Hurricane Harvey and Greater Houston
Our hearts have been warmed by the incredible response in and for greater Houston and equally overwhelmed by the scope of its loss and devastation.
For those of you “in it”…you are loved.
For those of us on the outside looking in… we get ready for the long haul of response, relief and compassion.
It’s been 20 years since our Illinois community of “just” 150,000 people experienced its “800 year flood”. We saw 50% of the community underwater and 50% relatively unaffected. Our congregation, under Gail’s leadership, took point in responding to the disaster.
That experience helps shape what we hear and how we experience Harvey…and last year with the flooding in Louisiana…and as, at the time of this writing, Hurricane Irma reaches the Caribbean.
We’re no experts in flood relief in greater Houston. The experts already have mud on their shoes, the smell of bleach in their nostrils and an amazing capacity to provide and deliver meals by the hundreds…of which most had no practiced expertise a few short days ago.
Here are 10 things we learned from our 800-year flood of 1996, which in some ways have shaped our passions today.
- We learned we had to go to the victims. Volunteers, meals, coffee, compassion, conversation, prayer.
- Stripping homes to their studs and piling any and every valued possession in rotting curbside piles amounts to overwhelming grief and loss. Compassion is the only reasonable response.
- When we helped our members they pointed us to their neighbors who needed even more help.
- Women have an enormous role to play in extending Gospel influence in our communities. Most of our relief effort was catalyzed by their vision, strategic thinking, faith, hospitality and compassion.
- We learned to show up, trust God and start without “the plan” figured out. Our faith in God to provide food, resources and manpower was bolstered.
- People with no flooding and no faith were eager to join our members in serving and it moved them closer to considering the life of Christ.
- When we invited the flood victims to our church programs in the months that followed most had little interest (even 20 years ago). They longed for compassion. They longed for community…not our programs. And we didn’t know how to provide it back then.
- We could deploy hundreds of “volunteers” every day during the crisis, but volunteers are not leaders and any sustained community/mission investment requires leaders. We learned we hadn’t discipled our volunteers to become leaders.
- What we did to respond to crisis was similar to what our church used to do decades earlier as a German immigrant church. We were actually remembering who we used to be.
- Some of what we did in the flood is what’s required of us today to represent Jesus to a bruised, broken and confused world that’s distrustful of the church.
The experts in greater Houston (and last year in Louisiana)… They’re beginning with compassion. They’re inviting people into community where “right faith” is not a requirement. And they’re willing to pray for possible (not guaranteed) opportunity to tell the story of Jesus.
What the experts in Houston are doing…if regularly practiced by the baptized people of God in your congregation, has the potential to rescue the church in the United States from its crushing institutionalism and recapture its vibrancy as a deeply connected community living out compassion and grace.
BTW… I’m guessing you’d find a bunch of “disinterested in the church” emerging adults that just might get interested when the church starts to live like this!