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ON HIGHER GROUND: God's mercy evident, even in sinful world

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By Bill Horner

 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22).

The devastation of a modern American city is still etched indelibly on my mind—whole   communities abandoned, shopping centers gutted, hospitals and churches boarded up. A vibrant, colorful New Orleans sat in ruins, the victim of extensive flooding and wind damage from Hurricane Katrina— one of that decade’s natural disasters.  

Yet the presence of so many there to help with reconstruction revealed the mercy of God even in a fallen world.

Today, a lady a few years my senior told me not to worry, that turning 60 does not hurt.  

That’s a relief.  Actually on the occasion of my 60th birthday, I am enjoying this look back through six decades.  

I’m having some trouble with the last one, though.  

What do you call it?  

We’ve revisited the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and the 90s.  

But what comes next, the zeroes?  the aughts?  Many people just call it the 00s.

Whatever you call it, the decade was one of upheaval.  

While previous decades had their share of disasters, the 2000s seemed to ratchet up the number and severity.  

Besides Katrina, this time period included such natural disasters as a Pacific earthquake and tsunami that killed upwards of 230,000 people, a cyclone with a death toll of 146,000 in Myanmar (also known as Burma), and a souped up staph infection called MRSA which was responsible for 1,652 deaths in the United Kingdom.

The man-made disasters were devastating as well.  

Who can forget that awful morning when jetliners crashed into buildings in New York and Washington, and we realized we were under attack?  And the war on terror, assassinations, and economic collapse in diverse parts of the globe (including ours) just added to the misery. 

Nevertheless, even in the midst of the worst trouble, God showed his mercy by sending his own people to help the afflicted.  

I was privileged to participate in one such act, 18 months after Katrina.

As I related in an earlier column, several of us from my church formed a team and participated in the rebuild effort in New Orleans one week in 2007.  

Our North American Mission Board housed us — and many similar teams — in the downtown World Trade Center building in dormitory-like quarters. 

Every morning shuttles would take us out to an improvised warehouse to pick up supplies and tools and then on to a house to do our work. We did our part to make homes livable again.  

One house was close to completion.  

We finished electrical work and installed kitchen cabinets for a single lady who had significant emotional problems. She was present each day as we labored, constantly instructing or chiding us about our work. Yet she was too scatterbrained even to take care of her personal appearance and hygiene. By her obnoxious attitude, she had run off a previous rebuild team a couple of weeks earlier. 

So we tried extra hard to befriend her and ignore her irritating rants.  

She responded well to our overtures.  One day she even brought us a pitcher of lemonade. (We were afraid to drink it, but we appreciated the thought anyway.)  

When she saw that her new kitchen cabinets and drawers were the kind without knobs and handles, she flipped out.  

“They have to have knobs and handles!” she exclaimed.  

We tried to explain politely that she was getting the cabinets and labor for free, but to no avail.  We finally chipped in and bought and installed what she wanted.  

None of us regretted it.

In the eating area back at the World Trade Center, each team staked out space on the wall and painted a logo and a message, such as “New Orleans, we love you!” and  “God bless you, New Orleans.”  

On a huge pillar our team painted a cross, our names, and John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”  I hope those messages serve even today to remind the lost crowd of God’s mercy even in the midst of disaster.