Volunteers helped with relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastation from Hurricane Laura.(Photo Credit: Rev. Van Haywood)

With everything going on around us, it is easy to become overwhelmed at the sheer volume of chaos and the magnitude of the issues we face. Like many of you, I have found myself looking for hope, and knowing all too well the feeling of fear and confusion. How do we find hope? Joy? Is that even possible? Fortunately, I found that the answer is YES!

I have just returned from a mission trip where we delivered supplies to Vinton, La. that was left devastated by Hurricane Laura. Nearly every home is destroyed or heavily damaged. When we arrived, the devastation became apparent as we drove down I-10 through Lake Charles — high rise buildings with almost all the windows blown out, entire neighborhoods leveled and forest landscapes now a field of twisted tree trunks with the branches left mangled or missing. We walked into the local church that is providing meals and supplies for the area. A cattle trough sat by the front door. Once used for a baptismal, it is now the water being used to flush the toilets in the building. The lobby and auditorium have become a makeshift shelter.

The volunteers, from the moment we drove up, came smiling and so appreciative of the supplies that were being delivered. Other volunteers as I walked around simply asked “what can I get for you,” offering food and supplies as they thought I was one of the thousands of people showing up each day seeking support. At first glance, this just seems like what should be. That is what communities, and particularly faith communities, should be doing… answering the call to serve, right?

What made this so remarkable is that the volunteers here are all people who have had their homes destroyed. They are faced with all the uncertainty of experiencing homelessness in a matter of hours. The church building itself is damaged, but they have tarped it and bandaged it to keep functioning to meet the immediate needs.
Knowing what these volunteers are going through, and seeing them smile and find joy, reminded me that, yes, we can find joy; and hope even in the most devastating of times. Even in the uncertainty and chaos, we can find hope and joy. What this town and these individuals had was a unity that brought them together. A unity that we are familiar with in times of great despair, but is all too often forgotten at other times.

Today, with the chaos around us, with the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and poverty and the sheer messiness of life, we can find hope and we can find joy — if we look at what is important and embrace the unity we cling to in times of distress. Experience and share all-inclusive, unconditional love, stand for justice, and BE COMMUNITY!

Rev. Vance Haywood is senior pastor at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, N.C.