Monday, September 26, 2016
I am the founding pastor of The Resurrection, a small-yet-diverse Christian congregation in downtown Granite City, Illinois. God has given our congregation a calling to focus on people of the American Bottom. We seek to deeply understand the people, problems, and opportunities here. We pray and work daily to offer our neighbors here the two best things we know: the risen Jesus, and the comprehensive transformation he brings to both individual lives and community systems.
The roughly 30 communities of Greater East St. Louis and Greater Granite are a complex mixture of both systemic breakdown and tremendous opportunity. We have it all here, from extreme poverty to upper-middle class neighborhoods, from blight and decay to thriving businesses, good jobs, and solid infrastructure. For 155,000 people in the Metro East, this floodplain of the Mississippi is our home.
And every one of our homes and businesses is behind a levee.
When our communities got word in 2007 that FEMA decertified our levee system, it was a potentially devastating blow. We were told that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers would not complete the necessary improvements until 2044. Every home, every small business would have been required to pay high-risk flood insurance. Imagine walking out your front door one morning: every single residence you can see for miles just had their monthly house payment skyrocket, without a single dollar going back into the local economy. Left unchecked, this would have caused catastrophic snowball of decline in our communities. Low-income properties would become functionally uninsurable overnight, and some of our towns have mostly low-income property.
Personally, I thank Jesus for the success story of cooperation and leadership that prevented this meltdown. Our regional leaders in business, government, and community life worked together to form the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District (FPD), which in turn led to the necessary funding, political will, and cooperation to prevent this economic disaster. To my knowledge, every other Army Corp of Engineers levee system in the US is paid for and maintained by them alone. But here in the American Bottom our regional leadership stepped up, our local taxpayers paid the bill, and our local workers did the work. We had too. We all hope to see full 100-year recertification from FEMA in early 2017, and 500-year certification in the coming years.
It has, however, been disappointing to read this year that the Corp of Engineers has decided to send back a total of $52M in funding, which would have been used to handle the remaining portion of the levees which are still under it’s exclusive control, over issues regarding organized labor. In the only place in the United States where local people have picked up the bill and the shovel for huge portions of the Army’s levee system, this seems like very poor partnership, and is a major blow to a mix of people ranging from the most powerless to the most proactive in the country.
Our church has no interest in a blanket endorsement of any man but Jesus, any organization but the Trinity. Nor do we want to attack anyone. But we thank God that our local leadership here has demonstrated genuine cooperation to overcome substantial bureaucratic and financial obstacles, on behalf of a people who deeply needed such servant-leadership. And we pray for still more cooperation, leading to more lasting, systemic transformation for our communities.
(And we pray that people trust in Jesus!)