As we arrived in New Jersey ten days after super “Frankenstorm” Sandy devastated the Northeast, I was prepared for a lot of things. Due to the prior day’s snow and ice storm, the power was out at the church building where we were planning to stay, but we had lanterns and warm clothing well supplied. What we hadn’t planned for was the generous hospitality of the minister of the church and his wife that warmly welcomed all twelve of us into their generator-supplied home. They offered us warm meals and hot showers after our 18 hour van drive from Huntsville. We came to help and assist, and yet they were serving us! What a gracious and generous family they are.
After enjoying six hours of sleep on the floor, we headed off to Union Beach to bring recovery assistance to devastated families. We were prepared with shovels and gloves and tools to do the work of gutting water ravaged homes. What we weren’t prepared for were the horrific stories we heard of survival. Steve shared about the torturous night that he and his four girls spent in the second story of their home as waves crashed around their house, the foundation heaving and buckling while whirlpools formed in their front yard carrying their neighbor’s entire house with all their belongings out to sea. The next morning there was no sign that their neighbors and friends had ever lived there. Ira shared about not being able to find his 2,000 pound industrial compressor for days until he discovered it in the chassis of a neighbor’s vehicle upside down. Martha shared that her son was currently at the hospital with an asthma attack due to the molds from the flooding. Plus, she had been scammed out of $4,000 by a construction company that had promised to gut her house, but after receiving the money never came back. Now in despair, she had considered suicide the night previous to our arrival to help. She wept in our arms with tears of joy and hope as she discovered there were Christians who cared.
What I also was not ready for was to answer the question, “Why did you come?” When people discovered we were from Alabama and had driven 18 hours one way at our own personal expense to help them, they wanted to know why. I began answering with thoughts such as, “Well our church planned an opportunity to help and I wanted to come.” Or “I lived in New Jersey for 8 years and identified with the people and wanted to come and help.” Or “Others helped us during the tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 and I wanted to pay it forward.” But all these answers did not come close to explaining the deep sense of urging that I felt from the Lord that prompted me to go.
After a few seemingly empty explanations of why I came, God revealed to me with vivid clarity the real reason I felt compelled. It was simple. Because God came. Because God comes! “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son. . .” (John 3:16) God meets us in our devastation, in our brokenness, in our despair and shows us compassion and love and offers hope. God met me in the wreckage of my life and I went to New Jersey as an expression of God meeting them in theirs.
Everyone we met offered to pay us or make a contribution to our organization. Offers we consistently refused, because we came to give not receive. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give. . .” (Mark 10:45). Instead of the exchange of money, we instead exchanged addresses and shared in prayer with them both before we started working, while we worked, and when we came to completion. Sean, as we worked on his house across from the bay, shared that he was not a religious man, but that we certainly had something he needed. After praying with him the first day, we went back to help some more on the second day, and as the day drew to an end; it was Sean who called his brother and sister-in-law together with us all and said that it was time to pray. And with tears welling up from his heart, he expressed life transforming gratitude to us and to the Lord.
I went because God goes. And I was blessed to see God’s work in the lives of devastated souls.