Thank you for your empathy expressed for the people of Buffalo in recent days. On December 23rd and 24th a “bomb cyclone” blizzard paralyzed the city and left us unable to drive from home until December 28th, when our street was cleared by a City of Buffalo front-end loader since the snow was too deep and heavy to plow. That day of clearing our neighbors burst out of their homes with shovels, ready to help one another unbury the cars that had been covered by drifted snow. In the spirit of mutual aid and living like the city of good neighbors, the residents of our block cleared one car after another. We gathered in front of the home of hard-working and recently widowed Maria who was shoveling her driveway because her family planned to leave for the funeral of her husband that afternoon. The week before Christmas, Obdulio had died, a man of faith who before he became ill and homebound used to greet us regularly, “Dios le bendiga,” (God bless you.) We shared with Maria and family words of sympathy and support as we shoveled snow and broke away ice. Eventually the driver of the front-end loader returned and helped finish the job of clearing the way in front of this grieving family’s home.
We have witnessed in the worst of storms how God comes close to the vulnerable and works through people to bless. On the morning of Christmas Eve, Ruth was able to meet via Zoom with staff of Jericho Road Community Health Center who met to pray for those most critically affected, such as a woman in labor unable to get to the hospital; a work colleague stuck in her car on Bailey Ave for 16 hours; medical staff snowed in at work; and the Vive shelter for asylum seekers, where 150 people, including 8 staff, were left without power for days. Among the Vive residents were 60 children and 6 expectant mothers. In response to the needs at Vive, West Herr Auto Group sent a team of electricians on an enormous payloader pulling a large generator through the 15 mile stretch of roads between Hamburg and Buffalo. Deep snow and abandoned vehicles made the roads almost impassable. After four long hours, they reached Vive and were able to restore power. Vive Director Matt Tice, whose young family is part of Anchor Church, stayed at Vive over the weekend of the Christmas holiday. Drivers stuck in their cars were rescued and taken to warm places. Ruth and others of the JR team called and checked on neighbors left without power and heat. Two young doctors, recent Houghton grads, walked to the home of the expectant mother and stayed through the night until Christmas day when the baby was born, as Dr. Glick described it, “another Christmas miracle.”
God comes close to the vulnerable and calls us to be a part of the needed work for mercy and justice. As so often happens, poor communities of color are disproportionately affected in this kind of tragedy. The Buffalo News reported that 51% of the people who died in the storm were African American. As Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. of University of Buffalo’s Center for Urban Studies, stated it, “Ever since (Hurricane) Katrina, ever since Covid-19, everybody knows that these extreme weather events are going to have a devastating impact on communities of color.” Cariol Horne, mother of a Houghton Buffalo graduate, appeared on national news to describe how she had been arrested because of confronting police officers who had forced people charged with a crime during the storm to sit in the snow. Too often villainization of desperate people becomes the headline instead of good people working to make things better. This recent storm has been compared to the blizzard of 1977 the year I (Steve ) first came to Western New York as a college freshman at Houghton. On my way home to Kalamazoo, MI, with a group of Michigan friends intending to travel together through Canada, we ended up spending the night in Buffalo unable to get through. But I’ve been reminded that what some of us experience as mild inconvenience, others experience as life threatening realities.
Grace Community, Mission of Christ, Anchor Church, Zion Quest, and other city congregations continue to shine with God’s love. Jericho Road Community Health Center continues its faithful work of compassionate care. At Houghton University Buffalo, we have experienced in the past year some of the fiercest of challenges but also the joy of perseverance and strength to overcome by faith, with the resilient support of colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Thanks for your prayers and support.
The May 14th racially motivated massacre of 10 persons at Tops grocery store, the sudden passing of a beloved writing Houghton University Buffalo professor Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg in the summer just before the fall semester, the late September departure of our beloved Dean Julian Cook and KULC Exec Dir Sirgourney Cook to pastor a leading church in Cincinnati—are all experiences deeply woven into the reality of our learning community. Symphony Circle site students merged this fall with the Buffalo east side site at the King Urban Life Center, so the student body is as diverse as ever, including ENL (English as New Language) students. Bachelor’s programs in business and psychology have been added to expand beyond the AA program, and we plan to welcome more than ten new students in January.
As we see needs close at hand, we are reminded of others around the world who suffer deeply due to a world torn by evil. From January 30-February 3rd Houghton’s Faith and Justice Symposium at the residential campus will focus on War and Conflict: Creating Sanctuary in Times of Violence
Thanks again for your concern to reach out to love your neighbor, including Buffalo and the world. May you know God’s loving embrace in the coming year as you respond to the call to engage life-giving work. May we all be inspired by God’s grace made manifest in Jesus who came close that people may have life.
Steve & Ruth Strand
Urban Advocacy Directors
Western New York District