This past week a group of about 20 from our church traveled to the Williams community just outside Jacksonville, Ala., near the campus of Jacksonville University.
We went to offer whatever assistance and support we could. They, like several other communities in our state, were in the path of late April’s terrible storms.
Because the Williams community is small and rural, it has not received the news coverage or attention that Tuscaloosa and Birmingham have received.
But the devastation they have experienced is every bit as painful. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, dreams were scattered in small pieces of debris in every direction.
Our small group hardly made a dent in the destruction we saw in so many places. We did what we were asked to do, but in the face of so much loss, it seemed very small.
However, we were all supremely impressed by the community’s resolve. We did our work through the First Baptist Church of Williams, which has become a sort of hub for resources for all those who are trying to contribute to the situation.
But there were scenes of community solidarity everywhere. Churches and community centers throughout the area had set up food distribution centers, counseling and places where families could just go and get a hot meal.
Our volunteer team had lunch with several families who had lost all they had.
It was heartening to see such community support. It is an example of the power of community.
When people pull together to take care of those who have experienced loss and tragedy, it is humanity at its best. When tragedy strikes, we respond – and that is a good thing.
It is a vision of what Jesus had in mind as the norm for community. Not just during times of tragedy, but also during those times of everyday human normality.
Every day in many communities in America, there are people who are hungry. Those who refuse to accept this reality are living in denial.
Every day in many communities in America, there are people who are sick and cannot afford to see a doctor. In fact, in places like Lowndes County, Ala., there are not many doctors.
Every day in many communities in America, there are people who are lonely and afraid. Some are elderly, some are disabled, and some are just alone.
It is the power of community that offers the remedy for these situations.
Now detractors will immediately jump on these sentiments and complain that is not the business of government to address these sorts of issues.
But if we substitute the word “government” with the word “community,” we get a whole different feel for the matter.
In Williams and in other places in our state, a partnership of local volunteers combined with state and federal resources joined together in an effort to relieve the suffering and loss of people who have lost everything.
But every day in many communities in America, there are slow-motion tragedies – suffering and deprivation that are ongoing, which can be addressed in the same way.
It is unrealistic to think that local charities alone can address the problems of poverty and hunger. It takes a community.
That’s where the real power lies.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.