Like most of the country, I’ve been watching the news from Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
The footage of flooded neighborhoods, children rescued from ravaged homes, and centers filled with evacuee has brought back memories of my own evacuation from a city ravaged by a storm – New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
My husband T.C. and I were living in New Orleans as urban missionaries when the storm hit and destroyed everything. I was eight months pregnant with our second child and officials were not letting residents back into the city for weeks, possibly months.
That’s when my husband I and had to decide where to start our new life.
In the process of deciding what to do next, we received lots of help and encouragement from Christians who wanted to relieve the suffering of those affected by the devastation. Natural disasters have a unique capacity to show us our helplessness and need for community. Which is why I love when believers ask “how can I help?” in moments like this.
In the months following Katrina, we were given money, supplies, prayers, and care packages. It was lovely, but at times overwhelming.
You see, so many people wanted to help that it left us wondering: Are we asking for the right things, are we planning enough?
I’ve seen this play out again in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Survivors feel overwhelmed when people ask, “what can I do?” They don’t know what to say — it feels as if everything needs to be address, yet nothing can truly be solved because they’ve lost their home.
Their life will never be the same.
As believers we’re called to carry each other’s burdens; to lighten the load of pain or suffering caused by this broken world. As we’re planning to give to nonprofits that offer relief, I am also thinking about how I can offer help that is precise, simple, and relieves my friends who are suffering from that overwhelm.
There were three areas of overwhelm that I battled after Katrina: overwhelmed in my faith, overwhelmed in my finances, overwhelmed by my future.
Overwhelmed In Faith
When disasters happen, I have to quiet my social media feeds because eventually a bible teacher or leader will use theology as a weapon to make sense of the tragedy. Either God planned it as a punishment for sin, or God designed it for His glory.
While these assessments may be grounded in Scripture and the speaker believes they are offering truth to help, more often than not, it’s unhelpful. Whatever the theological framework the person in crisis has, at the moment where they are figuring out how to put their life back together they need to hear that God is good, He is loving, and He is a good provider.
They need to hear stories of Jesus calming the storm; God coming in a gentle whisper and not a roaring wind; and Paul surviving shipwreck and praising God still.
So, as believers sitting in the comfort of our warm, dry homes, let us utilize social media to encourage and point people to a picture of God that looks safe and not exacting.
My favorite scriptures to share in times like these are:
Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 23 – The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
John 16: 23-24 – Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Before we encourage the faith of our suffering brothers and sisters, it would serve us to write down our favorite scriptures of God’s faithfulness and then commit to sharing those on social media in the days following a storm.
Overwhelmed By Finances
We received lots of financial gifts from various places: donations at churches, FEMA, The Red Cross.
It was encouraging to know that the other believers made sure finances didn’t keep us from rebuilding our lives, but there’s also a burden that comes with this gift.
“What should we buy first?” “Are we paying too much on food, clothes, gas, etc.?” “How can we wisely and justly spend this money?”
These were just a few of the questions we had. It’s one thing to create a budget in time of peace, but another thing altogether when your life is disheveled by a storm.
One thing I found helpful was someone sitting down with us and combing through the relief organizations websites and to help us discern if we should request aid or if we automatically received aid (FEMA, for example, will deposit relief funds into bank accounts of those affected once someone applies). This same person then then sat down with us and a budget worksheet to help us figure out what funds should be spent immediately and what supplies or items could be requested from a church or non-profit.
A list of organizations that help can be found at Ready.gov.
If you are good with money or budgets, maybe you can offer financial planning assistance to a family in need. The key to this gift is to remember you are just offering to create a suggested structure, those in need are under no obligation to accept or follow it.
Also, creating a list of non-profits that are offering financial gifts to the overlooked needs like, pet care and child care or school tuition is incredibly helpful because those are the things hurricane survivor often forget about.
Overwhelmed By Future
After we evacuated, we ended up in Boston. We were pregnant with our second child who was due any day and we had to make a decision that was both good for our present circumstances and future.
I needed a place to nest and a hospital with an epidural.
One way the church helped us is a number of our mentors availed themselves to help us plan. They talked over all the options: moving back to New Orleans, staying with my family in South Texas, or moving to Boston for my husband to attend seminary.
These late into the evening conversations in living rooms and over Skype, relieved me of the pressure of “making the right decision” because I knew our community was praying for and discerning right alongside us.
If you have a story of how you made a hard decision, share that on social media and use the hashtag #hurricaneharvey or reach out to local churches and shelters in Houston and ask if there is a young family or survivor you can adopt over the next year to offer prayer and encouragement to.
We should look and point to Jesus in the midst of the storm and I love these closing thoughts from Pastor Ed Stezer for Christianity Today:
Matthew 8 is a powerful example of what we are called to do when disasters are imminent and we feel out of control. We look to Jesus, the One who, by speaking a word, can calm all storms. We focus on Him, knowing that He is in control. And we do that by praying. And then we follow Him into the disaster as He guides — whether through getting preparation for the next disaster or finding creative ways to help in the current crisis. Whatever He calls us to do, we can be sure of one thing: He isn’t calling us to do nothing.
Lord, let us be people who show up and relieve the burden caused by Harvey. I pray that we be people who address overwhelm head on and respond with peace: Peace trusting that God is good even in terrible circumstances; peace that provision and guidance on how to be a good steward will come; and peace that God hold us and our futures.
Osheta is a podcaster and advocate. She believes everything is better after a nap, brunch with girlfriends is a necessity, and nothing beats a good Netflix binge. You can find her online at Shalom in the City.