Rain Makes Everything Grow
by Heather Connely Lefkowitz, MDiv3
As students were camped out in the Divinity School library or at local coffee shop ardently studying for finals and revising the last papers of the semester, the rain fell heavily. By Sunday, May 2, 2010, it was clear that this was an event much more threatening than just a rainy weekend. As the waters rose and Monday’s exams were postponed, the Vanderbilt Divinity School community was mobilizing to help. Numerous students, faculty, and staff volunteered as the immediate threat of flooding began. Today, the community continues to be a part of the long-term relief efforts. Here is a brief reflection from Heather Connelly Lefkowitz, MDiv3, about the Nashville Flood of 2010.
Whenever she looks outside and sees that it’s raining, my three-year-old daughter says, “Look at the rain. The rain makes everything grow.” She said this even on May 2 of this year, when two days of enormous rainfall in Nashville and all of Middle Tennessee led to catastrophic flooding. I know that if more than our seldom-used basement had flooded, her view of the rain might be different. But as it turns out, I’ve discovered in the two weeks since then that she’s right – the same rain that caused so much damage to the area I love has also made things grow.
I began the month of May ready for a break after a long semester of paper writing, exams, and church work. In my final paper for Constructive Theology II this spring, I worked with a definition of the church as body as described by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. The ecclesial characteristics of the church as body mean that it is essentially corporate (“There are many members, yet one body”); unified (“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it”), and just (“But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another”).
It is a broader ecclesial vision of this community as body that has grown for me in the weeks since the flood. Some of us were hands, others feet, others were eyes and ears – but all of us were part of a corporate body in service to our neighbors. I spent the first week of flood relief doing “guerrilla” relief work – going to help friends whose basements had flooded, buying and preparing food for volunteers, purchasing and delivering emergency items like flood cleaning supplies and toiletries. Facebook, email, and online message boards were my best friend in gathering and sharing information. As my own funds dwindled, several Divinity School student colleagues and I began collecting money for gift cards to hand out to whomever we encountered in need.
By the second week after the flood, I longed for a project or a specific community to help. My friend and neighbor, Chelle, encountered an apartment complex in South Nashville which had received very little assistance a week after the flood. A community of Egyptian immigrants, most of whom were desperately poor before the flood, the folks at Millwood Manor Apartments were sleeping on wet mattresses and sofas on wet carpets. Chelle put out the call for help, and we responded. On Mother’s Day there was a strange but amazing convergence of volunteers at Millwood Manor all day trying to help in the best ways we could.
Chelle and I decided that sleeping bags for the affected children (perhaps 200 or so at Millwood Manor and the neighboring apartment complex) would be a way to provide clean and dry bedding for part of the community. Chelle worked with the teachers at the local elementary school to identify the children who needed a sleeping bag, and I raised money. In a week we’ve collected over $2000 from friends, neighbors, and strangers alike to buy enough sleeping bags for these children. My classmate and partner in our gift card drive, Mark Wills, appealed to his two small congregations in East Tennessee for help. He drove back towards Nashville that day with a large contribution from these churches for these children.
I’m still buying sleeping bags and pillows, and Chelle is lovingly (and very quickly!) sewing pillowcases out of old sheets. We’ve delivered three rounds of sleeping bags and pillows to the kids as they got off the school bus last week, and now we’re identifying siblings and other classmates who need one. We’re also working with a group of local people – pastors, lawyers, advocates, and volunteers – to try and foster longer-term solutions for this community.
So yes, Charlotte: rain does make everything grow. The body that is this community has grown together in its willingness to serve, to sweat, to beg, and to give. This is more than a sentimental notion; this is real and has played out in the lives of our neighbors in concrete (even life-saving) ways. I hope that you never encounter anything like this catastrophe in your own hometown. But if you do, please don’t sit on the sidelines and wait for instructions. Run to the center of the field and play. Be a part of the body, and we will all grow.
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