess we are around 800-900 members, so that’s almost half our church), serving in manual labor, skilled labor, food prep, supply purchasing, delivering, victim hand holding, general planning and administration of communicating the details and assignments.

Yesterday when I was praying at the end of the service, one man came and thanked our administrator. He said that there were so many eager to serve, but the organization and the help of knowing where to serve best has been a huge help. The service has been cathartic.

So, I’m not sure where David Foster was when he said the organized church hasn’t helped, or has just been out for photo ops. That has surely not been my experience. On the receiving end with my in-laws, we have been encouraged by offers ranging from a drink of water toa place to live. They have had congregations take up special offerings for them. They have been blessed by the individuals who acted on the guidance of the organized church. On the serving end, I have not been able to do as much as I’d like, but I have found ways to serve because my church has opened my eyes to needs…I prepared sandwiches for a crew of workers this past week. I have prayed for needs.

In each of these things, the people we have encountered and served with have become community in a different way. There is a depth of emotion when you are gutting a house with strangers in the midst of emotional despair that is so hard to convey. The hundreds of volunteers who just showed up in the first days was staggering, and so encouraging.

However, when in the midst of that despair someone comes in the name of Christ and offers hope, it is immeasurable the impact that has. If we all did so just as individuals, that would be pretty amazing….however when we move out in the name of Christ as part of organized churches, we also offer a place for these people to return to. There are the guys in the truck with sunscreen who blessed me, but I’ll never see again, and then there are the crews from our church who I know I’ll see on Sunday. There is security and hope in knowing that there is a community that acted under the guidance of its leadership and I’ll be able to find them months from now when there is lingering despair.

Yes, the organized church does some goofy things. Sometimes it is out just for photo ops. So are we as people. Sometimes, though, the organized church acts as it is called to, as a body of believers who love their Lord and want to minister to those who are in need. In the midst of that some have come to know Him, and others have been saved from despair and from physical distress. I’d say that’s a pretty good testimony.

  No Responses to “The Nashville Flood: The Real Story About the Churches”

  1. The real story of Jesus and his people is seldom shared…

  2. I am very, very pleased that Sarah wrote this and we are able to tell “the rest of the story”.

    Awesome job, Sarah!.

  3. My husband and I have talked a lot about this, because there is a thin line. There is that place where we stand up and want everyone to take notice of what we have done…and I think that’s a little of what Foster was saying when he mentioned the church being out for video shots and photo ops. That’s there, I won’t argue against it…however, I think there has been remarkable true compassion in this situation.

    We had a group stand before the church last week that had come to help. They were from Iowa and were led by a couple who had a child in college here. They were coming down to pick up their kid and decided to bring supplies and help out….which led to their church pitching in and a team coming with a van and trailer filled with supplies. There was no arrogance in them…the young people that came were bashful and embarrassed at being applauded.

    So, I understand not wanting to grand-stand….but, man, for all the lousy things the church does, sometimes it is worth shouting that we have been moved by God to impact our community. It’s been a huge encouragement to me personally, and to those I know who have lost everything in this.

  4. It has become fashionable, dare I say cool…to constantly condemn the church whenever possible.

    The truth is that all over the world the church is bringing life through the Gospel and the actions of her members.

    We need to be reminded…

  5. Thanks for sharing Sarah. What an encouraging and uplifting testimony of the body of Christ.

  6. I should mention, in case anyone is wondering, the picture of the slides hanging in the kitchen is of slides that were covered in silt that we were able to wash and salvage from my in-law’s. They are hanging to dry in my kitchen 😉 The other pictures are from working at their condo.

    Thanks Isaiah!!

  7. Sarah,

    Thank you for writing this. Nashville being where my wife and I consider home, this reaffirmed it for me. My wife was asked just yesterday by a good friend when we were coming home. While much of “the church” as an organized entity leaves much to be desired, the influence of Christ in the Nashville community was always in evidence to us in the people. The people care about one another, for the most part. There will always be those who are in it for their own glory and gain. But in our experience most had no ulterior
    motives and just simply wanted to help out when help was needed because it was the right thing to do.

    And I just love the part of your story about the coolers staying full of ice and beverages. Reminds me of the loaves and fishes miracles during Jesus’ ministry.

  8. Thanks Sarah, for writing this.

  9. Great article, Sarah…thanks!

  10. Thanks Xenia, Tim!

    Dewd…that was completely what I was thinking about the ice and beverages. We know a couple people dropped drinks in if they were leaving and had some left over, but I saw way more people drinking them. I thought it was pretty cool.

  11. Sarah, you make me want to move to Nashville.

  12. Sarah,

    I know, maybe David Foster just wrote his article so he could grandstand and get photo ops, and the church he is condemning….maybe he is just preaching to himself about what he has or has not done?!?!?!?! This is kind of like the preacher who preaches against this sin or that sin, and that is (truth be known) because he himself is struggling in that area… From reading his article it didn’t sound too much like he has had his shirt sleeves rolled up… I don’t know, shouldn’t judge I guess…

  13. jlo…come on out 😉

    Jim…I honestly have no idea. I don’t know Foster or his church, or even anyone who goes there, so all I can go on is what he wrote in his article. I know on his church website he has links to several organizations that are working in the area (FEMA, Samaritan’s Purse, etc) and mentions that they’ve been working with them. So…I would guess he’s done something.

    What he wrote about despair being a huge issue and the fact that we can bring hope is right on. I just have had a very different experience with what the “organized” church has done. Many have wanted to serve and didn’t know what to do…the leaders in our church and others have laid it out for us so we can jump in. Our church today is not asking for volunteers because the project managers are spending the day scouting out where we are needed….so our volunteers are being used in the most effective and needed way.

    I think it’s kinda funny to think it’s just a bunch of people running out and volunteering all around the place…that would be a mess!!! I’m hugely thankful for how my in-laws have been tenderly cared for by the Church of Christ, others I know are being held up by a Baptist church, and our little fellowship is impacting many lives as well. Maybe Foster will clarify what he was thinking….I just took the opportunity to share things from my view on the experience.

  14. Let your light so shine that men will hear your criticisms and suggestions for others’ serving better that they will glorify the Father in Heaven.

    Thank you Sarah for again telling it like it is. I am so happy to be “kin” to the Family of God who thinks and lives and loves like you and your family do.
    I always think of a faithful, retired teacher (Mrs. Pence) teaching me about Joshua and Caleb with a flannel graph back in 1977. A million hypocrites can’t sway me from the love she showed. I saw Jesus “for real” not in a flannel graph, but in the love Mrs. Pence showed.
    Someday in the future, some kid will look back to the love shown him and his family after a horrible flood and the loyalty to Christ he learned from you will shape and change his world. It’s a story he’ll tell his kids. That’s the legacy of the Church. That’s the real story in Nashville – the love of Christ echoing through hearts long after the waters have receded.

  15. Excellent article, Sarah.

  16. great article Sarah thanks for sharing it

  17. A looong time lurker coming out of hiding from my soaking wet, Nashville CC-affliated church abode to second Sarah’s comments. I live less than a mile from Pastor Foster’s church’s meeting location, yet my perception is radically different. Many churches have stepped forward in incredible numbers and organization both with and without fanfare. Yes, there have been some grandstanders – but this is the land of mega-churches attempting to differentiate themselves. There is always some unfortunate grandstanding. My CC affliated church hasn’t been in the news but has sent teams out daily to help others – despite the fact that we are in a particularly hard hit area and have our own property damage to address. Additionally, many efforts have been behind the scenes — i.e, church staff and elders unofficially connecting church members with housing to share to those in need. No less important, many of the people who have stepped forward to organize relief in secular organizations – such as my own government employer — are Christians. The “church” is at its best when it does both — strike out in sign-carrying, faith sharing, and affirming armies, as well as in quiet individual lives.

  18. Thanks Rob and Brians 😉

    Glassy…glad you joined the discussion!! I’m also glad to hear that you have seen and experienced the same thing. Yes, there will always be some who are around for wrong reasons, but I have to believe that even those are being impacted by the emotion of serving in such a shocking situation.

    One of the things that my husband and his brother and I were all saying as we were taking wheel-barrows full of debris up to the street, was that whenever we hear of another situation where we can help we will run to do so. There was such encouragement in having strangers come and help.

  19. Great article! Good to know Gods people are doing what they should. It was like that after Katrina as well.

  20. This article made me think of something I struggle with, all fluff aside I consider asking for help, of any kind for anything a sin, actually a vile retched Satanic failure. This was something drilled into my brain, spirit, soul etc from almost day one when I became a Christian. I can remember repenting of showing grief, something I can control now even the death of a close family member does not produce any public display. Of course it eats me up inside but that is a character flaw I am begging God help me correct.

    I know this is wrong and even silly. But it is so hard to ask, need, lean, ask for prayer etc. Many of us, if we are honest, loath needing anyone. We are bred in the American Church to be anonymous and antonymous, our communities are functional and effective as well as efficient. They are often also sterile and dehumanizing. It seem being human is a vile thing, we are reprobate degenerate fallen creatures loathed by our Creator. I reject that, I think being human is a wonder, I see the spark of God in many people and in the acts of kindness done on a daily basis. I dont deny we need a savior, I know I do. But something has been lost in the translation. I dont know what it is but it has had awful consequences on many of us.

    God be with us.

  21. […] Preacher – The Nashville Flood: The Real Story About the Churches – I am very glad that the Phoenix Preacher has called out David Foster over his comments of […]

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