Yesterday, my wife and business partner, Debbie, read me the best headline for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, from her work with a client who is responding to the tragedy: We Combat Natural Disasters with Acts of God.
The hands and feet and smiles and heart of God are seen everywhere, as the acts of God’s people bring life, food, shelter, reunion, and hope to the victims of wind, water, and folly. Fundraising for hurricane relief is ubiquitous—in nearly every store, every club, and every church. Everywhere you turn.
Americans are caring for their own, just as they care for the victims of disasters and tragedies around the world. Why?
While it perturbs those of other faiths and no faith when I point this out, it is our Judeo-Christian heritage that prompts the faith and heart of modern-day believers, and that informs, inspires, and compels this pluralistic nation to reach out to others–out of bounty, or for some, with great sacrifice.
It was the God of Abraham who told his people “not to reap all the way to the edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor” (Lev. 23:22)
He promised them that “if you offer yourself [a] to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday” (Isaiah 58:10).
Jesus equated caring for the sick, hungry, thirsty, and imprisoned to caring for Him, (Matthew 25:31-46), and from the early days of the Christian church goods were “distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:35).
History demonstrates that it was the followers of God, the God of the Jews and Christians, who were the first demonstrate generosity and philanthropy as a part of their philosophy and practice.
The American culture, steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is the most generous in the world. The Christian churches have led the way in giving to not only Katrina victims, but also to the victims of famine, war, earthquake, and pestilence around the world.
In many of its expressions, beliefs, and practices, America “has forgotten God” (to quote an old Russian saying). But the teachings of the Scriptures and the words and practices of generations still inspire us to give to others in need.
There are Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, secular humanists, and atheists in our midst who have joined in reaching out to hurricane victims. But they do so as part of an American culture whose roots are still drawing from the wellspring of historic Judaism and Christianity.
Last winter, Debbie and I traveled to northern Mongolia to observe the work of LifeQwest rescuing the street and sewer children of a nation still suffering from some 80 years under the Soviet boot and centuries in godless misery. I wrote about this in Christianity Today.
It is one of the colder spots on earth, and during our January stay we took a day trip to a small village about an hour from Darkhan–I believe it was called Orhan–a gathering of round teepees call “ger’s” and small shacks.
We took food and supplies to a family headed by a widowed grandmother of about 70 (she looked 90), her widowed daughter, and four or five small children. We crowded into their home, happy to be out of the below-zero cold.
As we walked in, we noticed that there was ice on the inside walls, and all of the children were still in their jackets. A very small fire was burning in the oven/stove/firebox, but it could not keep the home warm. “Why don’t you have a larger fire,” LifeQwest’s Jerry Smith asked. “Didn’t we bring you firewood?”
Yes, there was firewood, but no one in the home was strong enough to split it, so it could fit in the firebox.
Soon, members of our team were chopping wood. But as we worked and visited, we noticed a man at the next house, hearty and healthy, bringing his wood into his home.
His home was no more than 30 feet away, but he hadn’t lifted a finger to help two widows and their children stay warm during the coldest time of the winter.
We were furious about this uncaring neighbor. Jerry shared our disgust, but explained that it was not just this man, but the culture. Everyone looked out for himself and his family. There was no culture of giving and caring. No history of helping neighbors.
Religious heritage and cultural foundations do make a difference. And acts of God can help us recover from the very worst disasters.