This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Kriss: Our sighs and our work are our prayers

Houston Mennonite Church Pastor Marty Troyer told me on Aug. 31, “I’ve sighed a lot in these past few days,” referring to the Spirit’s pleading on our behalf through sighs and groans as outlined in the Book of Romans. He was talking from the church’s meetinghouse after having thrown out his back moving emergency supplies into place. The bad back was forcing him to focus on his people and pastoral skills of connection and care. The church was meeting with leaders of Mennonite Disaster Service later in the day and had already begun initiatives to care for immigrants who were particularly vulnerable.

Stephen Kriss

By the time you read this, we’ll know the extent of the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey. I remember traveling to New York City with an MDS team to survey damage and plan response after Hurricane Sandy nearly five years ago. One of the team members caught a glimpse of a high-lift bulldozer and garbage trucks picking up what could be carried away. He observed, “This is what it’s like when a place has resources. It’s very different from what we saw at New Orleans,” referring to the previous deadly superstorm, Katrina. I hope Houston will be able to focus its resources toward recovery well.

I’ve read that Houston’s sprawling nature means it has more in common with cities in the developing world than the compact pre-car-designed places that make up much of our national idea of urban space. Houston was built fast and large in true Texas style. It’s diverse, with growth stoked by our nation’s appetite for oil, though the city has become more than a single-industry town.

Another statistic suggests it has more megachurches than any other city in the nation. There are four Mennonite-related congregations in the metro area and numerous others scattered throughout the impact area. None is larger than 200 people.

Recently I went back to Staten Island, N.Y., where MDS worked for two years after Hurricane Sandy. MDS did important, hope-giving work, though neighborhoods remain pockmarked with empty lots and boarded-up buildings. There is a lot of new construction. Federal programs intended to help resuscitate homes vulnerable to flooding have meant much transition and reconstruction. I grew up in such a neighborhood. It flooded in the 1970s. Our small-town fabric was torn so ruthlessly by the flash flood and the followup federal policies that it never “came back” fully.

In Houston’s followup days, the church will often be at its best. We will turn our worship spaces into homeless shelters, like Joel Osteen’s massive Lakewood Church, along with neighborhood-sized congregations. We’ll mobilize to meet people’s needs regardless of their beliefs or social status. In the holy community that occurs after a crisis, a bond unlike what many of us have ever experienced will be formed. It will be both hard and hopeful. God will be glorified, in some profound ways more visible than before.

We will bring our best resources to bear on this crisis. We’ll strive to be a source of hardworking hope in the midst of overwhelming realities that sometimes make people question the goodness of God. We’ll stay long after others have gone home and the news cameras have turned elsewhere. There will be plenty of work to do. With our hammers and buckets, it will be part of our ongoing prayer.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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