A couple of weeks ago, I went to an open house that was being held at the Events Center on Binghamton University's campus. Unlike most open houses, this one was not set up so that we could see the inside of the Events Center, rather we were showcasing agencies that were active in flood relief and trying to connect these agencies with people whose houses and lives had been turned upside down by the floods. As a partner in Faith Partners in Recovery, The Broome County Council of Churches has committed to journey with many of these families as they try to rebuild their lives.
The stories of the people who came by our booth were both heart warming and wrenching at the same time. People, especially in Owego and Appalachian were visibly shaken by the experience, but who had amazing stories of how the community, especially the faith community, came to help them in their time of need. It was a roller coaster ride of devastation and hope, rising and falling, amazing heroism coupled with frustration over the slowness of long term response. It was exhausting trying to keep up.
One story that stood out to me was a woman who had bought a house in Johnson City. She and her husband were married just six years and together they had a five year old. They saved and scrimped,and between that and the VA Loan they were able to get, this couple was able to put together the closing costs and a low down payment on a small house in the Westover area. Then came the floods.
They had water that went up six feet into their first floor. This means that the walls and ceilings needed to be torn out, the basement was gutted, furnace and hot water heater replaced, electrical system and gas needed to be updated and moved. It was not long before the emergency funds they received from FEMA were used up and they began to dip into savings. Meanwhile, they still need to live. So they had to move into a small apartment and try to pinch money out of the air in order for them to get by. Debts began to pile up. Soon they were getting notices that they were about to be evicted out of the house that they could not afford to fully renovate. All the materials are bought, but they needed bodies to help install it - so they could get back in their house and get out from under the two housing related payments.
She walked up to me, visibly shaken and not sure what to say. Through the tears and sighs and hunched shoulders, this story came pouring out of her. Looking up at me with tears in her eyes, she asked, "Can you help us?"
You should have been there to hear her scream when I said, "Yes." She cried and laughed and looked like a huge burden had been lifted off of her shoulders. She actually smiled. That Yes was all that she needed to hear.
Yes, she matters. Yes, someone hears her story. Yes, someone cares about her. Yes,someone will be there to help install the sheet rock and work with her and her husband to put together their broken house. Yes, we can help. Yes, you are loved.
It's amazing to me to think about how powerful that Yes can be. But it's humbling to think that even though that Yes came at the right moment for her, that there are so many more who need to hear that Yes spoken forcefully and convincingly to them - not just by words, but words combined with faithful service. That is where the rubber hits the road and faith becomes something lived and powerfully present to others.
And so today as I think about the yes that I gave to that young family, I am in awe of you and your commitment to making sure that that yes becomes more than just words. We rely upon folks like you to volunteer and touch another person. We need folks like you to give and be generous so that families like hers will be helped to recover. Thanks for all that you do to make yeses mean something in the lives of our neighbors. Thanks for saying Yes!
Peace and towels,
Rev. Dr. Joseph Sellepack