One of the silver linings that became apparent during the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey and the ensuing relief effort here in Texas can be summed up in one word: community. The now iconic images of ordinary folks doing extraordinary things to help people in the flood waters and the widespread accounts of volunteers overwhelming desolation with hopefulness have brought about a much needed reprieve from the dark divisiveness that has gripped our nation of late.
This type of unity has appeared before: the strong sense of community forged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina here at Frontier Camp as we sheltered refugees is still a part of us here on staff. Lasting memories of sharing meals, generators, light, and laughter with neighbors for days without electricity in the Woodlands and other Houston subdivisions decimated by Hurricane Ike still circulate among family and friends. People living right next door met each other for the first time, driven by need, by grace, and by the common ground of the shared experience. Isn’t it interesting that it takes a natural disaster to foster a broad sense of community… in the community?
The great destruction brought on by a natural disaster can bring out lots of selflessness that provides hope and comfort to the distressed, but it is fleeting and not sustained when things return back to “normal.” What can we learn from that uncomfortable observation? We long for community because God placed that desire in us as part of His image at the Creation—we were built for relationship with Him and with each other. Unfortunately, pride has marred that image and we often sacrifice the ideal of community on the altar of self-gratification.
Many years ago, a different type of disaster was looming—one that would shake the foundations of the earth itself. Jesus, knowing that he would soon be arrested and executed, arranged a last meal with his disciples—men that he lived with, poured into, and agonized over for three years of constant turmoil. During that emotional and tense meal, he gave them a mandate:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35 (NASB)
So, for Christians, loving one another in the selfless manner of Jesus our Savior himself is the foundational principle of developing true community! Moreover, community is not an end, but a means: the goal is not to benefit us, but to portray Christ and his love for all to the world. Only when we are selfless in developing community will we derive any blessing from living it.
There are some corollary truths that bear repeating. First, we can’t live up to God’s expectations for unity on our own strength. A true lasting community can only be achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit enabled by yielding our will to God’s. Second, I need to be reminded daily that Jesus is talking about “love” as an action, not an emotion!
Hurricane Harvey provided a tangible way to illustrate this. Love is getting someone to safety out of the flood. Love is donning a dust mask and helping muck out a moldy home, or tarping a roof. Love is cooking a meal, providing clothes, filling a transportation need, giving money for resources, and sacrificing something to help with the myriad of big and little things that need to get done. And in the midst of all of tha, community blossoms so that Jesus becomes known and God is glorified.
One of the most powerful attributes of a Christian summer camp ministry is the intentional effort to build a community (albeit temporary) during the week. Each cabin group is led by two counselors with the mandate to forge campers from a wide spectrum of economic, social, geographic, and cultural backgrounds into a unified loving group. Partly this is achieved through the platform of recreational fun—shared uncommon experiences! Unity is also achieved by teaching kids how to be good friends by thinking of others, learning how to resolve conflicts appropriately, and by being kind, extending grace, and being patient in the pandemonium of a whole cabin doing life together (especially getting ready for bed at the end the day!).
But the most important aspect of building community at Frontier Camp is faith. It is faith in Jesus Christ that teaches us how to love one another, regarding others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). I am praying that the sense of community brought about by Hurricane Harvey will provide us with opportunities to develop a deeper, richer sense of community, like the kind we strive for in our cabins in the summer time! We do it so that they will know that we are Christians by our love (that is an old campfire song!).