Barely a week ago, water was lapping at my front porch steps. Looking out the window over my desk now you wouldn’t know it. My street is dry as a bone. Just a couple of miles from here, as the crow flies, numerous neighborhoods are still under water.

Or should I say “as the chinook helicopter flies?” They’re still here, too, shuttling back and forth delivering people and supplies. Hurricane Harvey has swept north and east, but it has left a lasting impact. We’re not even close to out of the woods as a city, but I’m already taking notes.

What have I learned?

There’s so much more to process, but here are a few things.


Watching an entire community experience trauma is a traumatizing thing. 

My house stayed dry. The water never rose past those porch steps. But Harvey’s impact is evident throughout our region. Piles of sheetrock and insulation are right down my street, the rapid thump of helicopter blades spinning a few hundred feet overhead is ubiquitous, and the agonizing tales of infants slipping out of their parent’s arms into fatal flood waters are repeated far too often.

We are a community traumatized, and that is traumatizing. I haven’t exercised since the rain started falling. I’m eating just bad because it tastes good, and before yesterday morning I hadn’t read my Bible in eight days. I didn’t realize any of those things before I wrote that sentence. It’s hard to notice such things. It’s a weird combination of being ridiculously busy and dreadfully numb. It’s hard to know how to handle it.

It’s traumatizing to behold trauma. It’s all a bit hard to describe. But it’s definitely a thing.

Watching an entire community rally together is an inspiring thing.

This past week I worked with groups from churches, businesses, and fraternities. With few exceptions these people were complete strangers when I rolled up to the work site. It’s strange, isn’t it? Homeowners with little left entrust the care of those few treasured belongings to someone they’ve never met. Stories poured forth of fleeing their homes and wading through rapidly rising waters to a neighbor’s second story. The response is for people who had never met before to hug and cry together.

I spent time last week sorting donations from multiple states. Convoys of supplies are still headed to Houston. Can you critique the process of piling used clothing up in a warehouse, sure. Does Houston need your winter coat? No. The way we donate goods during emergencies as a nation is worthy of healthy critique, but the heart of the donor is hard to question. It’s one, big, giant heart beating in unity.

Whether with sweat, financial resources, or donations, our community has rallied together. It’s moving. It’s inspiring.

None of us know what we’re doing. 

I’ve actually had people ask me what to do. Three months ago, I was a student pastor. Up until 10 days ago, I was the Executive Director of a nonprofit that helped the hungry, thirsty, and marginalized all over the world. I was an adjunct teacher/professor in an effort to raise my salary. Then Harvey hit and we became a disaster relief organization over the weekend. Pastors became “experts” in the field. It’s bonkers.

None of us really know what we’re doing. We’re all learning as we go. We’re meeting needs where we can. It’s fascinating, in a way. Also super scary. We’re all just giving it our best shot. And I’m learning like crazy.

I learned about the Relief Rule of 10s. It takes x amount of days to rescue (say, 6), ten times that many days for relief (60), and ten times that many days to fully recover (600). I’ve learned that what communities really need after disaster is money, not stuff. I’ve learned that I’m really glad I’m not the superintendent of a school district or the mayor of a city. I’ve learned that dudes with fishing boats are more efficient than FEMA at saving people. I’ve learned that there will always be a portion of the population looking for someone to blame. But all of that is stuff that I did not know ten days ago.

It’s like we’re all putting together a 50,000 piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Half of us are blindfolded with the pieces in our hands, and the other half of us that can see are the ones giving the instructions. It’s super exhilarating, exhausting, and confusing all at once. We’re figuring it out as we go.

Jesus > Harvey

I mean, this isn’t a new realization. Jesus has always been a pretty big deal. But in trauma and trials you tend to have things reinforced, and this is a truth that I’ve seen again and again. Congregations rising up to meet needs, believers driving hundreds of miles to do Kingdom work, redemption stories being told in every corner of southeast Texas.

Don’t get me wrong — there are people who do not follow Jesus who are working just as hard. But I really believe it is a reflection of our God-given image when we rise to serve in occasions like these. It is when we are the most human; when we interact the most like we are supposed to interact. Everyone acts a lot like Jesus, even if on accident.

We live in a broken world. That includes creation. Harvey is a manifestation of that brokenness. But Jesus fixes what is broken, and he’ll fix this. It may well take 600 days, but he’ll fix it. Indeed, he already is.

Through the trauma and the inspiration and the figuring it out as we go, he already is.

3 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned (So Far) About Disaster Response

  1. Could not have expressed it better. Love this community and all those that stepped in and stepoed up to do what they can to relieve others. Traumatic and Inspiring. Weird, yet true. We will never be the same. I hope….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s