by Donna Pyle
“I’ve never been so scared or cold, but I know God’s still got me.”
These were the first words spoken by a soaking wet elderly evacuee as a volunteer youth carried her from the Harris County Sherriff’s vehicle into the dry warmth of Trinity Klein Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas.
She was one of over a hundred elderly people rescued that afternoon from a senior living center by heroic first responders as Hurricane Harvey dumped over two feet of rain in the greater Houston area.
Inside Hurricane Harvey
As Harvey approached and meteorologists’ predictions grew steadily worse, I hunkered down in my Spring, Texas, home to wait out the storm. More than 130 tornado and flash flood emergency alerts blasted from my smartphone over the course of three days as Harvey stalled over Houston.
The news reports looked like something from a horrible movie. People trapped in flood waters. Helicopter rescues. It was completely surreal. Unprecedented amounts of rain turned my street into a river. Water levels started creeping up my driveway, so I used the NextDoor app to check on neighbors. Group texts between my mom and sisters (who all live ten miles north of me) were lifelines. Let’s get real, how long can you listen to 24/7 weather reports without losing your crackers?
My home never took on water — thanks be to God! — but when water levels receded enough for me to drive, I discovered grocery store shelves empty of basic necessities (ice, milk, eggs, fresh meat), gas stations out of fuel, and no way for them to be restocked in the foreseeable future.
Due to high water, I could not reach my home congregation (Salem, Tomball) to help with relief efforts, so instead I drove five minutes to Trinity Klein. I couldn’t just sit at home watching the horrors unfold on television. I had to get out and do something to stem the tidal wave of loss and grief.
Our Ever-Present God
The evacuee shelter efforts at Trinity Klein were in full swing by the time I got there. The evacuees from the senior living center were just beginning to arrive. It was an emotional trial by fire in a hammering downpour.
Only half of the volunteers that I spoke with were members. One of the gentlemen who stood out in the rain with me for four hours directing donation drop-offs and evacuee check-ins was simply driving by the church when he saw the line of cars and stopped to help.
He said, “I just couldn’t sit at home doing nothing anymore.” I heard that phrase repeatedly. Our conversation was interrupted as a lawn crew pulled in, bringing a man they had rescued from the roof of his car. They left him with us, then went out to rescue more.
A firefighter drove up in his personal truck with an elderly lady and her shivering dog wrapped in a wet towel. He dropped them off and told us he was headed into Houston to join the boat rescues. The three of us gathered in a tight circle, foreheads leaned together against the driving rain, and prayed God’s protection and safety over that firefighter.
Romans 8:39 kept ringing through my head with Hurricane Harvey subtitles: Neither height of rising water nor depth of flood, nor anything else Harvey can hurl at us can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It’s amazing how God makes us brave in the storm when we understand that He has already provided the ultimate life preserver in His Son.
As I cooked and delivered meals to Salem’s deployed clean-up crews, the devastation was evident. But what shone brightest was the love of Christ — seen through hands ripping out soggy carpet, ruined insulation and mounds of damaged sheetrock.
I saw His comfort time and again through neighbors hugging neighbors and volunteers praying with overwhelmed homeowners while children cradled frightened pets.
The rains have let up now, but the overwhelming outpouring of love, generosity, and support for flood victims just keeps coming. People are standing in lines to volunteer, their faces and actions a beautiful reflection of Christ.
Salem asked for donations of fresh ingredients so that we can cook three hot meals a day for a local shelter. Within two hours, the church’s restaurant-capacity refrigerators and walk-in freezer couldn’t hold any more.
Salem’s members are also volunteering en masse at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Houston to get their flooded school cleaned out so that their students can return to class in a few days.
At Trinity Klein, volunteers are working tirelessly to accept food, clothing, and toiletry items so they can sort and distribute the donations as fast as they arrive.
I am extraordinarily blessed to write for Concordia Publishing House. They reached out to check on me and to ascertain critical community needs that they could help address. Since Salem will serve as the hub for coordinating local and national volunteer teams in north Houston, I asked CPH for practical items that volunteers could both use personally and also hand out to flood victims and their families in the homes to which they are deployed. Their generosity was stunning! They sent over 300 bilingual kids’ coloring books and colored pencils, 250 New Testaments, 200+ kids I Will Not Be Afraid books, 240+ Portals of Prayer (Where Is God Now), and piles of t-shirts, mini-screwdrivers, frisbees, microwave popcorn, lip balm, and multi-chargers. I feel that CPH is truly family, working alongside us in the trenches to identify needs and ways they can support.
In all these efforts, I haven’t yet encountered a grumpy volunteer or a cheerless giver. The overwhelming humanitarian effort underway here cannot afford grumps.
The Road Forward
As I write this, high water evacuations continue. Blackhawk helicopters fly low to rescue people still stranded by raging rivers that were formerly peaceful neighborhood streets.
Clean-up efforts stretch well into each night, lit by lanterns and portable generators. Many friends still have no electricity or running water in their homes. But God has taught me this past week that every great crisis provides an opportunity for the greatness of Christ to shine in us.
On Thursday, Salem hosted a worship service for the greater Tomball area. The response was incredible as we worshiped, prayed for each other, and heard about the hurts and needs of our neighbors from Pastor Tim Niekerk. Hurricane Harvey has erased the “us” and “them” from our community — at least for now. We are linking arms and walking through this together, anchored in Christ alone.
Thursday evening, after four days of torrential rain, God blessed the Houston area with one breathtaking sunset. I had stopped my car to assess high water on the road ahead, and God, in His perfect timing, used that moment to illuminate the sky in dramatic, flamboyant splendor. Tears flowed as I thanked Him for the vivid reminder of hope despite the chaos.
Some flooded roads remain impassable and the road ahead is long, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We hold tight to our Lord Jesus Christ through the faith that He gives. And, if this Texan may be so bold, we are indeed #TexasStrong!
The hurricane may be over, but the need is greater than ever. Find out what you can do to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey at lcms.org/harvey.