Monday, September 05, 2005

Baby Jesus

Artwork by Nelson Stevens

Irie and I have just returned from Houston. We visited some friends outside of the city whose church is serving as a Red Cross shelter to accomodate victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Saturday was an intense day of heightened expectation as we anticipated a busload of some 100 people to arrive throughout the day. A series of logistical hurdles and miscommunication left church volunteers anxiously twiddling thumbs all Saturday afternoon. Everyone was mobilized and ready to offer compassionate assistance. But the bus was nowhere to be found. Saturday night we got word that the bus was finally on its way. Two hours later, however, we were instead met by an exhausted Red Cross volunteer coordinator who told us no bus would come. She explained that she had been the one to sound the false alarm and she felt compelled to come and ask us face to face not to loose faith in the efforts of the Red Cross. With a remarkable amount of warmth the people responded by affirming her efforts and expressing their appreciation for her kind heart. It was truly a moment of much needed grace for this wounded healer.

The logistical snafus were a constant reminder of the difficulties inherently associated with rendering aid to people on a large-scale basis. Anyone who has ever dealt with the social services department in any city knows exactly what I mean. Assistance get bogged down in the dark minutia of beaucratic details. Policies and rules replace simple acts of compassion as open hospitality gives way to the practical necessities of doing things efficiently and securely. As we gathered on Saturday night a sheriff's officer trained us in the crude and embarrassing procedure of body searching - something the church was required to do of every shelter guest under Red Cross policy.

Some families did arrive overnight by car. On Sunday afternoon, just before Irie and I were to make our way back to the airport, we stopped by to visit some of the guests. Who we saw was no surprise. Invariably they were either poor, black, sick or mentally ill. The most vulnerable of the most vulnerable. We visited with Richard and his one-month-old son "Little Richard". As we listened to their story and doted over the beauty of the little child, I remembered that Jesus too had been a newborn babe with no place to call home. Jesus' family knew the pain of seeking refuge in a foreign land and with a foreign people. As Irie and I held the tiny pinkish fingers of Little Richard I began to sing,

Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head

Rest tight little baby Richard. For Jesus is with you.