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A letter from YAV Megan McCarty in Miami

 June 2010

This is May’s update. This past month was kind of crazy because the church where I work was burned down. I sent out a letter to everyone right after it happened, which is what this update is initially talking about …

After I sent out my initial email a few days after the fire happened, I got back some great responses from my amazing support group. One very wise person told me that “sometimes out of tragedy, amazing things happen.” I was obviously very grateful for the reply, but part of me blew it off. At that point the wounds were too fresh. Things in Florida City were utter chaos. No one on staff could find time or peace of mind enough to get any sleep. We were running on coffee and prayers. However, having had time, clarity and, well, more coffee... I have been able to see the amazing things that have been happening down here in Florida City.

To catch everyone up, here’s the brief update of all that is happening down south: The church and playground were completely destroyed and nothing was salvageable. (Well, we actually did take a block from our prayer wall, our charred cornerstone and metal cross — mostly for sentiment.) To add insult to injury, while we were having our second outdoor worship service on the Sunday evening after the fire, someone broke into our community center, which was not burned, and stole our five new laptops. The fire department and police have completed their investigation and have ruled the fire’s cause as “arson.” We have reward signs up asking for information; however, in a sense it is the perfect crime, having left no trace of evidence.

Thinking about what my life has been the past two weeks and the things that this community has undergone still makes me nauseous. While everything was happening, it all seemed unreal. Every day when Pastor Audrey would arrive she would look at the charred remains of her first church and say, “It's not a dream.” I think most of the staff felt the exact same way. Sometimes I'd have to look out the window to check that it really was all gone. It all kind of felt like a bad joke.

However, seeing the response and the way that this community has opened their arms to this tragedy has been incredible. Branches was a community center, and nothing has shown us the impact of our service more than this fire. People from all over the greater Miami area have been calling or driving down to see things for themselves, but most important, to ask how they can help. The local news jumped all over our story the second the word got out. When they found out that our laptops were stolen, it led to a second flood of media. However, that story reached a church in Ft. Lauderdale that called the very next day and sent us five brand-new laptops. And the next day another person did the same thing, even though we told them we already had them replaced. We have now doubled the number of laptops we started with. Our pastor had started a community food pantry in the church, and when churches in the area heard that all our food had burned, the very next day a truckload of food arrived. Our kids are more well fed than they have ever been in their lives thanks to churches and other community organizations who still, two weeks later, continue to give food and drinks daily. We have had a giant circus-like tent gived in order to continue our daily programming, and as soon as the rubble from the church gets taken away, we will have a 5,000 sq. ft. portable building gived as well. Five churches from North Miami have gived small playgrounds for the summer. And the list only continues to grow day after day.

I am so very thankful to see the way this community has embraced us in our time of need. Obviously the large donations and gifts are what has kept our organization going through this tragedy. However, it is the smallest of gifts that seem to warm my heart the most. A second grader gave my boss’s son a dollar the other day and said, “I want to use this to help rebuild the church.” A woman in the community who we know cannot afford to feed her own family walked by the other day and handed Pastor Audrey a wad of cash saying she would give more as soon as she got her next paycheck from working in the fields. My co-worker Angelo, who works full time and goes to college full time (paying for his full tuition himself), bought the church a new portable sound system because he knew we would need it for Friday nights. Day after day, week after week, these tiny “widow’s offerings” continue.

These gifts and outpourings of love are what keeps me going into work day after day. I know that when I get to work, I will have to smell the burnt building. I know that there will be flies and bugs covering the outdoor tutoring area. I know that when the late afternoon rains come the area under the circus tent will flood. I know that our kids will complain because it’s hot outside. And yet I cannot wait to get to work and see what surprise God has in store for us.

I cannot thank each and every one of you enough for your support and prayers and love during these past two weeks. It has been tough, but God is providing for us and we know that He is bigger than anything else going on in South Florida.  I shot a movie as a promotional video to be used for our campaign. It’s a little long — about seven minutes — but if you want to see a little more about the fire, here’s a YouTube video.

I love you all!!

Grace and peace,

Megan

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