This is going to be an unedited, stream-of-consciousness post. As the nation knows, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Gulf Coast on Friday. Since then, rain has been falling constantly in the Houston area. The tropical storm has been hovering in-place over the region, picking up water from the Gulf and slinging it into the city. Houston is flat, filled with concrete, and doesn’t absorb water well. Flooding is a regular occurrence, but from everything I’m hearing from local organizations, this is different. And it’s only just begun. We’re projected to see lots more rain over the next few days.
My family is currently staying in Katy, on the west side of Houston, and our rental home is not in a flood-prone neighborhood from what I’m seeing. But I also know that things can change quickly. Nevertheless, my main concern is not our own neighborhood, but all that I’m watching unfold throughout the city as I watch and read the news reports coming out through various outlets.
For the city, these events are truly disastrous. I’ve only been here for three months, so I’m unable to compare what we’re seeing with previous tropical storms. But I can tell when things are bad. And even though things aren’t bad in my area, things are really bad for the city as a whole (which is what matters).
Please pray for our city, for south Texas in general, and for all who’ve been impacted by this storm and who will continue to be. Pray for all the first responders who are seeking to help as quickly and practically as possible — many of them simply neighbors and Good Samaritans doing whatever they can with whatever they can. Pray for the leaders here, and for national organizations tasked with responding to these crises. And pray for the church and her leaders, that God would give us wisdom and spontaneity to serve in the flexible ways these crises demand.
We’re all used to seeing “breaking news” events splashed across the national and global news, and it’s easy to forget that real people are desperately threatened and deeply affected by these events. Even though my own neighborhood isn’t flooding, it’s truly devastating to watch helplessly as local news channels picture evacuations of people throughout the city (but people who are far away from me, due to Houston’s tremendous “sprawl”). It’s excruciating to be on the other side of the city, and to be unable to do anything immediate.
At the same time, even if we’re not in an area to go out and physically help stranded people, there are many things that can be done. I’m admittedly new to the area, so I’m spitballing here, but here are some things on my heart.
1. Don’t spend your time politicizing this event. I’m already seeing people critiquing President Trump’s tweets. There’s a time to challenge and critique, but that’s just not where Christians need to be spending our energy right now. If you have a voice in government and you can help get things done, do the political things you need to do. But for most Christians, we need to focus on praying and practically helping.
2. Keep reaching out to South Texans you know. I’ve been so encouraged by our many friends who’ve reached out to us to see if we’re OK. I’m sure you feel helpless, too, but simply knowing that faraway friends think of us and pray for us when they see difficult news about our city means a lot to us.
3. If you’re a pastor, lead your people. I’m trying to figure out the best ways to do this, and I have to seek a lot of counsel along the way because I don’t have the experience or the geographical knowledge or the organizational connections to know how to help immediately. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and with Christians, there should always be a zealous will to help. As pastors, we also need to be in touch with each other, to maximize our best ideas for how to help both now and in the aftermath.
4. Be a neighbor, and think in concentric circles. The instinctive thing is to take care of your loved ones, which is vital. But think about your street, your block, and your neighborhood. Think also about church family members who may need help, or just need to know that someone’s thinking of them — widows, the elderly, people in assisted living, folks with health problems, single mothers, single men and women, families with young children, those who live in flood-prone areas. Consider your neighbors and communities, and what needs they may have. If you’re not in an affected area, begin brainstorming and praying and communicating and planning now for how you might be able to help as soon as it’s safe to get out and be helpful to those in neighborhoods farther away from you.
5. Mobilize good works of all kinds. I’ve been preaching through Titus the past couple months, and the book is filled with Paul’s admonitions to be “zealous for good works” and “devote ourselves to good works.” Paul doesn’t list what they all are, because there’s no end to the good works believers can and should do. And there will be no end to the good works that need to be done in our city from today onward.
6. Be flexible and don’t have a messiah complex. In these situations we don’t get to do the things we dream of doing. We don’t get to be superheroes. We don’t need to do the things that look or feel flashy. We just need to do what needs to be done. We just need to be servants, which in this kind of situation, requires readiness and flexibility.
7. Keep communicating. I’m not a large-scale crisis-response expert, but I know that communication is critical. We need to communicate about needs, resources, opportunities, connections, charities, and creative ideas for how to help in the most relevant ways. We need to pay attention to our neighbors and to the news for the purpose of being informed about the ways we can help.
I’m not pretending to cover everything in this post, or to say it all perfectly. I just want to be helpful, and thinking these things out is one way I know how to do that for the time being. Thanks for your prayers and concern.