Editor's note: Lucas Moeller, a member of Germany's Evangelical Church and a yearlong intern with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries in Cleveland, joined a group of national UCC staff that traveled to New Orleans in December - at their own expense - to form a work camp and assist with rebuilding of homes there. The following is Moeller's reflections on the experience.
Sleeping on the ground, with snakes and spiders moving about, little privacy and hard physical work doesn't sound like an experience most people would like to have.
Why would anyone desire to leave a secure office space or the benefits of living in a nice house to swing a sledge hammer?
But, for a part of the body, the community, conditions have changed. And how can I move into new regions of social work with confidence while I know a part of my own community is suffering?
When Hurricane Katrina hit, many of my brothers and sisters lost their shelter, their homes - places of joy and memory that gave them security. And the very moment the U.S. government decided it was more important to spend most of its efforts and money on war, and when insurance companies decided to make it complicated for families to get funds and rebuild houses, the people in New Orleans lost something even more important: they lost their hope.
Years ago, an internationally recognized institute discovered that the only way humanity might unite would be under a threat so enormous that people would forget about the personal advantages and ideological reasons which separate them, and instead work together as a community to defeat the threat.
Unfortunately, in New Orleans, it is not an imagined threat any more - it is reality. And, for too many in New Orleans, what fails to be a reality is the presence of a community to stand side by side, helping rebuild the neighborhood.
The rabid individualism of our nation connects with materialism and selfishness and breeds fear for future outcomes of catastrophes. Somebody has to make the first step to break the cycle and to help the most vulnerable who have lost all their hope.
God is great, but God won't get down to earth, to the people in New Orleans, to fix their broken houses and hopes. God acts through our hearts and hands and gives us the strength to accept this mission.
What is one week of our comfortable lives compared to the rich experiences that we, the body of Christ, can carry home? Together we move away from being organizers, information providers or connection makers, to doing something first hand. We can see great need, but we also can feel a hammer in our hands, and make progress in the effort to assist.
According to thankful people I met, this is the only help they can depend on - the efforts of ordinary people like you and me. These memories have refilled my spirit, and I know again what my social work and ministry is for. We, as the UCC, encourage people to experience change every single day, simply by making steps in a progressive and different, more justice-oriented future.
How can we be truly honest to those who suffer, and live in balance with ourselves, if we are not willing to take the lead and risk the change by bringing the justice we believe in to the people who really need it?
If we accept this challenge we can pass this God-given strength and passion onto our family members, so it can become a glimpse of heaven to people who may only know troubled water.
Learn more @
Learn more about participating in a UCC-sponsored hurricane recovery work camp at http://www.ucc.org/volunteer/hurricane/.