I am writing this in the RV late at night in the western mountains of North Carolina. We are presently at Ridge Haven outside Brevard, NC with an RV volunteer group of retirees helping get the camp and conference grounds ready for a new season. So far, the guys have installed air conditioning units in 25 rooms, torn down a rickety climbing wall, and built stairs and deck railing. The gals have cleaned and sanitized about 200 bunk beds, 100 toilets and showers, and done unceasing loads of linens in the laundry.
Last week, we did 5 days of mold mitigation, dry walling, sub-floor repair, and trim at 4 different homes in Jones County, NC near New Bern, all wrecked by hurricane Florence last fall. The county is dotted with small plots that are testimony to the times when share cropping tobacco and cotton was the main use of the land (and abuse of most of its citizens). Now, after the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, these homeowners, though still homeless, were thrilled to see the studs covered with sheet rock, and the first coats of primer go on. It gave their hope wings.
Each night here at Ridge Haven, the RVers gather for dinner, and we have had some lively conversation around the question, ‘who is my neighbor?’ It resonates with me because I am not normally a mercy-minded person, despite the fact that I am so grateful for God’s mercy to me. But seeing hurricane destruction firsthand has me questioning the too-big personal space with which I comfort myself, and my indifference to the real and lasting suffering of disaster victims, as well as the poor, and those so very much unlike me.
So here we sit, camped out under the stars, surrounded by a lush forest of redbud trees about to pop, of springing jonquils, loblolly pines, and dark green rhododendrons. It is quiet, the sunrise crisp and cold, but I can just imagine the multitudes of children heading this way in a few months for camp or youth group retreat. It is a world away from flooded homes and drowned dreams.
This work is tedious and physically-draining, but it gives me pause, time to dwell on whether or not I live out what I say I believe. Our discussion question for dinner tomorrow is, “What do you deliberately leave in your field that others might glean?” This is a reference to the biblical principal of never harvesting all of a field, but leaving enough for the poor to come after and collect, or glean for themselves. How much of my own resources of time, talent, skills, and money do I intentionally “leave” for others who are my neighbors in need?
We may have come on a 2-week trip with a servant heart. But the reality is that the work in my own heart is just beginning. I have to take a crowbar to my thoughts and attitudes to get down to the studs of what I believe so I can rebuild a better house. All because God didn’t calm this particular storm.