On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, a tornado hit Lancaster County, Pa. Fifty buildings were damaged or destroyed. One of the completely destroyed buildings was the Whitehall Amish School House. On Monday, February 29, classes were held in the new building! Yes, folks, it took three days to clean up the destruction and build the new building! The students missed two days of school! News reports that more than 1000 volunteers showed up around Lancaster County on Thursday to help where they could. That is community!

I feel fortunate to have been born in a community where something like what I just described is not unusual. I worked for Josie Miller, the man who would be called on when a barn burned or a tornado hit. He would be on site while the embers were still smoking and neighbors were cleaning up the debris and he would draw up plans on a paper bag or a cardboard box or a piece of paper and the next day the portable sawmill would be brought in and trees from the owner's farm or a neighbor's woods would be cut and dragged in and in a day or two the beams and boards and braces would be cut and milled to Josie's specifications while a crew was laying up block and setting the floor joist and laying temporary (un-nailed) flooring, so the bents could be assembled and laid on the floor- ready for the barn raising in a day or two (whew... long sentence). I have been on a dozen or so barn raisings (“frolics, uffstellings?) and it's one of those things that always amazes, even though I've seen it many times. From a pile of lumber at 7:00 AM to a completely built barn, sometimes with hay and straw in the mow by dark. I was at barn raising where the cows could have been milked by milking time if they hadn't been at a neighbor's farm. 98% of this with volunteer labor.

In my lifetime, I have seen community come together in a way that astounds the world. The 1969 flood showed Fredericksburg, Ohio (among other towns) that community can clean up mud and destruction and rebuild in a very short time. Before the waters had totally receded, neighbors were in town with shovels, brooms and chain saws, cleaning, shoveling, helping in any way they could.

The same summer that Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi, a tornado destroyed or damaged 50 homes and buildings in Daviess County, Indiana. While we heard the victims of Katrina point fingers and blame the government (while they sat and did nothing), the “victims” of the Daviess Co. tornado started cleaning up the same day, while bus loads of “neighbors” from similar communities came to help. A helicopter took the governor up two days after the storm to observe and take photos of some of the homes and businesses that were hit. In EVERY photo, there are people working on the roofs, people on the ground, vehicles in the driveways... In one instance the governor was touring the damage and at one home he asked, “Why did you bring me here? This house sustained no damage.” He was informed that the house had been totally destroyed and this was the NEW house. Built in one week! He didn't believe it until someone produced photos of the destruction. “But, the insurance adjusters could not have had time to get here!” “We don't have insurance. We have each other.”

If you and I could sit down with coffee, I could probably site 20 more examples of community coming together to help in time of need. My neighbor, Roy Yoder, and a friend, Bob Bender (Indiana), are two of my many acquaintances who work with Mennonite Disaster Service, an organization formed for the express purpose of helping in time of need. They are like minutemen. Ready to go when disaster strikes.

Interestingly, the examples I mentioned here, as well as all that I can think of, come from a “faith based” (read: Christian) community. There is something about real Christianity that encourages us to love our neighbor. The government or the insurance company may help, but the Christian brother is there NOW, helping to clean up, helping to rebuild, helping you to cope with the emotional loss, not questioning how much insurance you have...

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Lev. 19:18
“Better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.” Prov. 27:10

One last thought: Would you rather depend on the government? or your Christian community?


Common Ground Ministries

John was singing in a country western band at the time of his conversion in 1972. God changed his desire for stardom in Nashville to minitstry.

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