Submitted by Rev. Angel L. Sullivan
And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-45, NAS)
This past July I had the privilege of being one of many American Baptists to take part in the American Baptist Home Mission’s Society work week in New Orleans, participating in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up as our AB GIRLS* summer mission event. Yes, that’s right, the Hurricane Katrina clean-up. Prior to leaving for my trip I shared with friends and family that I was going to help in the Hurricane Katrina clean-up, and many responded with, “Really? Are you sure? That happened ten years ago!” I have to admit I had forgotten that it happened so long ago. I do remember when it first happened: watching the television, being filled with emotions of anger and sadness, wishing I could do more than watch and pray. Years went by and I truly forgot about Hurricane Katrina and the people affected by it until now.
Interestingly, “remembering” was a constant sentiment that was shared by the people of the Ninth Ward: Remember us. Remember us when you go home; remember us and share our story. As I heard over and over again residents sharing their stories about the rushing waters ripping through their neighborhoods, ripping apart years of family heritage, friendships, and plans, I was reminded of the thief on the cross next to Jesus. I would imagine that, as the thief hung from the cross, he may have felt that what little bit of life he had left was planned and there was no hope for him. But looking at Jesus, the thief asked, “Remember me,” and Jesus responded with, “ This day you shall be with me in Paradise.”
Side by side with the stories of sadness I also heard stories of hope about those who did not forget them. Many strangers, some being members of the American Baptist community, found hope in persons literally becoming the hands and feet of Jesus and restoring what may have seemed dead and hopeless into a new paradise. They were remembered. In being part of the remembering, not only did the residents receive but so did the people who were there to help. I witnessed many AB GIRLS share their stories about how they felt changed from their experience. They felt empowered–even in very practical ways as they learned to be able to paint or spackle, something they could never envisioned themselves doing before. Learning that they could indeed do these tasks empowered them in other ways as well–helped them feel valued and needed as contributors. Those AB GIRLS were rewarded with a new life, of sorts, through this experience too.
So, leaving New Orleans and going back home into my own community, I have vowed to remember. I make this vow with the understanding that remembering a person’s story brings for the new life and new hope for all.
*AB GIRLS, American Baptist Girls in Relationship, Leadership, and Service, is a ministry for girls sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information on girls’ ministry, visit www.abwministries.org. Funding for AB GIRLS is part of the Women and Girls Mission Fund of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information and to support the Women and Girls Mission Fund, click here.