Yesterday I spoke in a suburban church--not a particularly wealthy group, a middle class congregation with lots and lots of heart.
Since Katrina evacuees began arriving in Dallas about a month ago, this congregation has embraced 34 families. And, I do mean embraced. Each family has been placed in an apartment. Each apartment has been prepared and completely outfitted for living depending on what each family required.
The church even gave a baby shower to a young couple whose baby was born last Saturday morning just past midnight!
During Sunday School, vans arrived carrying these families to the church. During worship, they filled several pews in the church.
Several things stood out.
The evacuees were incredibly grateful for all that they had received--incredibly grateful. They were obviously very happy to have found this special group of people. Friendships, real friendships, were developing.
The church had been transformed by the hard, emotional work of the past month--amazingly transformed. Everyone talked of it. Tears flowed. Those who spoke to the experience talked of how the evacuees had blessed the church far more than the church had blessed them. I expect that this issue could have been debated back and forth for a long time.
The evacuees were all from New Orleans. They all happened to be African Americans. The church was a north Dallas County congregation and 99% white.
The connections and the fellowship were very real.
I truly believe that amazing things will continue to happen in this church with these people working together.
The church made it clear again and again that it hopes all of these new friends will stay in Dallas with them. Several of the New Orleans folk with whom I talked told me that they hope to return home eventually. Not surprising really.
It was a very sweet experience.
But I have to tell you there was a kind of sadness at work as well.
The guests from New Orleans were very courageous people from my perspective. Think about how you would feel as a stranger in a new place far from your home.
Gratitude would be natural and expected. But, there was also an uneasiness about being only on the receiving end of things. If this has not become clear to the church yet, it will, I promise.
During the offering time, I saw many of the evacuees dropping bills into the collection plates. That is a good thing.
The church has a real opportunity to build on its healthy compassion and to go further by beginning to commit itself to the work of establishing justice here in Dallas and around the nation.
As the evacuees get settled with jobs and schools and life, some of the same issues that they battled in New Orleans will face them again here in Texas. The storm from which they emerged has been raging in their lives for decades. Katrina was the squall that opened and uncovered the world of poverty before the eyes of America.
Becoming friends, real friends with the poor could lead to a real commitment to establishing justice, changing the rules and insuring equity for all of our citizens--equality in education, housing, earning power, job training, child care, and nutrition.
Jesus once said that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
If that is true, and who would argue that it isn't, then the higher good is to work to the end that all of us can be in a position to give and give again whenever we are called upon to do so.
That will include those "washed out" of New Orleans with little or nothing in their hands.