The Common Good

Natural Disaster or Natural Opportunity?

This week, for the second time in a few years, I found myself walking the streets of a city talking to pastors and people about how Mission Year could help them recover from a devastating storm.

Hurricane Ike was the fourth-largest storm in history, so this week it is Texas -- the Houston and Galveston areas. A few years ago it was New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The damage was familiar as there were boats on land, houses without a roof, debris sitting out in front of houses, the remnants of what was left behind after the water receded, and the sounds of hammers and saws as people try to put their lives back together.

I felt like I was taken back in time, as when a couple of staff members and I walked through the streets of New Orleans and came across a gentle man sitting beside his house going through what was left of his possessions. This week that same scene occurred as we passed by a woman sitting beside her house doing the same thing with a group of volunteers. It seems as though natural disasters leave the same marks on people's lives.

There was another familiar scene in the air as we passed by a government-housing complex that was surrounded by a gate and closed. The questions filled my head as we passed, "I wonder what happened there?" We then passed a couple more boarded-up complexes, and I began to worry.

We stopped and went into a church that was rebuilding across from one of the facilities and asked, "What happened to these homes, and where are the people that lived in them?" The gentleman answered that all those people were put on buses before the storm to go to safety, and right after the storm the buildings were gated and closed. People were no longer allowed to go into them. They were sold to developers and will probably be torn down.

"What about the people?" we responded. "They didn't come back or something; we don't know where they are."

We passed at least six complexes of substantial size, all closed and residents displaced. It seems as though natural disaster turned into the same opportunity as with Katrina: Displacement of the poor. Natural opportunity, not planned but certainly taken advantage of after the storm rolled through. Hundreds and hundreds of poor and powerless people now gone.

In March we will mobilize, we will work, we will pray, we will worship, we will give the same spiritual response as before, by walking beside those who are most vulnerable to natural opportunities that arise out of natural disasters. Join us at www.originalcity.org.

Leroy BarberLeroy Barber is president of Mission Year, a national urban initiative introducing 18- to 29-year-olds to missional and communal living in city centers for one year of their lives. He is also the pastor of Community Fellowships Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of New Neighbor.

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