The woman said to [Jesus], "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."
~ John 4:15
Just after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of people made their way as refugees to Houston. I can remember the preparation that went into opening the Astrodome up so that people would have a place to stay. The iconic structure that's fame to claim as one of the great "Wonders of the World," would soon be home to thousands of people.
I had never been inside this marvel until the night that people started arriving by bus. Many of these people arrived with nothing, except for one another. Women with children, the homeless who had lived on the streets of New Orleans, and every kind of person you could imagine. I remember the smell, the dingy fluorescent lights in hallways that had been silent for years, a few children crying, and the echo of someone yelling out of fear and confusion.
This "field of dreams," for a baseball team that had moved on to a new stadium, was now a sea of cots and chaos. No one could have really planned for what was happening.
Among some of the arrivals was a group of young people who had been living in a homeless shelter. Because they were minors, without identification, and many of them traveling alone or with a friend, suddenly discovered that they didn't meet the criteria for staying "alone," and were referred to a homeless shelter for youth just blocks from the church I was pastoring at the time. With only about seventy-five beds available, these kids soon were turned away and ended up on our doorstep.
I had served this population for a long enough period of time to know that there were predators in the neighborhood that would soon sweep in and take advantage of the circumstances surrounding many of the young people. Our church focused on the needs of these folks, reminding them to never "compromise yourself," and that someone always cared. We were a community where doubts were welcomed, and we embraced the woundedness of those we met.
I just remember being overwhelmed by the stories of escape, of flood waters that rose, and how many of these kids swam to safety in the midst of a terrible storm.
One of the first girls that I met had been home with her mother. Her mother left their home to check on a family friend and never returned. I remember the girl telling me how she "stayed in the home," until the water reached the "light hanging in the dining room," and then swam out. She never saw her mother again and came to Houston with "hope," that she would be reunited with her.
She was on the street, distraught, and one of the girls from our church brought her inside after someone offered her a place to stay until she found her mother. The girl from our church told me who had offered the place, and we both realized it was a man often linked to sex-trafficking on the street.
The girl from New Orleans shared she had an aunt that lived in Shreveport. She had only visited the aunt once when their grandmother died. The girl struggled to remember her aunt's last name, but could remember that the church was a "Baptist Church." Nothing like discovering two pages of Baptist Churches in Shreveport and needing to find one that might know her aunt.
I split the list with a friend and we began calling the churches. By the grace of God, we discovered the church on the third call, and within a few hours, had spoken to the aunt. I pulled out my credit card and bought a bus ticket for the girl and we got her on a bus by five pm that evening.
The girl and I talked as I drove her to the bus stop, and she asked me, "Do you think that God really loves me? Look at what happened to me?"
I couldn't help but think of all that the girl had encountered, and we talked about all the things that brought her to the doorstep of our church. I couldn't help but note of all the ways that God loved her. She hugged me as she turned to get on the bus. I handed her a bag with a sandwich, some chips and an apple with something to drink, and reminded her not to talk to strangers. She grinned, and said, "Don't worry. You're the only stranger I will talk to."
About two weeks later I received a call from the girl, letting me know that her mother had been found. Apparently her mother had drowned at the house of the friend she had gone to check on. My heart sank for the girl. She thanked me for having helped her, and I couldn't help but cry after I hung up the phone. I thought about how she questioned God's love, and embraced all the ways that this love was demonstrated to her.
Each of us struggle at times and ask God, "Do you love me? Do you really love me?"
Along with that question comes all the voices of this world who add to this by asking, "If?"
The world tells me that God loves me, "If I 'do this,' 'act like,' or 'believe this.'"
There are endless “ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These “ifs” enslave us, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional.
As long as any of us continue to look for love in a world full of conditions, we will continue to be caught in an endless cycle that the world creates of trying, failing, and trying again.
We are called to be reminded that the will of God will never lead us to a place where God's love and grace won't sustain us. Each of us are loved unconditionally.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.