This past weekend I had the great opportunity to work with folks in Tarboro and Princeville, NC. These two small towns, with rich history, sit along the Tar River. In October of 2016, the Tar River became a source of torrential flooding due to the effects of the 16-inches of rain poured upon the Eastern North Carolina area by Hurricane Matthew.
Thursday morning, May 18, I began packing and getting supplies ready as 20 of adults and college-aged adults readied ourselves to travel 4 hours to The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church Disaster Response Center. This would be my first time on such a mission trip, and with 90% of folks I did not know, as I just began my appointment at First United Methodist Church of Gastonia in November. Many of us did not know what we would encounter, and were unsure of what we needed to do to prepare mentally and physically for what we would see and what we would be doing. However, we learned in our devotion that God has called us to be the instruments. And for that moment that brought peace to each of us in knowing that God just needs us to be present; and present we were.
After two-and-a-half days of working alongside homeowners, and the great leaders of the conference, the group began to identify with the true meanings of justice, equality, and privilege. According to the Census Bureau, Tarboro is around 50% white, and 50% non-white; 75% with at least a high-school education; and a median income of around $30,000. It was interesting to hear during our first night of devotion eyes beginning to open up and speak about the truth that is prevalent, not only in Tarboro, but in other areas of this state and beyond: privilege. It was said, “you know, if this was Myers Park, this clean-up would already be complete.” And you know what, that may sound harsh, and it may sound as if it is a knock toward people with money and clean-up capabilities; however, it was really a dose of reality of how much longer it takes for certain areas and certain demographics to emerge from tragedy. This team of all white folk, decided and acknowledged that it was not a detriment to live into white privilege, rather, it is a detriment to do nothing with white privilege. And what I mean by that is this: if we are white, and especially if we are white males, it is our duty to live and work the systems that are in place that give us precedence over others in a way that it brings privilege to non-white folk. Essentially, let us work the system for good, and use white privilege not for the glory of ourselves, but for recognizing those within the margins of society and doing something with our white privilege (again, not for ourselves, but for the glory of God).
Upon leaving Tarboro on Sunday afternoon, we reminded ourselves as a body of Christ to continue being the hands and feet of Christ within our local community, to not forget, and to continue seeking opportunities to share hope. And this is where I got a quick reminder on Monday morning, and a taste of what it means to live in margins, and a taste of what it means for folks who live in a rotating door of poverty and living check-to-check. It is quite embarrassing, yet, it is worth telling so we may open our own eyes of what may be going on in our communities.
I woke up Monday morning, ready for a refreshing shower in my own home. I put in my contacts, brush my teeth, and spit the last bit of toothpaste out into the sink. I lean over, pull the shower knob out, and watch the hot water began coming out of the nozzle. One leg in, other leg in, so not to slip and fall (haha), and began letting the water wash over my head … and then … nothing. Absolutely nothing. The water stopped, I was frustrated, confused, and a bit angry! I wanted a nice, warm shower … where did my water go?! Dumbfounded, I hop out (thank goodness I hadn’t added shampoo, yet), dry off a bit, and look out the window. Thinking the worst: water main break, busted pipe or water heater, flooded basement. In my towel, yes, in my towel, I walk outside and yelled over to my neighbor as she was working with plants on her back deck, “Hey! Do you have water?” She went inside, and came back out saying, “Yes … did you pay your water bill? I just saw a city truck pull off.” Of course, I thought I had paid my bill, it is always due around the 10th of the month. So, my frustrated self, still wrapped in a towel, calls up the Bessemer City services department. With just a little bit of attitude, I was quickly reminded that I actually had not paid the bill. That brought me down off my high-horse, and then remembered that the bill was put in the paid file, when I actually had not paid it.
Through this experience, I learned a lesson about folks who live paycheck-to-paycheck, folks who so easily get into a spiral of debt, late fees, and reconnection fees … trying their hardest to get back on their feet, only to be beat again by the system. My water, sewer, trash, natural gas all comes on one bill from the City of Bessemer City. The payment of $60.90 was due on May 10th. Remember, I didn’t pay it. Without noticing, I had 12 days to pay the bill, as on May 22nd the water was cut off promptly at 9am. It is interesting that the grace period to pay the bill is only about 12 days, where as with Duke Energy and other household services give you about a month before sending you a “nastygram.” However, the intriguing part of this whole situation is the penalty for not paying the bill. The payment required was double the initial payment: $112! And then was told that it would take up to 24 hours for the service to be reconnected. This immediately brought to my attention the needs of our community and those around us that we think are doing well, yet, many folks who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, choosing which bills to pay, and which to forgo and wait to pay; only to have to pay more in the long run. However, there is no other choice. And this, my friends, is a justice issue. Now, I am not saying that we should not have penalties for certain situations, of course, in certain circumstances, we need them. Yet, what I am saying is that we need to take into account our brothers and sisters that are so easily susceptible to falling into traps of penalties and fees and unable to recover from payment after payment.
The other argument that I am sure will arise is this: well, these folks need to watch their spending and the amenities that they want. Well, isn’t that just a great way to look at things. I don’t think water, power, heat, a/c, and food are wants; yet, in this day in time are pretty much needs. These are essential to daily living, and for us that are privileged with the essentials, we make assumptions about those that don’t have, and we forget and take advantage of what it is we do have; we take all that we have for granted, not knowing that at any moment (like at 9am on a Monday morning) these things can be taken from us. Why not use our privilege, the things we have, the essentials we take for granted, for the betterment of God’s Kingdom? Why not share what we have with others? Is it because that’s too easy and we don’t get any instant gratification in return? Is it because we need to add our own stipulations, our own fees, our own return on investment? With that mindset, I’m guessing Jesus is really waiting on his return of investment in us.
And this likens us back to the mission trip this past weekend. 20 folks, who cared not about themselves, who cared not about the glory of “their” work. Rather, 20 folks who cared about sharing the message, love, grace, and empathy of Jesus Christ with those who were in a desperate need for basic essentials, no matter the cost. This, my friends, is what we should be doing daily. Don’t give an excuse about your own money woes, don’t give an excuse about your age, don’t give an excuse about your handicaps … we all are graced by gifts given to us by God to share in some way the needs of our communities and beyond. It is our duty, now, to open our eyes, and to see, and to do. Call up on the Lord to seek guidance, to seek the way forward, and to go to the depths of the valleys, and heights of the mountains to do all in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring light and hope in the various ways capable!
I’m reminded of the hymn, “Here Am I,” from The Faith We Sing, written by Brian Wren in 1983, to the scripture text Matthew 25:31-46,
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory and majesty and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him [for judgment]; and He will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right [the place of honor], and the goats on His left [the place of rejection].
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God, appointed to eternal salvation], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me [with help and ministering care]; I was in prison, and you came to Me [ignoring personal danger].’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it for Me.’
41 “Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Leave Me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels (demons); 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me [with help and ministering care].’ 44 Then they also [in their turn] will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or as a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will reply to them, ‘I assure you and most solemnly say to you, to the extent that you did not do it for one of the least of these [my followers], you did not do it for Me.’ 46 Then these [unbelieving people] will go away into eternal (unending) punishment, but those who are righteous and in right standing with God [will go, by His remarkable grace] into eternal (unending) life.”
Matthew 25:31-46, AMP.
- Here Am I Haas, David 3:22
May God’s grace, peace, power, and authority be with you all to go forth and do in the name of Christ!