This reflection was originally shared on the ELCA Racial Justice blog

The title of the 1939 film classic Gone with the Wind is a good descriptor for what I witnessed on a visit to Puerto Rico last week. Maria, a category 5 hurricane, wreaked havoc in the territory. The destruction caused by powerful winds and ravaging floods was catastrophic. It will take years to recover from this disaster.

Maria took away many things from us: the comfort of daily life most people took for granted, such as electricity, running water, communication; having access to food or a cold drink to refresh after a hot day; and access to health care facilities, schools, entertainment. Many things were gone with the winds of Maria. But Maria gave us something as well: busy lives came to a halt, giving people time to engage in conversation with family members and neighbors. People began to help one another and share the little resources available to them. In short, Maria gave us the other, our neighbor.

In Christ, God restored community with humankind. In this gracious act, God freed us from sin. It was an act of liberation from our estrangement from God and from one another. God frees us from our selfishness so we can focus our attention on our neighbor in need. This is what I saw in Puerto Rico: the neighbor turning to the neighbor; the neighbor finding God’s presence in the helping neighbor. All, together, finding God in the face of the other, the suffering other, the helping other, the other newly discovered in the midst of this tragedy.

This is what I saw in Puerto Rico: the neighbor turning to the neighbor; the neighbor finding God’s presence in the helping neighbor.

Neighbor-love, a central feature of Martin Luther’s theology and of our confessional identity, has been the basic framework used in the relief efforts in many of our communities and neighborhoods. Whether people call it by that name or something else, this is what Hurricane Maria gave to us.

As we look forward, we should not attempt to replace what is gone with the wind. We must apply the lesson learned from this experience to rebuild our electrical grid, our communication systems, our homes and businesses. But there is one old thing that we must use in our rebuilding efforts: We should claim neighbor-love as the catalyst for our reconstruction.

This year that we observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us not just remember the historical event. Let’s reclaim the socio-economic impact of this movement for the rebuilding of lives and communities, both in the Europe of the Reformers and in Puerto Rico after Maria.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed … struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

Pax et bonum.

Rafael Malpica Padilla
Rafael Malpica Padilla serves as executive director of ELCA Global Mission.

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