By Rachel Gunter Shapard
In recent weeks, I have seen firsthand one way in which the winds of the Spirit are blowing in Jacksonville, Florida.
In a community on the north side of town that was hit by the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma eight months ago, an entire neighborhood is striving to get back into their homes that were flooded by waist-high water. Many of their belongings were destroyed except those stored up high in closets and upper cabinets. They lost most everything, including their privacy, for in order to remain in their homes, the drywall had to be stripped out at least two thirds of the way up to stop mold from making its home within their walls. The people who live on and around Ken Knight Drive have either left their uninhabitable homes to sleep on a family member’s or friend’s couch, or those who had nowhere to go have figured out a way to remain in their homes in the midst of ruin.
But the winds of the Spirit have been blowing and beckoning those who would heed them to open their eyes to what has been a forgotten neighborhood. For if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that the people in this neighborhood were struggling long before the floodwaters of Hurricane Irma rose around them, but it went unnoticed.
A small but mighty gathering, not unlike the disciples gathered behind locked doors, has felt the very breath of God and received the invitation of the Spirit to walk alongside the community on Ken Knight Drive in their time of crisis. Although it is difficult to view human suffering, this group has not allowed the painful stories of those who live on Ken Knight Drive to debilitate them, but instead, propel them to action.
Slowly and steadily, homes are being rebuilt. Those who felt forgotten are sensing acknowledgment of their existence and struggle not only from those in their community, but from those who have traveled across many miles to stand (and work!) in solidarity with them.
Five homes have been restored, and just this past week, one family that lost most everything received the gift of furnishings for their home. They had been living in their rebuilt home with nothing inside it but a mattress on the floor. When members in the community heard about their need for furnishings, an unlikely assemblage of different races, varying socioeconomic statuses and differing religious beliefs came together to clean the rooms, move in furniture and turn a shell of a house into a home fit for living.
This unlikely assemblage might never have come together or even met one another if it weren’t for the beckoning winds of the Spirit. Now they are brothers and sisters, they are neighbors who know one another’s names, they have borne each other’s burdens. Even amidst their differences, this gathering that would have looked strange to some, was transformed in receiving the invitation of the Spirit to create not just the semblance of heaven, but the true realm of God right here on earth.
May it be so for all of us this day and everyday, as we take in the very breath of God and exhale the life-giving winds of the Spirit in a broken world. Who knows what we might accomplish if we heed these winds and come together, despite all our differences. We are better off for all that we let in.
Rachel Gunter Shapard serves as the associate coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida.