I normally don't wax too personal on this blog. I realize many folks don't agree with my world view, and I'm not interested in forcing anything on anyone. I try to keep this site focused on animation, but this stuff just breaks my heart and I feel like I should speak.
Today I spent most of the day with my wife as we worked helping to set up a shelter at our church here in the suburban Dallas area for the refugees from the New Orleans Superdome Hellpit. My wife Kim, God bless her, she's been working like a woman possessed since Thursday to get things ready, organized, etc. After a hectic scramble to get things set up very early this morning the buses came to our church in McKinney, Texas. The buses were carrying about 140 survivors of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath in New Orleans. You can't even begin to imagine the kind of things these people have been through. The babies, man, I swear it's a miracle they survived. The stories crush your heart. A woman had lost contact with her 4 children and 1 grandchild as they got seperated on their way to the Superdome after the storm. She's a zombie now, wracked with shock & fear. She doesn't know what has become of her children. She's a poor woman. All she's lived for is to raise her children and she doesn't know if they're even alive. One boy, age 13, lost his mother. He was here, hundreds of miles away from "home" with no family, no mom, no dad. Nobody. Another little boy came in who had lost both parents to Katrina. He's just 9 years old. Nearly everybody has lost track of a loved one or lost a loved one dead to the storm. Most of the families are split across shelters in Texas, many without knowing where the others were, or even if they got out alive. Many saw people die. Some saw people killed. All saw (and smelled) dead bodies for days. So many waded through a nasty soup of chemicals, dirty water and raw sewage. Some folks were developing a skin infection from being stuck in those same filthy clothes for so long. Many were subjected to abuse from thugs. The tales of just how bad the Superdome experience was makes your mind spin. Whatever harm nature caused was compounded and trumped by the evil of mankind at its worst.
You read the news reports, you read this post, and it doesn't seem real. Words on a screen. You talk with these folks, see it in their eyes- it's as real and as horrifying as ever. You can't be left unmoved.
Yet they are all grateful to be alive, to be away from Lake New Orleans, to be out of there. They're beginning to feel safe. After they arrived most of them took a shower and then just fell asleep, exhausted. When they woke they seemed relieved. Still troubled, still worried, but the desperate, sharp, ragged edged fear of death had dulled. You can tell that for the first time in a week these people feel human again. There's something powerful about that. It's amazing what some fresh clothes, cold water, a hot meal, a shower and some caring words of conversation can do for a person. Dignity resurrected. I was warmed to see a dozen of these little kids who escaped hell on earth playing with my own kids, smiling, laughing. Kids are amazing, they are so resilient. My daughter made friends with some refugee children. She sat and talked with them, learned about their lives, learned about their ordeal. They are so different than her. They come from a totally different background, race, social status. Yet there they were, hitting it off like old chums. If I ever wondered if I was doing a decent job raising my children to be decent people I was re-assured and thanked God above today when I saw that. The outpouring of help and love from the folks here toward these unfortunate people has been very humbling. The call went out to the church family that we needed donations of food, bedding, clothes, toiletries, medicine,- everything. In just 4 hours the store rooms were filled to overflowing and we started turning people away with their donations. We'd just run out of room, and this is not a small facility. A businessman showed up and handed over $6000.00 in cash to the shelter director and said "Buy the food you need. And when that runs out let me know." This same person got every refugee's size of clothing and went out to buy a fresh change of clothes for them. Shoes, socks, underwear, everything. Everybody had brand new clothes that fit, not just some closet purging toss aways. What a change from wearing the same sewage covered rags for 5 days. I was recruited to shop for food and medical supplies and to pray with these folks. We went from an empty gymnasium with not a single shred of the needed supplies to being a fully functioning shelter with a medical clinic and enough food and aid for weeks all within 24 hrs. I was so thankful to be a part of this in some small way.
You know a lot of folks in the world bag on the church. They decry its hypocrisy, its self righteousness, its bigotry, its politics. And (sadly) with good reason. I'm a man of deep faith. I believe in the mission of the church on this earth to carry forward the message of hope, forgiveness & salvation, to show the love and be the hands of healing that Jesus practiced thousands of years ago. Jesus set this thing up and said "Be my hands & heart to the world." Even so I find myself agreeing with those who take issue with the "American Church", that petty, political, materialistic, self-righteous class of people you read about in the news, hear on TV. When people like Pat Robertson call for the assassination of foreign leaders or when I hear right wing "christian" politicos all geared up for dropping bombs on innocent people across the globe I get so friggin' mad it makes me sick to my stomach. The sad thing is, the church likes to pretend it's a collection of those who've got it all figured out. The reality is we're a collection of screw ups, losers and sinners and we've got so much dirt on us that we're laughable when we pretend that we're oh so clean. At best we're beggars who have found bread. We ought to be telling other beggars where we found it. Instead we are too busy condemning them for their poverty while we pretend that we baked this bread ourselves. May God have mercy on us.
But today, today I saw the church for what it really can be. Caring, selfless, touching, healing, praying. Today was a great day to be alive, even for all the sadness and pain I saw. I only hope we were paying attention. Maybe we can learn something about ourselves. This life isn't about the new widescreen TV, the next movie, the next vacation, the new car, the big house, the petty little junior high school clique-ish games we play in life. It's not about pretending to be so high and holy, so "with it" that we feel comfortable looking down our noses at others and tsk-tsk-ing our way through society. It's about going broke for somebody, selling out to help others, losing so that others can win. Yeah, I guess I'd be pleased if history remembered me as a great animator someday. But that's not the least bit important. I'd much rather have a small group of the poorest people on earth remember me for being a kind man who gave his time, his effort, his love, his tears and his means the day their world fell apart. That's what Jesus would do and that's why I'm glad to be called one of his followers. And tomorrow I look forward to doing it all over again, as heartbreaking as it will be to do so.
I now return you to your regularly scheduled animation blog. But before I go, if you feel compelled to help then a great way you can do something for these folks is to give to a reputable and worthy charity. Two great organizations that you can give to without any fear of corruption are the Red Cross and Worldvision. They are experienced and they will make your money count.