Nehemiah was a man in bondage. He served in the court of the mighty King Artzxerxes, the most powerful ruler of the most powerful nation on earth. The Jews knew full well the might and raw power of the Persians. They knew the only hope for the restoration of their country lay in the power of God.
Years of war with the Babylonians and the Persians had left Jerusalem, God's holy city, in complete and utter ruin. The gates had been burned with fire and the walls lay desolate in a huge pile of rubble. The name Jerusalem, which was a symbol of prosperity and the envy of the world under David and Solomon, had been reduced to a synonym for despair and defeat. When Nehemiah heard the news of the condition of his beloved Jerusalem he sat down and wept. Then he lay down before God, fasting and praying for God to restore the city. God answered his prayer the way God often answers prayers of desperation. He called Nehemiah to be the one to do something about the situation. Nehemiah left the relative comfort and security of his position as the king's cupbearer and led a rag tag, scared group to Jerusalem to face the formidable task of rebuilding the city and the walls. After much opposition and after many obstacles had been overcome, the walls of Jerusalem once again ringed the city offering majestic protection against her enemies and establishing a measure of security and confidence for the people. But more importantly, the raising of the walls of Jerusalem pointed to the glory of the God of Israel.
In the summer of 2005, hurricane Katrina swept across the gulf coast leaving the city of New Orleans not much more than a pile of rubble. The once proud city was reduced to a symbol of failed government policies, the entitlement mentality, and gross corruption and mismanagement. Despair multiplied, eclipsing even the mounds of rubble as the people poured out of the city looking for places of hope. Darkness settled over the people who were left behind. Some tried to find the light by throwing parties, depending on the response of the curious and the carnal to bring light and life back to their city. But their efforts amounted to little more than a candle in the wind or whistling past the graveyard.
But there is another story to the New Orleans Katrina disaster that needs to be told. I am writing this column sitting on a bus in the 9th Ward in New Orleans. Looking out the window, I can see row after row of colorful, clean, brand new houses that have been raised by an army of volunteers. I am one of a team of ten students and two professors from North Greenville University who have joined well over 300 other students and professors who decided to spend their spring break, not relaxing in a resort, but raising hope in a place of despair. Like Nehemiah, members of the Baptist Crossroads Rebuild Project have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to do more than simply shake their heads in dismay over New Orleans. They have answered the call to rise and rebuild a city and in doing so they are helping to restore the lost faith of the people. Baptist Crossroads has committed to build 300 homes over the next five years. With every blow of the hammer, nails go into wood joining walls together that are rising out of the rubble. People who now have no place to call home will soon be able to join others who were devastated by the storm who are moving into brand new, three bedroom homes.
And it isn't just homes that are being raised. Hope is being raised where much of the city still lies in ruins. People who have property across the street from the Baptist Crossroads Project, inspired by the sound of hammers and the sight of new homes rising out of the rubble, are deciding to return and rebuild their homes. One person told one of the members of our construction team they had decided to abandon their home; to never return but just to allow the city to eventually consume what was left of their dwelling. But the site of people giving themselves away to bring hope through an aggressive rebuilding project has encouraged them to return to try to restore their homes and their life.
Make no mistake….what these people are recovering goes much deeper than brick and mortar. They are recovering their belief in something greater than themselves. Just as those who followed Nehemiah at one point were ready to give in to the pressure of the enemy, many of the people of New Orleans were so overcome by their circumstances that all they could see was a hopeless situation. Now, slowly but surely hope is returning as people are encouraged by the outward, tangible signs of the love of God pouring through the hammers and shovels of His people.
People who follow Jesus Christ must always be ready to respond to the hurt and despair of our world. Satan is alive and well. His goal is to spread darkness and hopelessness through despair and destruction. The Bible says he is roaring lion prowling around, seeking whom he may devour.
But as master of the darkness, he has no power over the light of God's love. Just as darkness must leave a windowless room when the light switch is thrown, Satan must surrender his despair to hope everywhere believers decide to shine. The testimony of God's people working to restore a destroyed city is now reaching the hearts of people who are forced to simply shake their heads in wonder at the actions of those who would give themselves away for the sake of another. Many are beginning to believe in the power of God. As I sit hear listening to the sound of hammers and saws and I see this army of God's servants, the sun is shinning brightly…..or maybe that is the light of God's love pouring out of His people.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.