Every time that storms clouds gather or thunder roars, I remember. I remember sitting in a closet with my daughter and our dogs in the spring of 2011 as an EF-4 tornado whirled through Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Initially, we thought that we had survived another close call, because the weather had been particularly treacherous that summer, but we had not. When we stepped out of our safe space, we turned on the television to find out that much of the city was in shambles.
First, I started trying to contact members of the congregation that I was serving at the time to be sure that they had survived, but the cell phone signals were spotty, so this effort was only modestly successful. The next morning, I was out and about among the debris in search of members for whom the church could not account.
One member, who lives near what is remembered as ground zero and happens to be blind, was of particular concern. She eventually called me to say that she was well after hearing that I was looking for her. I was both grateful and relieved; she laughed in the face of such fear.
A little over 24 hours after the storm, we had a worship service at church. I honestly don’t remember much about the service. All that I remember is how good it felt to be together after experiencing such trauma.
Shortly thereafter, members of a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance team started arriving one-by-one. It was a strange experience, because I had participated in such disaster relief efforts in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina’s arrival on the Gulf Coast in a congregation that I served before serving in Alabama.
One of the lessons learned by virtue of this experience is that receiving help is much more difficult than giving it. Perhaps the problem is pride, but such spiritual problems are solved through the humility that comes from facing a situation that is impossible to manage alone.
Obviously, I am sharing this story in response to the news coming out of the American Southwest and Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall this weekend. Every time that a natural disaster of this magnitude occurs, I have the urge to go and to be with people in their suffering—not because I have been a member of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance teams before, but because I have received help for which I did not ask when I needed it most.
I know that there are many people at St. James who are skilled at carpentry (like the once popular bumper-sticker says, our boss is a Jewish carpenter, right?) and/or are generally handy (more handy than I am) with a set of tools. I wonder if God may be calling us, as a congregation, to become more involved in Presbytery Disaster Assistance. We may or may not be called to serve in Texas, but I am confident that we will be called somewhere, at some point, in our life together.
I give thanks for my call to this congregation in central Pennsylvania and pray that we will always be gracious enough to offer help and humble enough to ask for help so that God’s grace in Jesus Christ will be experienced as more than a theological point made in a speech, a sermon or a statement of faith. In the end, no statement of faith is made more clearly than one that we make with our lives, especially in the face of disasters, both natural and otherwise.