It’s actually the morning of Day 5 now, but Megan and I were so wiped out from working in the 95-degree heat yesterday that we were asleep by 7:00 last night. So after 11 hours of sleep, I’m the first one up and am using this little slice of quiet time to reflect on the week and catch up on writing.
The temperatures here are not helping the working conditions; we go hard for a couple of hours in the morning, take a break for lunch and to cool off in the shade, and then work two or three more hours in the afternoon. The heat peaks around 3:00, so most work crews then quit for the day in order to stay healthy and have energy for the next day. (We keep saying that if it were only 10 degrees cooler, we could accomplish twice as much.)
The heat, combined with the dust and the breeze that constantly kicks tiny fragments of debris into our eyes and noses and mouths, is one of the hellish parts of being here. But of course the most grueling part is simply the massive devastation — the loss of life, the destruction of dwellings, the seemingly endless regulations people have to hurdle in order to piece their lives back together.
However, this morning I’m not thinking about that. I’m reflecting back on the past few days and realizing how God’s presence has manifested itself here — how many ways we are seeing His Kingdom break in amidst the tragedy.
Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God — how it is both here, and not yet. Some religions tend to emphasize the “not yet” — how we need to “get saved” so we can go to heaven when we die. And although that is certainly true, we too often overlook the “here” part and forget that God is present with us every day, and we as His people can participate in a life that is more Kingdom-like.
Moore, OK, in the aftermath of an EF-5 tornado, is the strongest in-breaking of the Kingdom that I’ve ever experienced. As I mentioned in a previous post, we felt it first at the Plaza Towers Elementary site — a place that witnessed the tragic loss of seven innocent lives. Despite being a place of deep sadness, or maybe because of that — it has become hallowed ground. God’s presence is palpable there; it’s in the seven wooden crosses, the gaudy makeshift memorial, the Hope Raisers tent where children and parents come to heal, and maybe in the ground itself.
But the Kingdom extends far beyond that spot. Jesus uses the language “the Kingdom of God is like…” or “the Kingdom of heaven is like…” Here’s how I think He might talk about this place…
The Kingdom of God is like… volunteers flooding in from every corner of the country to spend a few hours or a few days, or even a few weeks, laboring to rebuild this town.
The Kingdom of God is like… the Oklahoma City Rescue Mission — a place of recovery and freedom for countless marginalized families — which decided to open its doors and provide free cots, meals, and showers to hundreds of weary volunteers who will stay here this summer. (A huge THANK YOU to them for the incredible hospitality they’ve shown us this week, and especially to Jill, who not only gave us a tour when we first shuffled in after a 16-hour drive, but shared a little of her story, and how God used the mission to heal her from decades of abuse.)
The Kingdom of God is like… ServeMoore, a volunteer-led organization that materialized out of the rubble to serve as headquarters for clean-up efforts. They not only gave thousands of volunteers work to do this week, but provided us with every supply and tool (from sunscreen to wheelbarrows) we could possibly need.
The Kingdom of God is like… the church across the street from ServeMoore, who provided incredible free lunches of homemade chicken salad and pasta salad, an endless supply of cold drinks, and shade tents, and who will be there all summer long doing the same for other volunteers. Yesterday they even brought in huge fans and misting machines to cool us off. Amazing.
The Kingdom of God is like… the guys from the Baptist Disaster Relief Team who seemed to show up whenever we needed someone with a backhoe to push a pile of rubble to the curb, saving us hours of work.
The Kingdom of God is like… a busload of teachers from Duncan, OK, who arrived just when we needed a burst of energy, and helped us clear debris for an hour. They were just the encouragement we needed, just when we needed it.
The Kingdom of God is like… Dave the firefighter from New Jersey, who in his spare time runs a non-profit that does disaster relief work, and who organized us to clean up the home of an elderly professor and save his precious books and memorabilia. (Dave has done this work in six states so far in 2013, and he invited us to join him in two little towns in New Jersey who have yet to be cleaned up from the hurricane last fall.)
The Kingdom of God is like… the college kids we met through Adventures in Mission, most of whom flew here on their own, without knowing a soul, and congealed as a team to do some very difficult and tedious work this week.
The Kingdom of God is like… Amy from Texas, a 50-something widow with a big heart and the gift of hospitality, who instantly befriended us and invited us to join their group. We miss her already.
The Kingdom of God is like… our team leader, Blair, having her jeep break down — and five mechanics who happened to be hanging around ServeMoore offering to fix it for free so she could continue hauling volunteers, and make it back home to Dallas.
The Kingdom of God is like… SUVs full of church ladies showing up at random times to offer cold drinks, sandwiches, and snacks to volunteers all over the disaster site.
The Kingdom of God is like… finding precious mementoes in the wreckage of a 90-year-old professor’s home: Family photos. His original thesis from 1942. His “Oklahoma Sooners” welcome mat. His collection of expensive-looking dress shoes, in perfect condition. Bits and pieces of his gun collection. Stuff that is meaningless to us, but everything to him.
The Kingdom of God is like… the people of Moore and Oklahoma City, who are some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. Everyone is so thankful for the volunteers, and so kind to strangers.
The Kingdom of God is like… having prayers answered almost immediately, maybe because we’re praying for the right things, or because we’re doing God’s work. We haven’t figured that out — but it’s very cool.
I could go on and on… but it’s 6:57 am, and time to get to work. This will likely be my last entry from here. We’re working all day, then hitting the road, planning to stay in a hotel (preferably one with a swimming pool) somewhere en route to home.
Meg has been talking with her friends who went to Florida for their senior trip; they had a great week, and even met Reed Robertson from Duck Dynasty, who hung out with them for several hours on the beach. I asked her if she regretted being here instead of with them, and she quickly shook her head.
But I already knew the answer to my question: Neither of us has an ounce of regret. This has been an amazing week.