Note: Earlier this week, we posted some links that can help you and your church begin helping. Here is how you can begin empowering your congregation to serve this enormous need.
Those of us on dry ground cannot fathom the devastation and loss caused by Hurricane Harvey. As much as the media has covered it, our minds cannot take it in. To help us truly fathom it, experts set up mind-blowing comparisons. Here are a few:
- Harvey has dumped trillions of gallons of water onto the city — enough to fill the Great Salt Lake twice over.
- Harvey dumped enough water on Texas to fill up the Empire State building over 33,000 times.
- It a few days, Harvey drenched the Houston region with enough water to fill an Olympic size swimming pool…fourteen million times.
- If you took the entire amount of rain from Harvey and spread it over the 48 contiguous United States, it would create a pool of water roughly .17 inches deep (about three pennies).
- All the water that fell on Houston would make the water level of Lake Superior rise 3 feet.
It is truly unbelievable.
But the real story about Harvey is not about the amount of water but about the impact of the water on people and property. And what comes next for them is equally unbelievable. Houstonians are going to be facing a new torrent of challenges. Rebuilding. The camera crews will go home and the news will fade, but the city will take on a task of epic proportions: rebuilding its roads, bridges, houses, businesses, and infrastructure. Texans are strong and we are proud. Houston has such a strong identity that their recovery is beyond doubt.
But they will need help…and lots of it.
Here are five things your church can do RIGHT NOW to begin to help the people of the soaked city of Houston.
Start praying by name for the mayor of Houston, the governor of Texas, the local FEMA leaders, and the leaders in the community. Prayer will ignite the hearts of the believer and help the congregation carry the spiritual burdens of the south Texans. Houston is the 4th largest city in the United States and chances are certain that many people in your church this Sunday know people affected by the flood. Listen to them in church. Hear their stories. And pray for the city and the people publicly.
Tell those who know people in Houston to convey the prayer and support of your church. We can and should always begin here: prayer.
Think relationally about establishing a long-term, broad-based, creative, “sister-relationship” support with a local Houston church in your denomination or network. Imagine the power and impact that could be achieved if your church came along side another church in the Houston area and offered to support and uphold it. Or what if your church linked up with a number of other churches in your area and adopted a congregation in the Houston area? In due course, when the camera crews disappear, missionary teams could be sent. Supply lines of clothing and furniture and volunteer labor could begin. For example, a congregation in Memphis could ‘adopt’ a church in the Houston area and come along side to serve. Let the victims and the local leaders set the pace and the scope of what they need. And think long term…year by year…as everyone rebuilds.
Churches will take up offerings this week-end for the victims. People are being encouraged to give to the Red Cross or Samaritan’s Purse or other denominational organizations such as the Anglican Relief and Development Fund. These efforts are important and people will be generous, I am sure. But more is needed than can be received on any one Sunday. Giving to the rebuilding effort will be a long-term project. Think of it as a ‘mission project’ that needs special funding. It is.
If your church comes along side a local church from the flooded area, you will want to help empower that church to do its work in its own neighborhood and among its own members. There is no getting around it. Churches will be called upon to do amazingly important things over the next decade to help rebuild. But it will require lots of cash. Make it easy for your members to give.
One way to do easily is to establish a “Text-to-Give” account and use it as often as there is a need for a special offering. Some leaders worry about asking the people for too much; about tapping out the congregation. My rule of thumb has always been never to protect members from the amazing opportunity to give meaningfully and substantially for the mission efforts of their church. In fact, try to make this kind of giving easy and as frequent as needed. (Kindrid.com is the easiest way I know of to establish a ‘text-to-give’ account.)
Establish a study and response team from your church that will learn the best way that your church can help. Your churches response will require the commitment of strong lay people whose hearts have been broken by this devastation and whose love of God and humanity compels them to act. There may be ‘away teams’ that are needed for the back-breaking work of ‘mucking out’ houses. Maybe a local church or civic leader needs food preparers and servers to help local relief workers. But any church in America can establish a team of people to help with the relief efforts. Your church may find that new leaders emerge from your own congregation who have been waiting for their church to get active in some tangible way.
5. Preach the Gospel
The loss and devastation that everyone has seen will cause most people to wonder why these things happen. Why do bad things happen? Where is God in times like this? Is there a God who cares? Is there a God who can rule over nature and where has He been? These are massively important questions to addres and our churches and pulpits have an unprecedented opportunity to teach and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Bible does not shy away from taking on these topics. There are tragedies in the Bible that cause the locals to give up their faith or to cling more closely to it. Think of Noah’s flood. Think about Job’s loss and his ultimate conviction of the power and providence of God. Think about the prophets who wept as the nation was swept into exile. Think about the innocents of Bethlehem and how the women of Rachel might have been comforted. Even Jesus was asked a question about catastrophic losses in his ministry. His answer is telling. (Luke 13:4ff)
Twelve years ago, Katrina wreaked havoc on the people of New Orleans. It was terrible. But the church I led stepped up and helped organized our people, our youth, loads of resources, and many great leaders to work through a local church there. The weather was a disaster…but our God uses disasters of biblical proportion to bring people into service and bring the Good News to a nation.
Let’s be part of that purpose.