A Tale of Two Cities

this picture is from NY Mag’s Hurricane Sandy Pictures

Last week I was able to attend the celebration of Hope For New York’s 20th Anniversary as an organization serving the poor and the marginalized of New York. Hope for New York was started by Redeemer Presbyterian in 1992 at the advice of John Perkins who founded the Christian Community Development Association. They work with 39 (and ever-growing) non-profit affiliates to serve the needs of New York. Our church, Apostles, is one of three partner churches who send volunteers and resources to support Hope For New York.

At the event, their Executive Director, Elise Chong, discussed the recent Hurricane and its aftermath. She described it as many have over the last week as a tale of two cities. Above a certain street there was power and resources along with life as if Sandy didn’t happen. Below this certain street there was no power and a lack of resources.

My family felt this firsthand as we were without power for 5 days. On Halloween, we went to the Upper West Side, had dinner and trick-or-treated in a gracious relative’s building. It was walking around the Upper West Side as it functioned normally in contrast to my neighborhood, which was so amazing. It was a different New York, in my neighborhood every grocery store, shop and restaurant abandoned as daily people made the trek north for food, internet, and to recharge phones and iPads.

At least that was the tale of those able to do so.

During the second part of Elise Chong’s talk she highlighted the fact that the two distinct New York’s during Hurricane Sandy only revealed that there have been and are consistently two distinct New Yorks. There is the New York of people who have the power and resources to take care of themselves without any assistance and there is the New York of the poor and the marginalized where there is no power and very little resources to chart a different path.

In Chelsea, I joined our church community and other churches in serving the Chelsea projects. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the projects citywide, the government even shut the water and the power off before the storm to get people to abandon their apartment for a shelter to make it easier to care for those in need in our city. Many did not leave their apartment as the last time they did, Hurricane Irene last year, their apartments were vandalized and looted.

This left many, including elderly and disabled, without the ability to get basic needs for many days. These apartment buildings are 20+ stories high, which is a challenge to get down in a dark stairway anyways, let alone for those who struggle to be mobile already.

It was a joy to join other churches to serve, but it reinforced the reality that many in our city live in need every day, on the brink of being unable to meet their basic needs, struggling to make it. The church can do more than relief and it must move from relief to development in the days to come. The church can fill a gap that our society has started to expect from the government, but the government (no matter how local, small, or big) is unable to meet these needs.

The church is a family, adopted by God to exist as children who have all their needs met because they have a Father in heaven who provides all their needs. This enables the church of God to become servants and missionaries to their city, freed from the bonds and concerns of themselves only to care for the concerns of those around us.

This is also about relationships. Initiating and establishing relationships with people to meet more than tangible and physical needs. Every human made in the image of God has emotional, spiritual, and physical side to them, so the government is never able to meet the needs of the people because it typically addresses just one of these components. The church can provide an ongoing family to care for them, provide friendships, and assist them as they seek to meet their physical needs providing for them occasionally.

In the tale of two cities, the church has an amazing opportunity. It has started to realize it and awaken to action. I could not be more encouraged by my church community’s love for God and our city. It gives me great hope for the future of our communities living as the family of God extending the grace of God through Jesus Christ to others in deed to demonstrate the message of the gospel.

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