Episcopal Evangelism Newsletter, September 2022
This month we continue exploring our Episcopal Evangelism challenge for 2022: Creating authentic communities of friends within our churches to live out our baptismal promises and the church’s mission—to restore and be restored in unity with God and each other, in Christ.
Our guest Evangelism Catalyst this month is Tamara Plummer, who writes about her experiences as a program officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.
One of my first trips as a program officer at Episcopal Relief & Development was to New Orleans in 2016. Besides the fact that New Orleans is my second favorite city in America—Brooklyn, of course, being my first love—being there was an opportunity to see in real time how disasters can illuminate historic inequalities, and the love it takes to rebuild. Even 10 years after Hurricane Katrina hit, there was still more work to be done to help communities recover. When we continue to respond to a disaster’s impacts, we are not only repairing storm damage, but also the preexisting challenges that make those repairs complicated: deferred maintenance, land title issues that delay insurance and FEMA claims, income inequality, housing shortages, historic discriminatory practices against marginalized populations, and the list goes on. Addressing these long-standing development issues is an integral part of building more resilient communities before, during, and after a disaster. The best way I can explain it is to point us all to the ways that a global pandemic demonstrated the link between (in)equity and disasters. While some of us have the privilege to close our eyes to all the injustices of the world, when disaster strikes we are forced to address inequities that we can no longer ignore. And if we choose to be followers of Jesus, we are called to wonder: Where is God in this? How is God already moving in this mess? Where is resurrection and incarnation even in this tragedy?
Recently, I headed back to Louisiana, this time on the western side of the state. While there were so many things that stood out from my travels, I hold the story of the disciple Roishetta close to my heart.
She is a single mother of six who was employed by the local school system, but as the hurricane approached, she didn’t have enough cash on hand to evacuate. On Facebook someone asked folks to put their CashApp in the comments so they could provide direct support to families. Roishetta was able to receive enough financial support from strangers across the country to help her evacuate and resettle in another area. As more tragedy came to the region through more storms and floods she decided to help others the way she had been helped. Thus was born the Vessel Project. What I found most profound about her ministry is the way she focuses on supporting others over concerns about scammers. As she said to me, “If the Lord put it in their heart to ask and in my heart to give, what they specifically do with that money is between them and their God.” It must be said that Roishetta is no sucker; she is a believer and can hold people responsible for their actions while respecting their dignity and agency. You can learn more about her journey here.
Stories like Roishetta’s are inspiring, but they are merely an example of what is possible. While my role is to spur dioceses on in love to do good deeds, sometimes my visits to disaster-impacted communities are so overwhelming that I am left crying or screaming at friends as I debrief what I have witnessed. And I am inspired by the multitude of ways that our partners step out in faith to accomplish amazing things where there seemed to be very little. In a variety of ways, people are doing small and large things to support their neighbors, to be the kinds of disciples that the risen Christ calls them to be. So I wonder, as we return to another programmatic season, has your community gone back to business as usual, or are you open to reflecting the transformation by all that has impacted all of us over the past two years? How are you joining the incarnational, resurrection spirit of those who never took a break and have remained on the front lines? This is not an invitation to those who have been in the trenches and are tired—you should rest—but it is a call to those who’ve been on the sidelines and are looking to engage. For all of you, I offer this prayer:
This is another day, O God. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
(with modifications, The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 461)