heroes of hurricane harvey

The devastation flooded our televisions as we watched first responders and every day heroes help victims of Hurricane Harvey.  Their heroic actions reveal the best in us.  Let me share three revealing lessons from the heroes of Hurricane Harvey.

Lesson 1:  Rescue requires risk.

27 trillion tons of water fell on Texas and Louisiana.  That’s how much water the entire city of New York would consume over 50 years!  Nearly 52 inches of rain fell making Harvey the single worst rain fall in the history of the continental United States.

In the midst of this torrential rain, first responders courageously moved to action.  Despite heavy wind, more than 60 military aircraft searched for people needing rescue.  The Coast Guard deployed boats rescuing 32 people in danger.  And neighbors used boats, make-shift rafts, and anything they could to help others find safety.

Experts respond to tragedies in a three-fold process that begins with rescue, moves to relief, and ends in restoration or development.  First comes rescue.

Rescue requires courage over comfort.

Courage propels one toward tragedy, fear forces one to run away.  We watched the courage of Americans who left comfort to risk everything for strangers.  The police officer who refused to stay safe and sacrificed his life rescuing others.  The mother who gave her life as her 3-year-old daughter clung to her body to survive.   These heroes and many more risked everything.  They exemplify the best of humanity.  “Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jn. 15:13.

These rescuers were rightly called ‘Good Samaritans’.  The Good Samaritan risked everything (Luke 10:25-37).  Robbers could still be present as he stopped to help a stranger in need of rescue.  He wasn’t concerned.  He overcame racial, social and other barriers to risk everything for a man in need.

Rescue requires mercy over judgment.

The Heroes of Hurricane Harvey did not stop to ask whether people should have evacuated sooner.  They didn’t ask for identification or concern themselves with race, religion or other status.  They saw a person needing help and risked everything to respond.

I firmly believe this is the character of most Americans.  Some will always sit on the sidelines and challenge the decision of officials in not doing more to evacuate.  They will condemn individuals for not fleeing sooner.   This is wrong.  Tragedies happen and we should respond in mercy not judgement “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”  Jms. 2:13.   We see this best and most clearly in tragedies like Harvey, but this is also true of everyday tragedies.

Every day in America emergency rooms are filled, first responders are busy with natural or unnatural disasters, accidents happen, and the world comes crashing in on a neighbor in need.  In legal ministry we get involved in rescuing victims of violence fleeing abuse in need of safety.  In all these circumstances we should follow the example of the Heroes of Hurricane Harvey and help, not hurt, those who in need.

Lesson 2:  Relief requires relegating self-interest.

After rescue comes relief.  Once someone is safe they need support.  The American Red Cross and Salvation Army are two significant relief agencies but they are joined by hundreds of efforts from churches, businesses and community groups.

One of my favorite stories comes from restaurant owners who came together to prepare thousands of meals for officers, relief workers, and more.  Many of these businesses were victims themselves and could not open for normal operations.  Not concerned about themselves, they looked to the interest of others and saw an opportunity to make a difference.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Phi. 2:3-4

Just imagine working around the clock to rescue neighbors in need and the best restaurant in Houston shows up on your door with a hot meal!  That has impact.  Any time you step outside of yourself to serve others you have similar impact.  Every week across America, the best lawyers show up in a community to serve neighbors in need.  That has impact.  Consider joining them.

Our friends at Christian Legal Society support a legal aid in Houston providing direct assistance to Hurricane Harvey victims.  Gospel Justice Initiative has a chapter in Georgetown – the Georgetown Gospel Justice Center – which is an hour from the most affected areas doing the same.

Texas Supreme Court joins the Heroes of Hurricane Harvey

We don’t usually think of courts as heroes.  But in the wake of Harvey, the Texas Supreme Court relaxed their rules so out of state lawyers could offer limited engagement assistance.

Complete this FORM to help victims with basic legal issues.

Imagine a flood has destroyed everything.  Now you attempt to place calls and look through a flood of paperwork to understand how to get back on your feet.  It’s overwhelming.  Navigating the legal floodwaters is what we do every week across the country.

Relief efforts begin when someone is safe.  They need immediate help and guidance.  Those in Texas and Louisiana need help with food, shelter, health care and more.  Those on the front lines do triage.  They assess the need and provide a plan for moving forward.  Most legal ministry is relief ministry.  We enter into a crisis, set aside our pre-conceived ideas, and come alongside neighbors.

The Good Samaritan demonstrates this when he uses his resources to attend to the wounded man’s immediate needs.  He assesses the need and determines a plan which involves getting him to the inn where the work of restoration can begin.

Lesson 3: Restoration requires renewing hope.

The long hard work of restoration awaits the victims of Hurricane Harvey.  Long after the immediate heroes are gone other heroes enter the picture to do the sustaining work of development.  Those engaged in relief lay the foundation for restoration now.

Universally Harvey demonstrated the resilience of people.  As image bearers of God people naturally strive toward the positive.  Those who lost all their possessions immediately recognized how grateful they were to not be among the 35 who lost their lives.  Perspective.

As we enter into crisis, perspective is critical.  We count our blessings.  We provide a glimpse of a better future.  Texas and Louisiana will rebuild and already the conversations are around how they can build better.  I was recently in Japan where a nation devastated by war rose much stronger from the ashes.  In the midst of crisis that future seems distant and sometimes impossible, but with God all things are possible.

As churches rebuild they have tremendous opportunity to do so alongside impacted neighbors.  The church can show and share the hope of Christ.  The church is the inn where people can come to be restored – not just as a temporary shelter, but as a community of neighbors helping neighbors.  Like the heroes of faith in the Bible, these everyday heroes can walk alongside neighbors in need to see them restored for the long term.

The restorative work of justice

Legal ministry provides hope and help to see people restored.  Justice is about restoration.  The Hebrew and Greek words are both rooted in righteousness and generosity.  God desires a right relationship with his creation and among his creation.  He planted generosity in our souls.

For more see our article on How does God see Justice?

The Hebrew tzedekah meaning generosity is rooted in justice – the Hebrew word tzedek.  As demonstrated by the Heroes of Hurricane Harvey, generosity is more than a hand out – it is a hand.  A hand that reaches out to rescue those in danger.  The hand that wraps around someone’s shoulder and assures them it will be alright.  A hand that provides food, shelter and aid.  The hand that pulls someone up in the hope of restoration.

We should all be encouraged by the Heroes of Hurricane Harvy.  I hope we follow their example in the everyday disasters that befall neighbors in need.  Let’s be like the Samaritan who brought the wounded man to an inn for restoration and was generous with his time and money to see restoration take place.

I want to be like that Good Samaritan.  I want the Heroes of Hurricane Harvey to be reflected in how I serve neighbors every day.  Pray for the everyday heroes and for all those impacted by Harvey and other seasons of crisis across our nation and around the world.  May we learn to respond with courage, humility and hope in all circumstances.

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