The entire nation has been galvanized by the reports of Hurricane Harvey, an unexpected disaster of unprecedented proportions. The fourth largest city in the United States drowning under an endless deluge of rain that buried neighborhoods, streets and thoroughfares underwater.
But greater than the torrential downpour that drove families to their attics and rooftops was the outpouring of sacrifice by thousands seeking to help. An entire “navy” of volunteer boats immediately came to the aid of those in greatest danger. The Galveston County Daily News posted phone numbers for owners of flat-bottomed boats to call in order to volunteer. Boats normally outfitted for fishing in the marshes that surround the island wandered the flooded streets of the greater Houston area searching for stranded neighbors.
Police, firefighters and others worked around the clock, many of them hampered by the floodwaters that threatened their headquarters. They were not enough. The greatest aid in the immediate threat were volunteers, often uncoordinated and spontaneous. Neighbors helping neighbors without regard to race, ethnicity or faith.
On Sunday, the Houston news station KHOU was evacuated due to flooding, but their reporter, Brandi Smith, continued her reporting on-site at Beltway 8 and the Hardy Toll Road. She saw an eighteen-wheeler trapped in floodwaters on the service road, flagged down a sheriff’s truck and helped rescue the driver.
Raul Njobi, begging for help, shouted to a group of volunteers launching their flat-bottomed boat into the floodwaters. His sister was trapped in a Ford Fiesta not far away. Just before her cellphone died, she reported water was seeping into the car. Without hesitation they headed in the direction Mr. Njobi indicated searching for his sister.
Across the nation, disaster relief units scrambled to send volunteers to the coastal regions of Texas knowing the recovery will be long-term.
Despite the devastation to the Texas coast, especially the Coastal Bend area where Harvey made landfall, there was something hopeful. In the end it is not the depth of the floodwaters that will define us, but the depth of human kindness.
For months we have been bombarded by reports of terrorism, racism, hatred, anger and violence, (usually perpetrated by a few individuals). The hurricane that hovered over Houston and sent the swollen creeks, rivers and bayous into record flood levels, brought to the surface the sacrifice that best characterizes our human spirit.
Deep down we remember the lessons Jesus taught about the good Samaritan: to put ourselves at risk to care for strangers in need, to carry them to safety, to provide food and shelter, to bind up their wounds and to care for their recovery (Luke 10:30-37). Perhaps it has taken Hurricane Harvey to remind us what truly makes a nation great: “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbors as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).