HOW CAN LOCAL CHURCHES HELP HOUSTON’S FLOOD VICTIMS? When Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Texas’s east coast on August 26, it dumped over 50 inches of rain and caused catastrophic flooding in Houston. Streets and neighborhoods vanished beneath the rising waters. Over 100,000 people almost immediately lost their homes and many more will follow in coming days. Thirty-one people are known to have drowned so far. First responders continue working overtime trying to locate the many others who are in danger. The city is shut down and the entire region has come to a standstill in the tide of human misery.
Our first response to the tragedy is how can we help?
America is the most generous country on earth, and Americans are the quickest to step up and provide aid in times of disaster. We send money, equipment, volunteers. We have a heart for the hurting and will do whatever we can to relieve people in need. It’s one of best things about America.
Where else but in America would you find something like this— a long line in Houston in the hours following the flood, not waiting for bottled water, food, or repair vouchers but for volunteer assignments to go out into the rising waters and rescue people?
For Christians, responding to Houston’s need is part and parcel of our service to the Lord
The Christian community in many ways is compelled to help even more because we’re driven not only by compassion for other Americans but also by faith. For Christians, responding to Houston’s need is part and parcel of our service to the Lord. That’s what Jesus meant when he told his church to give special attention to the needy: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
How can local churches best respond?
There are two obvious answers. First, pray. Authentic prayer isn’t asking God to give some sort of generic blessing on hurting people. It’s believing that he will respond to our requests by providing the kinds of material necessities desperate people need to live—things like physical safety, shelter, food and water.
Second, we can give. There are excellent organizations like the Red Cross and the South Carolina Baptist Relief ministries that are already up and running in Houston. They can use all the financial resources we can give them.
But many people and congregations that want to do more. They want to go to Houston and feed the hungry. Personally comfort those who have lost everything. Repair flooded homes. Help clean up ruined neighborhoods. Rebuild churches. They want to personally invest in the work of restoration.
This deeper level of involvement is more complicated, but something we in South Carolina have been through ourselves in the great flood of October, 2015. You can read more about how ministry happens in the aftermath of natural disasters here.
For one thing, Houston is still closed because the level of destruction is so great that it will take weeks to sort everything out. While official disaster relief organizations are already there, local churches lack the expertise, personnel and equipment to be able to minister effectively at this time.
There’s also the matter of training. Effective disaster relief requires a level of certification in safety and construction standards that most congregations don’t have. There are up-coming opportunities for that training and churches that want to send teams to Houston in the next few months would do well to have their people participate.
So with all that in mind here are a few suggestions for how churches can respond:
Pray. Pray for the flood’s victims, for the physical necessities of life, for the rebuilding of their neighborhoods. Pray also for the local churches and for their gospel witness.
Give. Provide opportunities for our congregations to financially contribute to on-going disaster relief ministries in the region.
Provide training opportunities for our people. Most congregations have a core group who are passionate and available to travel and help in times of disaster. Identity them. Get them trained. Find ways to get them engaged in the ministry of disaster relief.
Develop a calendar for more long-term ministry teams. Other, less specialized opportunities will be available in the upcoming months. Be proactive in recruiting groups to travel and help with less intensive kinds of repair and restoration.
Keep the issue in front of the church. Disaster relief can sometimes be like the morning news: urgent for a week or so then fading from sight when the next issue comes up. We need to invest our resources and energy with a longer view.
Our churches want to reach out to Houston, and with some planning and insight we can provide ways for them to help.