Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Return

I sit here in my nice warm office in my comfortable chair at my nice desk, thinking back, reflecting on my experiences in Gulfport/Biloxi/Bay St. Louis and my head is so full of thoughts that I cannot keep them all straight. I am mostly grateful for the people who made all of this happen for me, for my family, for our presbytery and for the folks whom we met and who touched us so deeply last week. That is the way my mind works, I can't help it.

I think of Joe Fielden and Paul Risk, masterminds of our work, dedicated to the work of our Lord and giving of their expertise to make an impossible job very possible. I think of Bethany Benz, sick in bed all day our first day with whatever was going around, asking for a shot not a pill, getting on a roof and becoming one of our leaders quickly. I think of Mike Kirkland and especially of the kitchen crew who lamented their lack of involvement in the work, and then worked 18 hour days to make sure we were all fed and happy. I feel like a piker only having worked 8 hours that day. I think about Ethan Norman and his crew, working hard all day and then leading worship night after night after night. I am no musician but I think I might have had trouble keeping my fingers nimble enough to play a guitar after swinging a hammer all day.
I think of Terry Chumley and Ernie Wiles and all those other crew leaders, none of whom had any idea what they were walking into the midst of, who nonetheless grabbed an unruly bunch of do-gooders and made us into roofers. I think about Denise Martin and Debbie Hyder and Chuck O'Connor, caring for the sick, giving massages until late into the evening, getting people back to work quickly and enthusiastically. I think of the drivers, the group leaders, the showers and every mundane little thing that made this experience work, that could have sabotaged the week but went so smoothly and so well, and I am in awe. I have missed many and know that everyone there worked for the good of the people of Mississippi and for the good of each other. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

And then I think about Pete Bloss, Clerk of the Session of Westminster.
Pete talked to us about listening, about connecting with folks and just hearing their stories. So I did. I asked Pete about his story and I fear that I will never have the guts to do what Pete is doing for his God, for his church, for his neighbors every day, day after day after day. His law firm was destroyed, his staff is scattered and suffering, his income is threatened and he is trying to recover what he can of that and care for his partners and employers as well. And he was with us an awful lot, doing what God has convicted him to do, giving and giving and giving. As a lifelong resident of Gulfport, he suffers with his friends and neighbors, and yet he is a giver to a degree that inspires me. I think about Pete Bloss and his congregation, struggling now without pastoral leadership, and doing the work of God's creation more now than ever before.

From the comfort of my home, sleeping again in my own bed and comfortable again, so many miles from Gulfport, I feel the connection that is the Presbyterian church and I am forever changed by that. I go this afternoon to Louisville to do more of the work of our denomination and will take with me not only East Tennessee but more specifically the people that I spent last week with, forever in my heart and in my work.

Peace and grace
Steve Benz
Sierra Group - Team 1


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