Hurricane Harvey, Part II

Mike’s house was flooded to the roof line. The weight of the wet insulation collapsed the ceiling, but the stuff in his attic was mostly dry. Coming in by boat and docking at his roof, he removed a sheet of tin roofing, climbed into his attic and rescued the “guns & gittars” (Mike’s a true Texan!) that he had tucked into the attic for safety. 

Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas is a small church that is having a huge impact on the economically challenged residents of their community. While Pastor Skipper and several other flooded-out members of this church are living in trailers on the church property, they’re distributing food, water, cleaning supplies, and other needed items to their neighbors. The church is so full of goods to distribute they don’t have room to hold Sunday services.  Hope Force provided our 60′ x 100′ tent to serve as a warehouse for the next few months so they can regain use of the church building.  Erecting this tent was our main project during my last few days in Texas.

These are just two of the projects we worked on last week.  Once again, it’s been your prayers and financial support that have made it possible for us to to share the love of Christ with those in need.

Mike worked along side us at his house for two days. He repeatedly expressed puzzlement over why we would volunteer to serve people like him in this way.  On our third and final day at his house, he had to return to work.  When we left, we placed a New Testament signed by the team in the middle of his cleaned-out living room for him to find.  I left a bookmark in it with I John 3:16-18 highlighted:

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NKJV)

 

 

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Eye of the Storm

I’ve only been home from Texas for a few days, but I’m getting ready to head back for another week. Hope Force has asked me to return October 12 – 19 to relieve the team leader in place until then. So I guess my time at home right now is like being in the eye of the storm.  Hmmm…aren’t things supposed to be calm in the eye of the storm? I think I need a new metaphor…

The most common question I’m asked is how the flooding in Texas compares to what I’ve seen elsewhere. I could compare number of homes flooded, water depth, or other data points. But when you’re dealing one-on-one with people whose lives have been impacted, the dramatic numbers don’t mean much.  Every disaster is personal to each survivor, no matter how many other survivors there are.

Before…
After…(same room, different angle)

I know from past experience that I’ll soon get over the nagging thoughts about the needs I saw but couldn’t meet for various reasons.  That’s the hard part about coming home. I have to remember that God calls me to faithfully serve, not to be a superhero. What I can’t do serves as a reminder that, as a team member reminded us in a devotional one morning, “It’s not about me.

But the blessing that comes with this service is seeing the transformation in many homeowners between the start of a job and the end. On the Texas coast, where many people have been flooded before (often two or three times), some  start out pretty matter-of-fact about what they have to do again. Others are at the end of their rope and don’t think they can take any more (in one case, borderline suicidal). No matter where they’re at on that spectrum, when our work is done they have an increased sense that things are (or at least, might be) looking up. The most important thing we’re giving them isn’t a cleaned out house; it’s hope.

During the last two weeks we saw four homeowners indicate that if the love we’ve shown them is our response to the love God has shown us, they want to know our God. As I said before this trip (quoting C.S. Lewis), “pain is the megaphone God uses to speak to a deaf world.” These four people are examples of how that megaphone works.

Thank you again for your prayers and financial support for this work!

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  You can give online to this project at:

https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/to/3100-AlanW-Disaster-Response

or by check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

FEMA Depends on Faith-Based Response

Several articles this week have quoted a USA Today story about the role of faith-based organizations in disaster response.

Here’s a link to one from a Christian perspective, from Breakpoint, a Christian ministry:

And here’s a more political perspective on it from the Washington Times:Christians beat FEMA, and in so doing, tame Big Government

God blessed Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. I believe He blesses us likewise to be a blessing to others. I believe part of the reason God wants us to do that is so that we experience the joy of being a channel of God’s love to others.

This week in Houston has been a roller-coaster of joys and heartbreaks as our Hope Force International team has briefly walked alongside a wide range of people who had one thing in common: the recent experience of unplanned and obviously unwanted hardship. Some are responding with a sense of hopelessness, others with a sense of hope that defies the circumstances.  Regardless of where they are at on that spectrum, our presence has had an impact on those we helped, in every case increasing their sense of hope by at least a few degrees. In some cases the impact was nothing short of profound.

As the articles above point out, our impact goes beyond just those families we work with directly. Our presence demonstrates the love of Christ in action to a worldwide audience. True, “faith-based” doesn’t mean just “Christian” —  we’re not the only faith-based group having a significant impact on recovery efforts. But I’m blessed to be a part of the response that honors the Name of Christ.

Tomorrow we relocate from Houston to Bridge City (near Beaumont), an area where the need is great and recovery is not as far along as it is in Houston.

Thank you to the many of you who have participated in one way or another in making it possible for me to represent you here.

Responding to Hurricane Harvey

Appts

It’s just three weeks shy of one year since I had the “terrible privilege” of responding to assist the survivors of Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. This time it’s Hurricane Harvey that has forever changed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

But the stories of how those lives will change is not done being written yet. For some, the devastation will be an open wound that may fester for the rest of their lives. For others, the healing of that wound will become the storyline that lives on forever.

We get to play a role in shifting lives from focusing on the devastation to focusing on the healing. My role at this point is to be in Texas from 9/15 through 9/30 with Hope Force International, providing physical, emotional, and spiritual support to those who need it most. What role would you like to play?

Perhaps you’ll commit to daily prayers for the survivors.  C.S. Lewis said that pain is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. Pray that God’s love, poured out through God’s people, would restore not only what has been physically lost but also bring emotional and spiritual healing.

You may be one who can’t go yourself, but God has blessed you with the ability to provide financial support to those of us who can go. My personal expenses for this trip are only about $1000, but additional donations will further meet the needs of survivors. See the box below for information about how to give to support my work and the organizations I’m engaged with.

Although the days are exhausting, I’ll try to post an update or two on my blog at https://christinmycoffee.wordpress.com.

Whether you go, pray, or give, thank you for using the blessings God has given you to be a blessing to others!

A NOTE FROM GRACE CHURCH OF ORANGE:   We appreciate your financial support of our short-term mission projects.  You can give online to this project at:

https://graceorange.churchcenteronline.com/giving/to/3100-AlanW-Disaster-Response

or by check payable to Grace Church of Orange and send it to 2201 E. Fairhaven Ave. Orange, CA 92869.  On the memo line of your check, please specify that your donation is for Disaster Response. Be aware that IRS regulations do not permit tax deductible donations for specific individuals, so indicating a person’s name may affect the deductibility of your donations.  (Please check with your tax advisor.)  If you would like for the person to know about your donation, you may include a note with your name on it.  If for any reason your donation is not needed for this project, (such as more funds received beyond what is needed), it will be applied to other missions efforts.  If you give $250 or more you will receive a statement of your donations in January of the following year.  Please contact the church office at 714-633-8867 if you have any questions.

Faithfulness and Success

Just because can’t do it, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t pursue it.

…in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-13

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

I Corinthians 3:7-8

The willingness and effort to pursue that which glorifies God are mine to give or withhold. Success is God’s to give or withhold. My faithfulness does not demand God to grant success.  His success is not dependent on my faithfulness.

Faithfulness is how I respond to God’s love, it’s not how I earn my success.  I trust God for the right mix of success and failure to cause my life to reflect His Glory.

 

I Actually Used “Encouraging” and “Politics” in the Same Sentence!

The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately from the world of politics came in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Republican baseball practice on June 14. I was pleased by a number of news reports covering multiple politicians from both sides of the aisle calling to dial back the disrespectful, inflammatory rhetoric that incites this kind of behavior.

Most of us are unaware of how short and steep the slippery slope is from damaging words to damaging actions.

It’s actually a good thing that we disagree with each other on a range of issues — that disagreement leads to more thorough, healthy exploration of possible solutions. The problem begins when we make assumptions about the motives of our opponents and escalate that in our minds to assumptions about their character.  We find ourselves painting them as evil people with evil intent instead of as human beings deserving of respect even if we disagree with their views.

Wouldn’t it be great if the standard in politics was Socratic discussion of issues instead of building support by super-charging people’s emotions around the issues? But politicians need to maintain their support base, and dramatic rhetoric works for that purpose, even if it is counterproductive for the health of our nation.

High drama also makes for more exciting media stories, and that makes money for the media.

Thus the needs of the politicians are served by inflammatory rhetoric, and the needs of the media are served by inflammatory rhetoric. So what if that disrespectful speech creates a culture where it’s a small step across the line to physical assault?  Is that an acceptable price to pay to assure political and media success?

But as I’ve said before, the blame doesn’t really lie just with the politicians and the media.  They’re listening to their audiences — the rest of us — and giving us what we’re asking for. They’re doing what works because we allow it to work.

Let’s work this chain backwards: A gunman shoots people he disagrees with because he’s constantly hearing how evil these people are. He’s hearing how evil these people are because that language raises support for politicians and the media. That support comes because we rally behind the people who make the biggest media splash instead of those who demonstrate respectful and rationale exploration of problems and solutions.

We like things that stir our emotions — and that’s a good thing. But we’ve lost the self-discipline individually and as a society to restrain our thirst for emotional satisfaction when reason would better serve all involved.  Remember that the next time you assume the guy who cut you off on the freeway is of low character instead of extending the grace you would hope for when you make a bad driving decision.

Which Language Do You Speak Most?

For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

Matthew 12;34b (NASB)

Our choice of words makes a difference. Sure, we use words to influence others, but I’m more interested at the moment in what our words reveal about us and how we may be influenced by our own words. Consider these three phrases:

I want to… This is the language of self-centeredness. It’s all about me. My desires may be good, or they may be bad. It doesn’t matter, they’re mine. And I intend to satisfy them.

I need to… This is the language of obligation. Again, the source of that obligation may be good or it may be bad. It could be rooted in a healthy sense of responsibility, or in fear, or in selfish ambition, or in legalism.

I choose to… This is the language of love…or not.  Love, at it’s core, is an act of the will – a continuous set of decisions we make.  If God had not given us a free will, it would be impossible for us to love. When our choices are motivated by the best interest of others, we demonstrate love. When motivated by our self-interest, it’s selfishness. God equipped us to choose.

I can choose to do what I want to do, and if I have been transformed to desire the things that please God, fulfilling my desires is a good thing.

I can choose to do what I need to do, and if my needs are aligned with loving God and loving others, with faith that He will take care of me (Matthew 6), then meeting my obligations is a good thing.

Perhaps saying “I choose” more than “I want” or “I need” would make me more aware of the motivation behind my choices. The synergy between heart and mouth might be a powerful tool in the transformation from selfishness to love.

I don’t want to, but I choose to.  I don’t need to, but I choose to.  I choose acts of love, acts of worship.