Shortly after Hurricane Sandy stormed through the city, New York Magazine ran a striking cover photo that captured the “tale of two cities” that New Yorkers were experiencing. Lower Manhattan enshrouded in an eerie darkness; Upper Manhattan alive with the energy for which this city is famous. (You can see the photo at http://nymag.com/news/features/hurricane-sandy-2012-11/) At street level, residents of uptown neighborhoods felt grateful—and guilty—for being spared as people suffered immensely, all just a few subway stops away.
On my walk home one night after volunteering at an evacuation center, I began to wonder to myself what it would take for me and my family to find ourselves staying at one of these centers. I was amazed at how many layers of relationships we would have to go through before we would hit the cement of a cot in a school cafeteria. We weren’t just well-off materially, we were well-off relationally. But this, apparently, wasn’t the case for the people I met that evening.
It was then that I saw how the impact of poverty runs much deeper than lacking material goods. Poverty so often means the lack of access to support, resources and the dignity of belonging. I saw that Sandy didn’t create poverty and vulnerability. It actually exposed the hidden vulnerability of the poor that was always there—I just didn’t have eyes to see.
But I’m beginning to see. I see that all that we are doing as a church in disaster relief—collecting emergency supplies, sending volunteers to hard-hit areas, distributing relief funds—is important, timely and good. But more importantly, I’m beginning to see that while loving the poor may begin with occasional volunteer responses, it must lead to a lifestyle of continuous love for neighbor. Anything less than that simply cannot serve as a proper witness to the God who “though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
To find regularly updated opportunities to serve go to www.hfny.org/hurricane.