In the midst of ruins


Faith sharing with words and deeds

So let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise through him, which is the fruit from our lips that confess his name.  Don’t forget to do good and to share what you have because God is pleased with these kinds of sacrifices.
Hebrews 13:15-16

I’m challenged by what it means to do good and share with others what we have. This passage seems to suggest that words praising God and the kindness we share with others are not separate from each other, but are linked to how we should share our faith. It also refers to praising God and doing good as sacrifices, yet maybe “sacrifices” can best be understood as those acts where we share our love and adoration to glorify Christ.   

An American consumerist view of this would say “sharing what we have” means our tangible accumulation of worldly goods. However, looking at this from a Christian understanding, isn’t the very best gift any of us have to share with others is our faith and the hope of leading them to the saving grace of Jesus Christ? I’m reminded of a quote from St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach without ceasing and when necessary use words.” His point was that our actions are a powerful mode of faith-sharing the gift of salvation with others.

So, how do Christians live out our faith with both words and works? For those who go through a disaster or suffer loss, can one person’s actions point to God’s grace in the midst of the ruins? Can our words of faith and hope become a tangible sign of God’s loving presence in the world? Is it possible for a person’s faith in Christ to sustain them through their grief and adjustments?

Let’s face it, everyday life is a mixture of ups and downs, filled with joys of weddings, graduations, births and new jobs; challenged with disappointments and grief of job losses, deaths and illnesses. Then BAM! In the midst of that, a disaster brings destruction, turmoil and chaos, disrupts comforting routines, destroys keepsakes, leaves behind debris to be cleaned up, insurance claims to file, new living accommodations to find and a seemingly endless list of new demands to be dealt with. For those affected by a disaster, all of that becomes a second layer of challenges on top of everyday life.  

A short-term mission trip to DuLac, La., helped me find answers to these questions. Seven weeks after Hurricane Andrew pounded Louisiana in 1992, two of us from Kansas volunteered with the UMCOR disaster response mission site in the small fishing village of DuLac. DuLac sits in the bayou area some 13 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. We went expecting to be missioners of hope and help to people whose lives had been impacted by a powerful 10-foot tidal surge. While there, we sanitized molded wall studs, pried tiles off of floors and offered whatever help we could.  

One homeowner we helped shared how 10 years before Hurricane Andrew her family’s first home on their land had burned to the ground. After that loss she and her husband didn’t give up, but with their own hands and sweat built themselves a new home on the same site. Now, that home sat several yards away on top of a levy, moved there by the tidal surge wave. The cost to move the home back to its original foundation was exorbitant, so in the seven weeks after the hurricane before we arrived, this couple had been deconstructing their home board by board while attempting to sanitize an old flooded house to become their home. They were exhausted and now living in a small FEMA trailer that sat on the front lawn where both of their homes had once stood.

During a coffee break with the homeowner we shared that our prayer was for God’s grace to sustain her and her family through the days ahead. What she said next answered my questions about whether faith can sustain us in difficult times and whether our simple acts of kindness are praise to God. This woman, who had lost much shared, her testimony with us about how God’s grace had already protected her family, how they were safe, how the boat her husband used as a commercial fisherman for income was kept safe, how she could feel God’s presence through it all, and how she felt God had brought us to help her. Her testimony of faith and love for the Lord was offered through a lens of joy in the midst of ruins! Her testimony from a place of pain is what all Christians are called to share from the heart as the very hands and feet of Christ in the world. Thanks be to God.

As your congregation seeks to do good and share with others, consider what gifts you’ve been given and how your actions can become an example of God’s grace offered to all. I encourage you to challenge yourselves by serving others because genuine faith can’t be passive but must be actively at work in the world to glorify God.