It’s unquestionably time to be the hands and feet of Christ for those who experienced Harvey.
Yet are you wondering, perhaps paralyzed or feeling disconnected or in disbelief, as to how to even begin to help? Are your resources already feeling stretched in helping those affected by Harvey? Have you told yourself you’re going to plan a mission trip? Have you donated online generously? That is wonderful! Praise God.
Now that that’s done, we can all take joy in getting ready for the NEXT VITAL chapter of help.
Have you ever grieved the death of a loved one? Perhaps your community sent flowers and brought casseroles, and it meant so much to be accompanied in your shock. When the noise died down after a couple of weeks, what did it mean to you when all got quiet and there were still the few that showed up to listen, to pray with you, to come alongside you a month, 6 months, a year after your grief began? It is a narrow road of unspeakable impact. It is Jesus’ love that says, “I will not let you become invisible in your time of great need.” Yet it is embarrassingly feasible to accomplish, since all you really need to be able to do is set a simple Google calendar reminder once a month for a couple of years.
My community -and many others - are going to need your help long after Anderson Cooper leaves Harvey’s aftermath.
For those of us not living in devastating conditions, this is the exciting moment where we get to prepare as they’re surviving, so we are ready to come alongside our sisters and brothers and refuse to let them be forgotten.
My hometown between Beaumont and Port Arthur -the area known as The Golden Triangle- was one of an unimaginable number of areas that is bearing the brunt of devastation. But the worst came for them after it had already hit Corpus, Rockport and Houston. The Golden Triangle is at high risk of folks running out of energy for charity by the time they tend to the devastation that came hours before ours.
Many of us preach about Christ-like ministry being relational by nature, and the good news about that this applies to helping people after the unprecedented devastation of Harvey. As one whose family has been displaced by a hurricane, I have learned there are many unsung needs that churches (read: any community) can take joy in meeting over time. Relational ministry means getting to develop friendships to learn those quiet needs and finding creative ways to meet them over time. It is mutually life giving, even as it is vital for those you may get to “adopt.”
Please don’t think you’re unqualified or unable: the great practical part of relational post-disaster help is that it is what you make of it, so you get to manage your own wallet, energy and time so your help fits in with your schedule’s boundaries and your church’s/communities’ resources. The possibilities are more connected to your creativity, dedicated consistency and the Holy Spirit’s leaning. Don't let it stop you from dreaming big.
I invite you - ok, maybe I am begging - you to mindfully invest in some friendships with folks recovering from this bigger-than-disaster devastation. Come alongside them, lift their spirits, focus on relationships that will uniquely reveal the unsung vital needs that are not on the news. Anticipate experiencing miracles as God guides you to learn from them, and as you send them anything from bottled water to children’s artwork of encouragement to a simple text with a prayer and a sincere+listening “How are you?”. Below are simple ways to involve yourself in this journey.
But first, in case you’re numb or too far away to register this, I’ll briefly paint a picture.
Imagine waking up to a sunny work day just hours from your hometown, stopping to check facebook only to find the majority of your newsfeed is no longer full of annoying political posts and cute babies. Instead friends at home are begging for rescue for their families by anyone with a boat near enough to reach them. They are posting names in all caps, freely posting addresses and phone numbers. “My 98 year-old grandma is knee deep in her home! Please help!” “911 is overwhelmed and my cousins can’t get out!” Time becomes a blur. Your brain is spinning around how to help, even as roads are impassable and planes are down.
Imagine hearing your family members evacuated their home on a moment’s notice, only to have to be rescued by boat by the second “safer” home they fled to. (This was my aunt and uncle two days ago.) That scratches the surface.
As I type, my community is still trapped in their post-Harvey disaster area, many without potable water and most with diminishing food and supplies. I have lost count of which loved ones have lost their homes; right now they are all in shock and concentrating on survival.
These are people who were told NOT to evacuate. These are people that understand not only how to evacuate, but how to recover from hurricanes like Rita, Ike and Gustav, which have all hit the area in the last 12 years.
This storm doesn’t care how well you prepared, which official or meteorologist you listened to, where you went to school, how much money you make, which bathroom you want to use or who you voted for. These are doctors, professors, teachers, counselors, pregnant moms, grandparents with Alzheimer’s.
Yet God has miraculously provided survival via the astounding love-of-neighbor these communities have shown to survive amongst themselves. There are Golden Triangle jokes about the controversial statue conversation as they hope for survival-in-place or a helicopter out of there: All they know for now is that they’d like to erect a bronze monument of an average Joe in a flatbottom boat.
If you can get to a restaurant at all, the likelihood is that they’re giving away all their food until it’s gone. Every school and public hall I ever entered there is now a makeshift shelter, if not flooded. Churches that no longer have a building are fully mobilized, fully expressing that they were never a building anyway. Neighbors upon neighbors are reported miracles of rescue and provision: “Suddenly there was formula for this woman’s newborn, I don’t know from where! Thanks be to God!” My other non-religious aunt keeps saying, “Carrie, I am seeing God everywhere!” even as she and her children have no money to buy the limited food sources around them; they maintain lawns for a living.
Now it is our turn. WE get to bring the loaves and fishes in so many ways. What a joyful duty!
Picture your dearest family members in this situation, which nobody could have prepared adequately for because it has never happened in recorded history. What would you do if you were unable to get to them? What would you say to them, what would you send them, what would you pray for them?
Join me in helping my family because they’re yours, too. Our God is a God of abundance. You have more resources than you might think. I am hearing loaves-and-fishes miracle stories from loved ones trapped in The Golden Triangle right now, and now we have the opportunity to continue that story long after the first wave of assistance.
HOW TO HELP
I have done almost nothing but communicate with people in The Golden Triangle in the last 48 hours, frantically gathering information on what they need and anticipate needing. I am grateful for those that were able to take any moment to spend energy to communicate this, as many are rationing food and energy alike. After hours upon hours of consideration, here is my best layout for how we can meaningfully come alongside survivors of the truly evil wake of Harvey:
RIGHT NOW, THIS VERY MINUTE:
Pray - First, pray your heart out. Set reminders to pray. Pray as you’re led. Let God guide you and connect your heart to your neighbors in need. Pray for safety, provision, peace that surpasses understanding. Pray with joy for the overwhelming reports of God’s protection in the disaster.
Put specific communities’ and families’ names on your long-term prayer list at your church.
Donate - If you wish to donate, there are TONS of choices. If you’d like to donate to local churches that are scrambling to assist survival of people at this very moment, God is performing miracles through these (and many others) in my hometown area. See if your employer can match your gift! This community is unparalleled in any experience I’ve ever had of neighbors coming together to love each other. Help them help each other while we cannot get to them:
La Iglesia del Pueblo/Church of the People in Port Arthur, TX
Contact Info On The Way! They’re hard to track down because they’re so well mobilized, despite their building being inaccessible.
First Baptist Church of Groves
Carpenter’s Way in Groves
New Beginnings, Texas, based in Port Arthur
This is an amazon wishlist that will allow you to donate specific supplies to be driven there from an accessible town: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/2ZA3NITVFIPA3
COME ALONGSIDE AS PARTNERS:
1) Are you a pastor, religious or community leader?
Can your community adopt a church in The Golden Triangle? The Church Lab is matching churches with each other to form ongoing partnerships. This way you can learn of on-the-ground needs from communities that know best, and you set yourself up to prevent the invisibility of our neighbors after the cameras turn off. This helps identify when and where to send in groups for labor and clean up, which will be a HUGE need in coming weeks and months. Also needs change quickly from initial recovery, to clean up, to construction, needs for counseling. Churches can keep you updated so you know when it's your cue to come in with your corresponding resources.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with no more or less than your point of contact’s name, contact info, church or organization name, city, state, and 2-3 sentences describing the nature and scope of resources your community may be able to offer in partnering with another church. Every bit counts, no matter how small or large your community is!
2) Are you a teacher? Do you want to impact entire groups of children and their families at once over the next year?
The Church Lab is asking teachers around the country to adopt individual classrooms in The Golden Triangle. Our kids can connect with kids, lift one another’s spirits and help teachers in desperate need of school supplies that were just purchased to be wiped out entirely.
To adopt a classroom (or to be adopted, Triangle people!), visit our Southeast Texas Adopt-A-Class! page here.
3) Are you an ordained minister, LPC, LMSW or MFT with a phone?
Volunteer to be on call for a pastor/community organizer/first responders to have a listening ear. They are supporting every person around them. Be their support in this crucial season! Want to offer a listening ear to folks in shelters or trapped in their homes? You can name when you want that to be on whatever level of commitment you like. This opportunity is intended to happen solely in these first weeks of recovery.
E-mail email@example.com with your name and credentials. We are still pulling together the structure for this commitment and will contact you as soon as we are ready to put you to work.
In the next couple of weeks I will personally bring in supplies to bring to my community through my 501(c)3 community, The Church Lab. We are not priority, as bigger organization like The Red Cross can get to them before our vehicles can. But feel more than free to donate here, knowing in a week or two we will be able to bring supplies to specific groups we know are in need, and likely know personally. https://www.crowdrise.com/goldentrianglestormfriends/fundraiser/church-lab
We’ll bring vital supplies, including some folks often forget to send. This will likely include supplies like water, food, cleaning supplies, socks, underwear, adult diapers, medicine, baby supplies of various sorts, basic medical supplies, tools for cleanup, tampons/pads and other toiletries.
Discretionary Fund Designations:
Contact the churches listed above and ask to designate your donations to a discretionary disaster relief fund that can help families that fall through the cracks in coming weeks. There will be MANY families without employment because their workplaces don’t exist anymore or they cannot reach their workplace. They will be losing a way to provide for their families when they need more resources than ever. Some will fall through the FEMA cracks. Churches on the ground can often identify who these quiet sufferers are and come alongside them.
It’s a great time to roll out the red carpet after all they’ve suffered! It’d be great to buy them all trips to DisneyWorld if we could! But perhaps we could send gift cards to Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, furniture stores, Amazon, etc. Let folks replace their precious memories with the very materials their new homes will be made of instead of choosing for them or sending the things we don’t want anymore. Contact the churches listed above to send help most directly.
WHAT TO AVOID:
Sending Clothes: Folks donate clothes more than anything else in situations like this, and oftentimes shelters themselves have to donate clothes elsewhere.
Going in Without An Organization Expecting You OR Not Knowing What Specific Need You’ll Meet: You’ll become one more mouth to feed, using precious resources.
May we be the faithful hands and feet, and discover the joy of relational ministry after the storm AND after the cameras.
Rev. Carrie Graham