Roosevelt School, Red Lodge, MT

A grey camper van pulled up and the driver hopped out.  “I’m a carpenter by trade – where can I help?”  I had been hauling debris out of the daylight basement level of the old county school building, now community center, and just pointed to the person who had been acting as foreman on this particular recovery site.  I pointed to the community center staffer who’d been directing the group of mostly strangers who’d showed up to help, “Welcome to the party, she’ll tell you where to go.”

This past Monday, I loaded up a few shovels, my work gloves, boots, and a sleeping bag and drove 900 miles back to my old hometown in Red Lodge, MT.  This town and many of the communities in and around Yellowstone National Park have experienced catastrophic flooding following heavy spring rains and rapid snow melt.  Homes, roads, and bridges have been washed away.  Basements were filled with water, silt, and mud.  Power lines sagged, water and sewer pipes were broken open, businesses that rely on summer tourism and park visitors have had to suspend operations.  It’s a mess.  And it broke my heart to learn that people who I know and love are suffering.

As you’re reading this, I’m now headed back home to MN after spending three days lending my hands, legs, and back to the recovery effort.  What I physically accomplished while there is insignificant in comparison to the overall devastation that has been experienced, but for the few people who I was able to help, it made a difference.  And multiply my limited contributions with those like the carpenter who drove up from Colorado in her grey camper van and the story begins to transform.

The original Carbon County High School was built 101 years ago, with lathe & plaster walls, thick hardwood wall trim and hand-crafted door jams.  I know this because, we had to tear much of this out, as anything 4ft above the highpoint of the flood waters had to be removed.  As we worked, I tried to imagine the crew of men who had been hired to pound in each of the nails that our crew was now straining to remove. 

This Sunday, we’ll read a lesser-known story about Daniel.  Long before Daniel heads to the lion’s den or Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego wind up in the fiery furnace, they first come into the orbit of the conquering Babylonian king.  Albeit slaves, they’re the strangers from somewhere else who show up with something remarkable to offer their captors.  And God works through them to transform the story.

I give thanks for that carpenter who drove up from Denver with her skill, knowledge and wisdom.  She quickly asserted herself to gently lead our team as we removed the ancient sub-flooring of rough-hewn pine planking, held in place by thousands of thick nails.  It was not lost on me that all but two of us working that day, in the basement of a school built by the men of Red Lodge, were women.  I give thanks for their witness that so much more is possible when we believe we all have something to give back to the world.

In the face of catastrophe, the story of my old hometown continues, and with God’s help, it is being transformed.

May God’s peace come to you this day. -Pastor Peter

Let us pray… God of transformation, empower us to use all you have blessed us with to transform the world.  Bring comfort to those who have lost so much, bring endurance to those who have so far to go, bring hope to those who are without.  May our hands be your hands, our legs carry us to where your presence is most needed, our backs help to carry the burdens you offer to ease.  Amen.