To prepare for the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans, I attended a film showing of "Trouble the Waters," an independent film. It showed not only the hurricane and breaking of the levees at the time of hurricane Katrina but the aftermath over the course of two years. Some of the things that I learned in this film, I had not heard before.
The prison was not evacuated. Workers took the TVs out before the storm began, then locked everyone in their cells. For days, there was no food or water, just a locked prison. The hospital was not completely evacuated. Some people were simply left to die in their beds. When people from the ninth ward realized they were going to have to get themselves out--they would not be rescued--they were told by the Coast Guard to go to the Navy base (but no one aparently communicated that to the Navy base) because at the Navy base (where there were hundreds of empty beds), the men kept the people out at gunpoint. They received an award from President Bush for mitigating what "might have been a violent interaction."
Story after story showed how this was not a natural disaster but a disaster of human failure upon failure...from the failure of the levees to the failure to meet promises made to people who suffered through this ordeal.
Now, I'm here in New Orleans, mostly protected from the realities of that time by a sparkly French quarter, beautiful hotel and a massive Convention Center. However, amidst the fun, there are moments for engaging the realities. Youth and adults are donating their blood and their hair for those who need it. There is the opportunity to walk through a FEMA trailer and to learn at a Freedom School. And, we are entering hurricane season. It's muggy hot and thick with humidity. Each day, it's rained in the middle of the afternoon.
That's maybe part of why I dreamed this morning that it was happening to us. In the dream, there was a smell and we looked outside at the swelling river and cried out, "The levee's breaking." We started running, we were calling out for family and friends. Although I tried, I couldn't fall back asleep after that. The fear was too real; my heart was beating too fast.
In Isaiah 43, we read:
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
This word--from the God who created us, who formed us.
We were asked in the mass gathering at the start of this event to bear witness (to see, to hear, to experience) and to tell the truth about what was experienced here in New Orleans. How God was here through the flood, present with those for whom the water was up to their neck. Present as neighbors reached out to one another and gave help. Present, wearied and grieving, as humans failed one another.
God is present with you, too, as you consider next steps in your life, as you listen for God's call. If you are overwhelmed, hold on to this. The One who created you and who forms us in community is with you--you are precious in God's sight and honored and loved. God will make a way out of no way.
Wade in the water, for there, God can hide you & protect you--and on the other side is freedom.