Tuesday’s Reflections from Houston

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The South Texas catastrophe stemming from Hurricane Harvey has just begun here in Houston. The clouds over our home parted this evening and the sun shone through for the first time in five days, but make no mistake: high floodwaters are still filling much of the city, pregnant creeks and rivers are still sending runoff into already-flooded neighborhoods, many of these waterways have yet to crest, a little more rain is still forecasted, overfilled reservoirs are still spilling their banks, and dams are still releasing water from these reservoirs into maxed-out bayous. If you felt like you didn’t get a break in that sentence, that’s what it’s like here.

I can’t begin to rehearse the stats — there are too many to list, they’re changing by the hour, they can never tell the whole story, they end up sounding hyperbolic, and any reader of this site can find them online anyway. But I’ll try to offer some ongoing reflections, mainly from today, as some kind of journal + update + pastoral word.

1. Our BridgePoint church building is now flooded.

On Monday I explained how the controlled releases from rising reservoirs right near our church building might increase our building’s risk of flooding. This morning we confirmed that the building is indeed flooded, with 4-5 inches of standing water throughout the first floor. Staff members who live nearby have said the water in the streets around the church continued to rise during the day, and Tuesday night reports stated that the Army Corps of Engineers is now releasing double the originally planned amount of water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs right near the church.

Our people are saddened. The church began in 1933 but purchased this new property in 2007, gave generously to build a beautiful and multipurpose facility in the heart of the Energy Corridor, and launched out with a fresh vision to serve as a regional church in our exploding city. For any church family, the space where we regularly worship takes on a sacredness that shouldn’t be diminished. God made us as earthy creatures, and much meaning and memory is rooted in places where we see God work in our lives.

But BridgePointers also know that when Jesus said he would build his church, he wasn’t talking about a building. He was talking about the people he would purchase with his own blood, the people who would become God’s very temple, the people who don’t put their hope in horses or chariots or buildings, but in the name of the Lord our God. Our building is a tool, and we’ll walk the path to see it restored as quickly as possible, so that we can use it once again to serve others. In the meantime, we’re already brainstorming about alternate meeting options, because whether the Lord gives or takes away, we’re ready to gather and declare together, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

2. Many BridgePointers have been flooded out of their homes.

Many BridgePointers have had (or still have) water in their homes. Some have stayed put, but more and more have had to evacuate over the past 24 hours, and the longer the waters rise or remain, the more people will have to get out. They’re staying with family and friends, being hosted by other church members, going to shelters, getting out of town (if they can), and simply finding the best situation they can based on their needs, their location, their access, and their relationships. One husband and father in our church, whom I dearly love already, texted Tuesday night asking if he could park his 25′ trailer with 8 people in our driveway — all they want is bathroom access. Call me unspiritual, but I didn’t stop to pray about it.

The hour is too late for me to document all the ways we’ll need to help each other in the days, weeks, and months to come. But I do know that after the great flood in Genesis 6-8 had crested, the Spirit-wind of God blew over those waters until a cleansed new creation came into view, echoing the original creation account (Genesis 8:1; 1:2). And I know that even before these Houston floodwaters subside, the Spirit of God is already blowing through the hearts of our church family, moving our own new creation community into action.

3. We’re doing our best to identify the status of all our people.

Our first step as a church is simply helping one another. The main way that’s happening is constant communication and spontaneous assistance. On Sunday, one of our younger elders drove to the front of an older elder’s flooded neighborhood, waded through the streets in waist-deep waters, and led this couple (married 50 years) back through the streets to safety. On Monday, one of our single ladies got hold of a kayak, connected with a truck-driving friend, and went out to rescue folks wherever needed. Tonight, the chairman of our elder board hosted a group of BridgePointers for dinner in his home — which was inaccessible and water damaged just 24 hours before. No doubt these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our church family acting like a family acts.

Beyond these spontaneous responses to the needs of the moment, we’re now trying to identify the status of all our people. Earlier today we shared a Google spreadsheet with our elders and staff, and quickly organized a list of 241 families or individuals whose status we know. Tomorrow we’ll identify who’s not on the list and search them out while following up with those on the list whose needs seem most immediate. I loved watching in real-time today as numerous leaders simultaneously entered information into this shared online spreadsheet, communicating what they knew about the people they’re dedicated to serve.

4. The ragtag armada of civilian boats is stunning to behold.

If you’ve watched the news at all, no doubt you’ve seen the relentless flotilla of personal boat-owners cascading into the city. On Tuesday morning, the news had showed some boats staging for rescue efforts just north of I-10, not far from our house. I drove out to help and ended up at a makeshift launch area at Greenhouse and Saums. It was impressive to see massive national guard trucks launching black inflatables into surging floodwaters. Even so, only four of the boats that launched belonged to ‘official’ first responders like the national guard. The rest belonged to civilians rolling up in their high-profile trucks and SUV’s, dumping their flat-bottoms and jon boats and skiffs into fast-moving waters, and cruising the neighborhoods looking for those in need of rescue.

Everyone’s favorites were the airboats with the huge fans on the back. You didn’t have to see them coming — they proudly announced their presence, each one flying up the flooded entry street like a horde of bees buzzing in unison. The drivers were perched high on their raised seats, like Cajun kings captaining their swampships from elevated thrones. These guys were straight up swampmasters — like they were born for just this moment — and even the national guardsmen knew it. I’m thankful to live in a part of the country where this kind of immediate, no-nonsense, git-‘er-done spirit is the norm when crisis strikes.

As I type, two exhausted boaters from Austin are asleep in one of our bedrooms, soon to awake and get back on the water by 7:00am for another day of rescue attempts. We got connected by a former seminary professor who now pastors at their church and knew they were looking for a place to crash. I happened to know one of them already — Joe Jarrett lived in our dorm years ago when I was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. The last time we spent time together, our 11-year-old Judah had recently come home from Uganda as a 19-month-old baby. Late Tuesday night, with that same Ugandan boy now giving up his bed for our unexpected guests, Joe walked in my front door as a civilian rescuer. He came here with his pastor Bryan Payne, a Master’s Seminary graduate who went out and bought a flat-bottom boat a couple days ago so they could come here and help. They rescued five people and some pets over a long, hard day of driving, searching, boating, and sometimes boat-dragging around eerily silent neighborhoods.

5. Matching needs with resources is the need of the hour.

Even though the Dunkirk spirit has been alive and well throughout this storm, the launch site I was at for a few hours Tuesday morning saw plenty of boats return without evacuees. Most boaters were using the Zello walkie-talkie app to identify rescue needs, but most of them were not from the area. Very few had a specific residence they were looking for, and even those who had a specific target found it challenging to navigate an unknown area utterly disfigured by flooding. Boat rescues are still desperately needed, and may be for days to come. Many crews have located and saved innumerable victims. But it can be a very complicated task, especially in neighborhoods where most people are already out, and those who remain are hard to locate.

Today’s experience watching boats launch and return was an analogy for how I’ve felt as a leader throughout this whole ordeal. The needs are truly overwhelming, and people’s desire to help has been remarkable as well. But one of the main things we need is the quick-moving wisdom, creativity, and communication to match those needs with resources. The city needs rescuers, volunteers, supplies, shelters, organization, communication, and anything else you can imagine a city needing in this kind of crisis. At the same time, Texans are incredibly resilient and resourceful, and neighbors from all over the nation have surged into the city along with the floodwaters in a remarkable display of common grace. What our developing team at BridgePoint wants to provide is a clear sense of direction and organization so that we can mobilize our people, prioritize our activities, and execute on the needs God puts before us. Our three-pronged approach will be (1) relief and (2) rebuilding, all in the context of (3) relationships.

Conclusion

There’s plenty more to say, as my mind and heart race throughout the day with all the news and stats and stories and texts and messages and calls and emails and needs and offers to help. But as God continues teaching me through Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, I am not God, and I am not in control. So as illogical and inhumane as it sounds in the midst of such catastrophic events, I go now to pillow my head, praying until I drift off, knowing that while the needs through the night will remain desperate and the ongoing human efforts will remain heroic, there’s only one about whom we can rightfully say,  “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”


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