My spouse, the Rev. Dr. Wanda Neely, who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Kinston, NC, helped her congregation sandbag the city and county as the waters were rising on the Neuse River after Hurricane Matthew. First Presbyterian Church of Kinston, along with other churches in New Hope Presbytery, continue to aid in the recovery from this hurricane. Along with everything else that must be accomplished during the month of December, Wanda got a call asking if her congregation would participate in putting up a Christmas tree along the greenway in Kinston for the “Twilight Tinsel Trail.”

Being a creative and imaginative congregation, the folks at First Kinston decided to use the sandbags that had been used to hold back the chaotic waters of the rising Neuse as a demonstration of the hope that has come into the world through Jesus Christ. In the photos, you can see the evidence of their creativity. The pictures show a Christmas tree built from muddy sandbags and decorated with lights and crosses. Years ago Presbyterian Disaster Assistance developed the slogan, “Out of chaos, hope.” I can think of no better symbol of this than the tree that sits along the greenway in Kinston.

God is always at work in our tattered and torn lives to bring healing, mending, and hope. During this season, my prayer for each of us is that whatever chaos dwells within, around, or amongst us, we will feel the presence of “God with us, Immanuel.”  The Gospel writer of John reminds us that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. May God bless us with this assurance this Christmas.


-Rev. Bill Neely, PDA National Response Team member


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