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Finding Christmas in the Face of Crisis

Q U I C K S C A N

The Angel Network
'Tis the Season
Joy to the World

The lingering sadness in our hearts for those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hardly evokes a feeling of Christmas. In the darkest hours of the Gulf Coast’s annihilation, the rising waters forced the living onto roofs and paraded the floating dead through the streets in gruesome display.

New Orleans felt the brunt of the damage. A city known for its spirit and its spirits, its flash and its flair, became a waterlogged ghost town of devastation.

More natural disasters continued in October, when Hurricane Stan unleashed a fury upon Mexico’s Gulf Coast and caused torrential flooding over much of El Salvador. The resulting mudslides in Guatemala killed as many as 1,400 people.

Just a few days later, northern Pakistan and India suffered a 7.6- magnitude earthquake which left more than two million people homeless and as many as 80,000 dead.

In late October, Hurricane Wilma pounded the Florida Keys with 125- mph winds, resulting in massive flooding. The hurricane killed three people in Mexico and 13 in Jamaica and Haiti before arriving in Florida.

It seemed that the grace of Christmas was absent during these catastrophes. Though these tragedies might tempt some to blame God, our faith teaches us that tragedy often begets goodness from others. Indeed, the spirit of Christmas took the shape of relief workers—wingless angels in hard hats—who risked their own lives in efforts to save others.

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When Stacey and Harold Bruno, along with their two young children and three other relatives, fled New Orleans for drier land and a new life, they were jobless, penniless and without hope.

Reaching Minnesota, the Brunos found unexpected salvation in the kindness of local businessman Greg Lawrence, who offered his newly renovated second home rent-free for a year to the beleaguered family.

Hundreds of similar stories have surfaced. Billy Rhodes, an 18-year-old Texas senior, joined relief efforts on August 30 in New Orleans.

Surveying the flooded city with other volunteers, Rhodes witnessed Katrina’s unsettling aftermath firsthand. On one occasion, a woman handed him a pillowcase with her stillborn child inside. After escaping to her roof to evade rising waters, she had given birth alone while waiting to be saved.

Demonstrating courage beyond his years, Rhodes journeyed into a desolate landscape and brought with him a spirit of caring and generosity.

The Gulf Coast was not the only scene of natural disaster in recent months, nor was it the only recipient of human kindness and goodwill.

Just after northern Pakistan and India endured the biggest earthquake in a century, airplanes filled with food and supplies arrived from the United States, Britain, Japan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Scores of other nations offered additional assistance.

On the ground, altruism was widespread. Rescue workers labored tirelessly, pulling the living from the rubble of flattened buildings and listening for further signs of life.

In rescuing the living and recovering the dead, these saviors were the very personification of the Christmas spirit. They alone whispered words of hope into the ears of the wounded.

'Tis the Season

It’s always a humbling task to count your blessings. And in the wake of these recent tragedies, our own blessings seem all the more evident.

Think back to the images of the New Orleans Superdome—filled to maximum capacity with stunned, sick, saddened evacuees. That alone is enough to shake us from our holiday gripes.

It hardly seems fair for those of us unaffected by these disasters to down another glass of eggnog while moaning about holiday traffic and overpriced gift items.

Instead, think of Emani Scott, a 13- year-old girl from New Orleans who lost her belongings and was separated from her mother and baby sister. Aside from finding her family, her wish was to go back to school.

Or think of survivor George Griffith of Biloxi, Mississippi, who held on to power lines on the side of his apartment complex for nearly four hours, frantically trying to keep his head above rising waters.

In light of these stories, it’s easy to remember and appreciate what we have. In the anguished faces of these survivors, it would be criminal to take any of it for granted.

Joy to the World

Our Christmas wish lists should include hope for many of the world’s citizens of a life better than what they have endured these last few months.

This season—especially after the tragedies in our country and abroad— we should remind ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas: the giving of ourselves, the sacrifice of our time, the sharing of peace. Above all, we should be reminded of Christ’s birth—the promise of salvation and hope that was born into this world with his arrival.

Throughout the year, but certainly during this noble time, we owe our fellow world citizens—the sick, the displaced, the dying—our compassion and understanding.

This season, for the people of our fractured world, those whose lives have been broken by disaster, perhaps the words of a hope-filled, sickly little boy who lives deep within our Christmas tradition are the truest words we could ever say: “God bless us, every one.”—C.H.


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