As I drove from the airport to the home base, evidence of the Houston floods lined the streets. New cars were in abundance, in stark contrast to pummeled homes and destroyed landscaping. Drowned cars had been readily replaced with insurance funds, unlike the homes that remained devastated and awaited clean up and renovation. While new construction shined through on many streets, other homes sat dark and deserted, neglected and seeming without hope.
Each day last week the weather in Houston grew hotter and more humid than the day before. As northeastern temperatures inched lower in my home state, the hot Texas sun added to the challenge of maintaining chipper attitudes in dark and damp homes in Houston. Spirits remained high, however. We left the camp each morning with a clipboard and cell phone/GPS app to find the homes where workers were clearing homes of buckled sheetrock, blackened rugs and mounds of spoiled clothing, furniture and household items. Some homeowners had deserted their homes before or during the flood and hadn’t begun cleanup. Others had done their best, leaving a humid and musty empty home with destroyed horizontal and vertical surfaces for demolition by volunteers.
We approached each site knowing little. We found one constant at each house, however: an army of energetic, bee-busy, face-masked, orange-shirted Samaritan’s Purse (SP) volunteers. They cycled in and out of the front or garage doors, bringing out hardly-recognizable possessions and cleared rubble, heading back in for more. Bangs and cracking boards could be heard with occasional power tools buzzing, as the piles of debris on the curbs grew in size. Revolving SP volunteers would sometimes stop, grab a bottle from the royal blue cooler, chug it down, then would wipe the sweat from their foreheads as they headed back in to work.
The homeowner would stand in the yard, in the middle of this massive beehive, awestruck at all that was being done on his or her behalf.
I lost count, but I suspect that all 8 or 10 of the homeowners that we visited as a Chaplain pair were overwhelmed by the love of God, showed to them by His people. As we would stand and visit, “orange shirts” would check in on their homeowner, smiling, saying sweet, encouraging things, asking about one item or another, happy to show a piece of jewelry or a trophy of some sort that remained unscathed. Retired plumbers, college students and even newly-widowed women all came to help. They left their personal troubles off-site and were focused on blessing the one who suffered in their midsts. There was a profound, selfless impact that each act of kindness reinforced, producing a tangible, enveloping sense that the homeowner was noticed, and mattered to other people and to God.
One homeowner, his home virtually overrun with toxic black mold, stood in his yard, pointing to his raised black pickup truck, telling the story of the day that the waters rose to the level of his bed. He awoke when he stretched and his hand splashed into the cold water that surrounded him. His cell phone had been out of harm’s way and became the communication device that saved lives. Word got out that his truck rose above the water level, and he was called to rescue elderly neighbors that lived up and down his street. A huge man, probably 6’ 2” tall, he said he pushed through the waters, into the houses and up the stairs, cradling his fragile, scared and helpless neighbors, trudging back downstairs to the driveway and carefully placing them in the bed of his truck, one after another, in the ferocious rain.
“I keep pinching myself. Is it a dream?”
Mr. Butler wasn’t the only one who received this news with delight and overwhelming relief. Pastor Stanford on the other side of town had spent the last two months ministering to his hurting congregation, rescuing them from the flood waters, helping them clean and relocate, lifting their arms as they suffered in exhaustion and dismay. The harsh reality was that he had neglected his own home. It was in ruins, floors buckled, walls marbled with mold and peeling paint and paper. The pile in front of his own humble ranch grew as the sun rose higher in the sky that day.
Neighbors watched as the Preacher who helped them was helped, himself.
“God loves His people.” I stated the obvious to him. He smiled as wide as Mr. Butler had, even wider, maybe. This had been explanatory news, well-received, to the last homeowner. To this man of God, my words summarized his life’s message.
Our next stop was to an exuberant, almost euphoric, Jesus-loving wife and her more stoic, but equally-appreciative husband. “Thank you, Jesus!” she said over and over. We prayed for her. Her aunt had stage 4 cancer, she herself had lost her job days before the flood and insurance hadn’t come through. “Oh, these trials! They are heaped up! But how can I doubt when His people are loving on us like this!” Her hope was renewed. “He sustains us!” she testified. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”
Mrs. Peterson said it all. She summarized what God taught me last week. I saw God’s love at work, saturating where trauma surrounded. I thought of the New Testament stories of people that Jesus healed, how they couldn’t remain silent. As volunteers arrived at the base, as they sat through orientation and received their orange Samaritan’s Purse shirts, they couldn’t know the impact that their sacrifices would make. They didn’t know that Mr. Butler, Reverend Stanford or Mr. and Mrs. Peterson and so many others would see their work and receive their gentle kindness with overflowing praise to God. These were Kingdom people doing Kingdom work. One day they’ll know the ripple effect that these exuberant testimonies activated. God bless each orange shirt and God bless each person who supported their efforts with prayer. Thank you, God, for sending workers into the Harvest!
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’"–Matthew 25:45
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."–Matthew 5:16