By Hannah McMahan King
There once was a little bird that lived in a big forest. The little bird made its home high in the branches of a tall tree at the edge of that forest.
One day the forest caught fire. Panicked, the little bird flew to the sea to get water to put out the fire. Having only her beak to carry the water, the little bird gulped up a beak full of water and flew back to her home. She dumped her beak full of water on the roaring flames and flew back to the sea for another beak full of water. Back and forth the little bird flew, bringing drops of water to combat the consuming flames.
The little bird’s devotion caught the eye of the Divine sitting in the heavens above. God saw the size of the flames and was so moved by the little bird’s love for the forest that the Divine began to cry. The tears of the Divine fell from the heavens down to the forest and extinguished the flames.
I’ve thought a lot about this story as I traveled back home from Elaine, Ark. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins and I journeyed down to Elaine to bear witness to the 100th anniversary of the massacre in which historians estimate that more than 200 African-American men, women and children, a fourth of the community’s population, were murdered after white neighbors felt threatened by the prospect of their growing economic advancement.
The community of Elaine still struggles with the wounds of that event. The town remains largely racially divided. There is little industry or business in the town and many of the buildings on the main street have been abandoned.
Yet even in this challenging environment, there are new signs of life. NBC covenant partners have come together to acknowledge the history of their town and to create a new future for their children. In the middle of town, our covenant partners built a park — a place for the kids to come and learn about the heroes who stood up for justice 100 years ago. The park is also outfitted with musical instruments and other activities to spark the imagination and to give an outlet for expression.
The presence of the Elaine covenant partners, however, is not just seen in the park. Their influence spills down the streets of Elaine. The children who gather at the park and community center have been making and painting birdhouses. There are now more than a thousand birdhouses hanging down the main street of Elaine, allowing the community to earn the title of the birdhouse capital of the United States.
A conversation between people of faith, a park and all of those birdhouses, each on its own, might seem like nothing more than a beak full of water. But we are never alone in our faithfulness to these small things done with great love. Our devotion cannot only inspire acts of others, they are given growth by the Divine who is ever present in the midst of both our suffering and healing.
One hundred years later, the work continues. We don’t “move on” from these injustices of the past. We commit ourselves to tell these stories over and over, to never forget, because we can’t write the next chapter if we don’t know and understand all that came before.