Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Who is my neighbor?"

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.

22 comments:

Justin Barrett said...

You're a good man, Charl...er...Keith Lango. Your faith is an inspiration to many, as is your animation. Keep up the great work on all fronts. :)

Josh Bowman said...

"Thankyou for sharing" doesn't really convey how much I appreciate, and have taken to heart, what you've said.
Thanks Keith.

Anonymous said...

I've heard it said that cartoonists are just children who were lucky enough to never have to grow up. That may be true to a certain extent, but I think its hard for most grown people, regardless of occupation or hobby, to REALLY act like children - to overlook the bullshit and the drama and connect with others as human beings, to be playful when everyone else is down, to be the spark that puts a smile on people's faces, to reach out to someone who really needs help instead of walking uncomforably by, afraid it might be a mugging ambush, etc.. Hats off to you and your family, and may we all wear our inner children on the outside. . .

that is all.

Bobby P said...

Thanks for posting this Keith.

Brian "My Fault" Nicolucci said...

Wonderful post Keith. The worls is a better place with people like you and your family as a part of it!

Peter said...

In ordeals like these is where the true meaning of human quality is revealed, I know about that first hand. Thanks for the great post. God bless you and your family for the great job you guys are doing.

Peter.

J Griffin said...

I'm no longer affiliated with any type of church because of many of the things you mentioned... But you've got your head on straight Keith and I'm glad there are folks like you actually doing something with what your religion has taught you. It helps me be just a bit less cynical. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Keith, I think I need to read this over a couple times, let it seep in.

P.S. ever though about being a motivational speaker? (and an animator of course)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Keith, I think I need to read this over a couple times, let it seep in.

P.S. ever though about being a motivational speaker? (and an animator at the same time of course) ;)

Lars van Schagen said...

Keep up doing what you do. Btw it doesn't matter that your a christian. Your doing good work, be it for the animation community or the victims of Katrina.

Keep it up.

Cheers,

Lars.

CJF said...

Being not from the North American region, sometimes its difficult to connect the images that you're seeing on TV to a real tragedy that is actually happening somewhere in the world. It was only after reading this article that I truly "got it". My heart bleeds for those people caught in this terrible situation, and I hope Messr. Bush can get his priorities straight long enough to help those who really need it, as you and your wife have done. I'm not a religious person, but I know that if there is a God, then he no doubt holds you both in very high regard. Thanks Keith.

Hennie Blaauw said...

Well said Keith...
God Bless,

Hennie

Anonymous said...

May God bless you and your family's efforts.

Mau said...

thank you for sharing this wonderful story keith.

mau.

Drew said...

i feel for the people who can gloss over the headlines and then move on to the sports section in a time when lives are being effected. thanks for the inspiring post. your thoughts about the church and how people respond to it really meant a lot. i'll respond to it in more detail, but not here. don't want to detract from your words.
thanks and God Bless.
-d

James Rodgers said...

I hope now that you have seen this you will think of all those people in Africa. As you might know 30,000 people are dying a day from poverty.

If you think seeing those people arrive in you town as a shock, I hope you follow the meeting in New York on the 14th to the 16th where over a 100 world leaders are coming together to stop Poverty.

Anonymous said...

Keith,

I'm in Poplarville, MS which was hit pretty hard by Katrina. Most of our house is left, so we feel very blessed. The main thing is we are alive and we thank God for that. My in-laws living in Plaquemines Parish, LA are almost all without houses. This one really hit home. I say that to say this: Being someone personally involved and directly affected by this, I have so much more appreciation for you and your wife's compassion, and the outreaching of your Church, which is doing what a Church is supposed to be doing. Thank you so much for posting this!

Frank L.


James 2: 15-17
"If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled' but you don't give them the things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? Even so, faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone."

Anonymous said...

just came to browse your site and read this post..
really inspirational and really shows the goodness of people. I also love how you can recognize the faults of the church and not act so pompous that you're doing something good. You're doing it because you want to, not because of what other people will think of you, but because its in your heart. Thanks

Darryl Purdy said...

Keith,

Thanks for this post. Best wishes to your family for the good things you do. I'm sure you will be remembered, by the people you have helped, for years to come. As one who has lost faith in organized religion, but not in the human spirit, it is nice to see a man of extreme faith have the courage to still question his faith. I think there is two great destroyers of humanity, greed and blind faith. Blind faith is not exclusive to religion either. Blind faith in anything can be dangerous. I hold that if you fail to question your beliefs, you will beleive in anything...but enough of my preaching.....Take care.

Anonymous said...

Hi Keith, I had no idea you and your family were in Texas now! I decided to google you on the internet, cause I knew you were there somewhere, and here you are! We all miss you and your family, thank you for all the wonderful work you are doing and have ever done. Ever think of coming back to Amherst to be our minister again?? :o) Take care and tell Kim and the kids I said Hi. By the way, my husband Andy and I are expecting our first child in April!!

Kim O'Dell (Hayes)
allykittie79@aol.com

Keith Lango said...

Thanks to everyone for their kind words (Hi Kim!) They are appreciated. I'm just a guy trying to do what needs to be done. Nothing more, nothing less. It's only by a higher power that can I do anything good at all.
-k

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm glad some animators can keep there morals and faith about them.