When the largest rainstorm in U.S. history evoked historic flooding, it also triggered a flood of relief – which has been beautiful to watch. It has been one week since Harvey landed as a category 4 hurricane in Texas. Today he is still pestering neighborhoods like mine 800 miles away in Nashville. Although Harvey has left Houston, I’m grateful that rescue workers are still flooding into it.
Our first responders deserve our prayers, appreciation and respect: military, law enforcement, fire and medical. Fire Chief Sam Pena said his department had responded to nearly 7,600 calls for water rescues. This week as I drove past a convoy of utility workers headed to south Texas from multiple states, I was reminded to pray for them also.
The fourth largest city in the U.S. is also getting lots of love from ministries, agencies and families from around the country. Our prayers and gratitude go out to the countless lay-volunteers who are serving today. For example, my denomination started mobilizing thousands of volunteers before Hurricane Harvey even hit landfall. The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers have been rolling into disaster zones for 50 years, providing hot meals, clean water, child care, laundry, structure repairs, rebuilding and more. With a trained volunteer force exceeding 80,000 people, SBDR is the third largest disaster relief agency in the United States.
In 2011, I watched on TV the aftermath of an EF5 tornado in Joplin, MO which killed 158 people. It was only 250 miles north of the church I was pastoring in Arkansas, and all I knew to do was ask our people to pray and give. I had been pastoring for 24 years and was tired of doing nothing after floods and tornados bullied their way through nearby towns and neighboring states.
My discontent translated into a phone call I made to the Arkansas Baptist Convention, who eagerly arranged for a Disaster Relief training at our church. Over thirty members showed up and before long we had organized DR Unit in our county, with a fully equipped trailer of chain saws and other helpful tools. This team grew to include other churches in our association and eventually led many of us into different disaster zones in the U.S. and Haiti.
Three years after we started that DR unit, an EF4 tornado crushed the border towns of Conway, Mayflower and Vilonia. We were ready to help this time.
If you are a Southern Baptist pastor or member who is interested in helping south Texans during their hour of need, just call your state convention and ask how you can help. There will still be plenty to do in Houston this time next year, and I assure you the DR volunteers will still be in Houston with their sleeves rolled up, loving their neighbors.