Helping one another is something lots of people still do

Published 12:30 pm Monday, May 3, 2010

Katie Carter’s photo on last Tuesday’s front page depicted three young Mennonite women removing a sheet of tin roofing that had been blown into a Louisiana cornfield by the tornado three days earlier.

The photo was good, but I hope people pondered a deeper meaning.

We depend on the National Weather Service for warnings. We depend on the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency for stockpiling and distributing relief supplies as well as compiling “official” damage assessments. We depend on law enforcement officers, fire and rescue personnel.

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But we also depend on each other — a lot.

There remain in our government-centered culture just a whole lot of people who do what they can, where they can, when they can.

There was no greater evidence of this than the immediate aftermath of Katrina.

A week after the storm, when most of us in Vicksburg had power restored, the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed up with a truckload of free government ice in the parking lot at Walmart.

By that time, the parking area of a Baptist Church on the Gulf Coast had been transformed into an around-the-clock eatery. Thousands of meals had been served for four or five days by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Woodmen of the World and church and other fraternal organizations.

People who care about their fellow man are always there first. They offer the most and expect nothing in return.

Mennonites, officially, are “Christian Anabaptists.” The “ana” is Latin for “against.” But an area of common faith with other denominations, quite apparently, is to fulfill the teachings of Jesus that leading a life of service to others is central to what it means to be a Christian.

There aren’t many Mennonites, comparatively. The church has about 110,000 members in the United States, 1.5 million worldwide, but whenever there’s been a storm or a flood, a good number of them will quickly appear. Their distinctive manner mirrors their distinctive dress. They arrive and they work as family groups — men, women and children.

There’s a Mennonite church near Transylvania on U.S. 65 and members know equipment can’t work in a field littered with metal roofing. So they asked permission from the owner, then canvassed the field to remove all scraps, large and small. And when they were done, they went home unless there was another job to do. No one would know about the assistance, except the landowner and the Mennonites, unless a photographer happened to take a photo and a news editor decided to use it.

My perspective is, quite naturally, media-centered. For years it has bothered me that we of the press rely so heavily on government sources for information that we have actually created a society that believes government is capable of all things and responsible for all things. It’s a major problem today, I think, that so many seem to think city, state or federal officials can lead their lives, make their decisions, save them from harm, rescue them from personal mistakes or bad judgment.

Government can do what it can do, but it can’t live our lives.

In the aftermath of bad events such as Katrina and storms such as those on April 24, we see there are people — through faith or any other motivation — who are not only willing, but best situated and equipped, to help each other. These same people lead lives of quiet service every day.

A big storm and a happenstance photo are a reminder. Helping one another is still something lots of people do.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail