Last fall, we saw and heard hundreds of stories of devastation. Hurricane Harvey, filled the news and our social media feeds for weeks. But then what? Whatever happened afterward?
Does anyone know what happens after a natural disaster? Does anyone have a realistic idea of what it takes to put back together entire communities and cities after something like this?
What I found in Texas was so similar to what I saw and heard in Mexico City back in November after the huge earthquake. A few weeks or months pass. and the media stops reporting on it. They move on to something more thrilling, more exciting, more pressing. Thousands are left with the wreckage of their lives, forgotten and left to sort it all out. Many relief organizations come for the first few weeks, to pass out water and meet immediate needs. What comes after that, though? The news crews pack up and leave, the big organizations move on to the next crisis. The people left behind feel forgotten, and a dull sense of depression settles over the community. It’s a real thing, I saw it in two separate places with my own eyes.
The most shocking thing I heard, from here in Central America, from the States, from neighbors in TEXAS even, was “What, you mean people are still doing stuff with Harvey?” Facepalm moment, truly. I wanted to smack a few people upside the head. YES, they are still doing “stuff” with Harvey. They will be doing stuff for YEARS. It doesn’t take weeks to clean up and rebuild after a storm of that size leaves a path of destruction like it did.
So, back in early January, I left the warm sunshine of Costa Rica and headed north to Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas. I observed and filmed the work of ReachGlobal’s Crisis Response team for nearly 2 weeks– asking many people from different backgrounds to share their stories with me. Homeowners who had lost absolutely everything, whether in the flooding in Houston or the fierce hurricane winds in the Rockport/Corpus Christi area. They shared about how Crisis Response has been coming into their homes and “breathing new life” into them. I heard our staff share stories of how God is showing Himself to be kind and faithful during incredibly difficult times. Short-term volunteers who had taken time to come down and work on homes told me their stories, and how their lives were also being changed in the process.
What I have to say is this: ReachGlobal has an incredible team who has a heart to meet people where they are at. What’s more, their vision is a long-term one. It’s not just rebuilding homes, it’s rebuilding lives. It’s meeting people’s spiritual needs, emotional, mental, and physical needs as well. It’s addressing the whole issue, the trauma-care that comes after any sort of disaster or tragedy. They are rarely ever the “first in”, but they are always the last out. Recovery is a LONG TERM process and they have committed to be there for the entire process.
A few years back, I read a book called “The Insanity of God” ; the story of a man and his wife who worked in Somalia during some of the great famine and years of violence in the early 90’s. One thing he said has stuck with me for years now, and came to my recollection several times while I was in Texas. Watching the staff and teams interact with homeowners who were still processing their grief, and also while people shared their stories with me, I thought of this passage:
I learned another lesson that was even more important. This lesson helped cure me of what I might call “loving arrogance.” The people I wanted to help were living in such horrible conditions that my natural response was to focus only on what they lacked. My normal questions revealed what I was thinking. My typical encounters with people would sound something like this: “Do you need food? We have this food for you. Is your baby sick? We have medicine. Do your children need clothes? We have clothes for them. Does your family have shelter? We have blankets for you and sheets of plastic that you can use for protection from the weather. Do you need burial cloth? We have that as well.”
We soon discovered that those were not the most important questions. When we finally slowed down enough to listen, the people themselves told us what they needed most… So many people with similar stories desperately needed more than the help that we were prepared to give. What they wanted even more, however, was for someone, anyone, even a stranger who was still trying to learn their language, to sit for a while, or just stand with them, and let them share their stories. I perhaps should have known this, but I was amazed to see the power of human presence. In my pride, I thought that I knew exactly what these people needed, but I never would have thought to put “conversation” or “human connection” on my list.
Ripken, Nik. The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (p. 86). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Watch some of these stories. I am putting my favorites here, but there are 25 short videos I made in this series. Watch them. Crisis Response does this beautiful work because they see the whole need of a person– their first need is for Jesus, and then they need to be heard and known, and helped in recovering from severe loss. They do so well to listen, to love, to offer compassion and empathy and of course, practical, physical help. Theirs is a labor of love, and it is a wondrous thing to watch Jesus move in and through them.
You can learn more about EFCA Crisis Response, and opportunities to work with them by visiting their webpage.