A bunch of us went to Galveston from our GBC growth group. On Friday evening, when I left my home to carpool from George and Rebecca’s home, time was 6:00 pm. The next time, I looked at my watch, we were sitting on the Galveston Bay with burger and smoothie from Sonic, some of us with a beer as well, looking into the dark sea, white waves, jumping fish, bright stars and the lights from the distant ships, the time was 12:00 am. 6 hours had past. We had done a bunch of stuff. Only, I didn’t know when what started and ended. At 6:00, I was at Burdette’s place. We had some Chic a fil sandwiches and chit chatted until whatever time. Being a man of few words, I did not talk much. Sometime later, we started for Galveston. George and I were in his car. I got into one of my passionate topics, ‘Gospel and Civilization’ and spoke long monologues about the gospel being the foundation for a lasting civilization and also being the reason why the British revolution was bloodless and the French was blood, and about what the gospel said about the political elites. By the time I was done we were in Galveston. I did not look at my watch, least I should be aware for how long George had to suffer my soliloquy.
Once we reached the mission center, we refreshed and were getting debriefed about the mission by the folks that were running it. They gave some astounding statistics about how many people were affected by Ike and are still hurting because of general apathy. Their live stories and commitment kept us spell bound for however long they were talking… I have still not looked at my watch, this time either, but because I was truly in a timeless world enraptured by the joy and commitment of the people running the mission centre. We were told that we will help repair the house of one Ms. Lopez whose house was damaged in Ike was inhabitable for the past 2 years. We were told that during lunch break, we will also get a chance to play with the kids at the neighboring public housing and ‘connect with the community’. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of buying some play things for kids. We went to Walmart and bought a bunch of stuff for kids form chips packets to sidewalk chalks to water balloons. We got something to eat at Sonic and then sat on the ledge on the Galveston bay. I was filled with my cherished memories of sitting on the Thiruvanmiur Beach in Chennai, watching the sea, the moon, the stars, munching some snacks and reading a book in the most pleasant breeze ever. We talked about a bunch of stuff from relationships to postmodernism.
The conversation dispelled some stereo types about men and women. Stereo types say that men were visual beings and that women were emotional beings and that men would be more attracted by the visual quotient and women would be more attracted by the emotional quotient. For example the stereo types dictate that some men would like the skinny-looks kind and some would like the chubby-looks kind… and women care little for looks and are are essentially looking for men who are ‘truly’ kind to them. Someone said, ‘I like a guy with nerdy looks’. Someone else said, ‘I like guys with preppy looks’. Someone liked some other look which I had never heard about before. Being a man of few words, I did not say much… it was a time for thinking than talking. I realized that in one sense, even this enlightenment by the Galveston bay did not break the stereo types after all… though men and women are probably equally enamored by looks, skinnyness and chubbyness has more to do with the physique and nerdyness and preppyness has more to do with one’s psyche. At the end of the day postmodernism or hyper modernism notwithstanding, men are men and women are women. Period.
I had done enough thinking, half-baked as it may have been, I looked at my watch… it was 12:00 am. We went back to our mission center to get some rest for some work the next. Little did I know then what type of work I was up against. I read Stott for a while and slipped into a slumber at about 1:30 am.
We got ready at about 8:00 am. After the morning devotion we loaded the tools to repair Ms. Lopez’s house and the toys to play with kids. I can’t use words to describe how tough the job was. Being a guy who isn’t that dexterous with hands, I found it doubly tough. It just did not make sense to me building a house should be so difficult. Apparently it is. No wonder poor Ms. Lopez couldn’t get easy help. We had lunch and then went to public housing facility to play with the kids. The temperature was probably in the 90s. I wondered why the folks at the mission centre sent us at such an errand. ‘Community building exercise’ they called it. Not a soul was in sight. Apparently everyone was staying cool within their homes. Rebecca and Holly took on the role of ‘community organizers’ and went about the houses giving juice packs for kids. Soon we had the kids coming out. If only they could be ambitious and lucky enough to win a not-so-tough contest to become a junior Senator, I guess they would be qualified enough to run for president (sorry, couldn’t help that).
Most of these kids were in single parent homes. Rebecca had a bruise in her leg. One of the little girls asked her if her husband beat her. What kind of a life would a person have to have been exposed to have such a question pop up in one’s mind. Another little one was crying for no reason at all. Holly had to carry her with her for quite a bit to calm her. Apparently the little girl just wanted to be carried by someone. Some of us played basket ball with the bigger kids. Some of us were having fun with side-walk-chalk drawings. Some of us threw ball. George taught me how to grip the ball and throw it the right way. I learnt something new. There was a stumpy looking 8 year old who was built to be a NFL hunk. I asked him what he name was. He was too shy to answer. I asked him three times, never got an answer. I asked him if we went to school. He nodded his head. I knew I was in good company. He too was a man of few words. He and I threw ball to each other. That guy enjoyed that a lot. I enjoyed it even more.
As we went about this, David and Jackie somehow managed to get the water balloons filled with water. Oh! My Gosh!!! The kids had a BLAST!!! My pal of few words was the guy who made most people wet. By now, some mothers had gathered too. They too joined the water balloon game. One of them even got Angela on her back. Soon, it was time to say goodbye…
We walked back to our construction site. I was thinking… it occurred to me that in every community it was the kids that were the connecting link to the community. Even in India, when we went for village outreach, the first thing we would do in a new village would be to go to a street corner and do something to attract the kids. The kids would come and sit and watch with glee at the funny theatrics we performed. Then the mothers of the kids would come closer. The men folks were always distant. It was no different here either. Human nature is always that same. The children are the most trusting and least prejudiced. Mothers, once you win their trust would be welcoming. The men folks always are wary of anyone encroaching their territory. No wonder it was the kids who went up to Jesus and touched Him. The one scene which I don’t remember seeing in any of the many Jesus films is him holding a child. But I would think that if we had the paparazzi those days as we do today, there would have been more pictures of Him holding a child than healing the sick.
We worked till 5:00 pm. I had never been more exhausted all my life. I got to travel in the back to the mission centre in David’s truck. We prayed and then dispersed from the mission centre. Some of us decided to have more fellowship over dinner. We went to a restaurant ‘Salsa’. I had the best Mexican seafood. Next time I go to Galveston to watch the bay, I know where I’ll have dinner. The food was doubly tasty because George and Rebecca were kind enough to pick up the tab. A loss for those who did not want to fellowship into the evening. 😛 For some reason free food is more fulfilling. I never knew why…
I was impressed that Stephen brought (his long-distance) girl friend to toil a whole day in the sun and the sweat, helping Ms. Lopez, when they themselves had little to meet each other. Just as we were wrapping up, we got to meet Ms. Lopez. With hurricane Ike she lost her job, her home, sometime later her husband then her mother. She was at the end of her wits. She said that our Christian concern renewed her faith and hope in life and in God. Looking back if there is one word to describe the experience it is ‘fulfilling’. True love is that which seeks for the other, that which it seeks for the self. We don’t expect life to be devoid of any pain or suffering. But we also expect some empathy from our fellow Christians. When that empathy becomes apathy, the pain and suffering would take its toll.
As we drove back to Houston, I couldn’t help making the connection between what we had just done to Ms. Lopez who was left in the lurch by the wrath of Nature and the over-extended-but-intangible Government aid, and what I spoke to George about the Gospel being the foundation for any long lasting Civilization. After all empathy and love is the MARK of a Christian. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).