If one member of Christ's body suffers, all suffer. If one member is honored, all rejoice.1 Corinthians 12:12-26
I recently wrapped up leading a middle school mission experience, Just5Days, in Weslaco, Texas. It was an awesome week with many unexpected events! This year's theme was on solidarity and it sure felt like we experienced that on a whole different level.
A typical week of Just5Days has dozens of middle school youth and adult leaders gather from Monday to Friday to explore how their faith impacts important social justice issues. Our week started out as any other until about 5:30 AM Wednesday morning. We woke up in our air mattresses surrounded by water! Thunderstorms had been moving through our area all night long and the rain was torrential. The CCE building that we were using as sleeping quarters was quickly flooding. The adults were scrambling to wake everyone up and move their personal belongings to the tabletops and shelves. The youth grabbed their sandals, phones, and medications and made their way to the stage nearby to stay above the water. Realizing the storm was still thundering and looming around, we expected to take on more water. We had about six inches of water before it was all done. While considering our options to stay dry, Father Carlos Zuñiga (the pastor) found the old parish building (the now conference center) to be dry as it was a higher elevation so we moved everyone through the waters to that higher ground. The 60 middle school youth and adult participants did an amazing job to stay calm and composed during the entire ordeal. Once the storm passed, the floodwaters calmed and slowly began to recede. We arranged for sandwiches for lunch while many of the youth participants were finding ways to stay entertained. Needless to say, it was one crazy morning! One parish group safely drove home later that day and the two other groups remained. Our programming was obviously cut short given the weather and flooding, but the leaders found ways to reflect and engage their youth in meaningful ways. On Thursday, the two remaining groups helped to clean the host parish and some affected homes.
It was quite a moving experience for me. After trying to logistically figure out appropriate lodging, food, and shower options with the team, I reflected on the how disruptive this flooding was to the many families that surrounded the parish. I was quickly able to pick up my most important belongings since they were already in a duffel bag. But I thought about the families whose homes were filled with water. Much of their personal belongings would have to be thrown away, and their homes had already been ripped up in light of clean-up efforts. Some parts of the city were not affected as severely and were soon back to normal. This seemed to widen the gap of those that had just personally experienced a life-changing event within their home and those that were dealing with another wet and rainy morning.
Before our week of Just5Days concluded, the young people shared some of their impressions and reflections from their time there. The experience of being in the flood brought the theme of solidarity to a whole different level. The youth participants and the adult leaders remarked they felt personally connected to this community in a new way. Among the larger group were local youth and adults. They were thankful for the support in word and deed that the visiting groups provided. While I hope we do not have another natural disaster like this, I am thankful for the generous and charitable response that so many people made to those in need. We ourselves were shown this generosity on Wednesday morning when we were dealing with the flood and we were able to extend that same generosity to others in need later in the week. As one of the youth participants shared, "We were able to live Mother Teresa's words of doing small things with great love." While the effects of the flood will continue to linger and the recovery may be a long ways off for some, I am confident the path to recovery is paved with the hopeful, generous, and loving faces of people loving and serving one another.