I’ll be honest with you; it has not been easy. After several days without electricity, civilization begins to collapse. I don’t care how good you believe yourself to be at the pioneer, Henry David Thoreau lifestyle; your neighbors will begin to freak out. At best, the world around you becomes edgy and eerie. At worst, people can become angry and vicious. I’ve seen both. When the food starts to spoil, lack of sleep sets in, you have no information as to when the generators are to arrive, rumors are rife, and the economic livelihood of your entire community has been ruined by an industrial accident; what once seemed quaint becomes a nightmare. This is where I’ve been over the past five days. Maybe you’ve read about it the newspaper or seen something crawl across your screen when watching a cable news channel. Perhaps you’ve thought, “Wow, I bet those people are hot.” I thank you for your prayers. We don’t need your pity. We do need fans.
I serve a United Methodist congregation 27 miles off the coast of mainland North Carolina. Early Thursday morning, our electrical connection to the 21st century was severed when construction crews building a new bridge further up the Outer Banks severed the three main power cables that feed our barrier islands. Since then, thousands of people were evacuated. My congregation and community, most of whom make their living by serving those who vacation on these islands are staring economic ruin in the face. After Hurricane Matthew’s devastation last fall, we had only begun to recover. Now, under the unavoidable mandatory evacuation, many of our businesses will lay off employees or close for the year. Already, people are worried about paying their rent, house payments, buying food, and medical bills. This is much larger than cancelled vacations. This is an economic disaster for countless people who live on a razor’s edge. This is like closing a steel mill in Ohio or moving a Carrier plant to Mexico. In our case, we’re surrounded by water in the middle of hurricane season. Getting help is made all that much harder by our isolation. Those who want to come back and provide needed cash for our local economy are pushing to do so before adequate repairs are made to our electric infrastructure. Some visitors are even blaming residents for removing them from the island. Residents without jobs or electricity-blamed for ruining the vacations of those who only know this as their vacation paradise a few weeks each summer. This is where I serve the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Yesterday, our congregation held worship outside. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and people just kept coming. In our prayer concerns, we heard of cancer diagnoses and needs well beyond our own inconveniences of the previous few days. We talked of ways to begin feeding and helping our neighbors. It’s what we can do. We don’t need to be told, organized from above, or be instructed on who our neighbors are. Our neighbors are our neighbors; plain and simple. They are men, women, Latino, and Caucasian. Everyone who needs help will be helped.
We are all tired. Our mental health has been strained. Spiritually, we’re hanging on. People are crying. For many, the future seems bleak. My parishioners ask, “When will things ever be alright”? It will be weeks before things get back to what the world calls “normal”. Even then, it won’t be normal. Some business may never reopen. The cancer I heard about yesterday will have spread. We keep our eyes open for tropical storms which may make this chaos even worse. Whatever the case, the church will still be here doing what we do, whether we are on the news on or not; whether there is a United Methodist Church or not. Life is too important to do otherwise.