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Mike Distefano, MDiv. '17, shares about Hurricane Harvey's personal impact and why these are the seasons for which the Church was created.

September 5, 2017

Alumni Impact: As shared by Mike Distefano, MDiv. '17.

Houston is a remarkable city. The nation's fourth-largest city is known for being home to Beyonce, J.J. Watt, the Houston Texans and the best food on the planet.
 
Now, Houston is known as the home of Hurricane Harvey, the “thousand-year flood event.”[i]
 
On Tuesday, Aug. 29 – the second day of the storm – I found myself eight hours deep into coordinating a second water rescue for my mother, whose house sits next to Cypress Creek. She’s lived there for nearly 20 years. When my siblings and I were young we called it “the Mighty Mississip” and swam in it constantly (from Tom Sayer’s influence, I guess). In 20 years of living by the creek, the house had never flooded. But on that Tuesday, my mother sent me a picture from an upstairs bedroom window of the top of our 8-foot fence barely visible due to the rising flood-waters.
 
The entire city has stories like mine of friends, neighbors, and strangers volunteering to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others. The self-dubbed “Cajun Navy” filled in where our police men and women, firefighters, and Coast Guard simply could not due to the volume of tremendous need. The nearly 50 inches of rain, “the largest recorded total in the state’s history,” caused untold damage.[ii]Hurricane Harvey could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history with a potential price tag of $190 billion, according to a preliminary estimate from private weather firm AccuWeather.”[iii] Currently, 42,000 people are in shelters as approximately 185,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the flood.[iv]
 
On the phone from a friend’s couch in Washington D.C., my own temporary place  in the city I newly call home, I found myself in touch that day with dozens of people who had a boat or knew someone who did. Some were friends, most were strangers. All were willing to rescue mother. Houston, with its private navy, was experiencing a very “Dunkirk” moment. 
 
It dawned on me in the following days, that suffering always produces transformation. No one encounters hardship and comes out unchanged. A person is either made worse or better based on how they conceive of suffering and how they react to it.
 
Houstonians conceived of the storm with horror, and rightly so. But even as fear hit, resiliency set in. Their reaction to the suffering that the storm caused was to “enter in.”
 
Even before the floodwaters subsided, I read a post from my pastor back in Houston that brought tears to my eyes. In it, Pastor Ken Werlein of Faithbridge Church said this: “I can't imagine that there is anyone in our body who has not felt the effects of Harvey. Our community is hurting, and while it is easy to question and worry and feel down about the days to come, seasons like this are what the church was created for
 
“I want to thank you for rallying with us, serving, praying, linking arms, and reaching out to the hurting. We were hammered with rain, but now we have the opportunity to rise in revival. May the Lord use Hurricane Harvey as a catalyst for positive change in our community” (emphasis added).
 
Seasons like this are what the church was created for. As Christians, we have been left on this earth to tell the story of a God who sees suffering and moves into the pain with the intent to rescue.
 
By 10 pm Tuesday, my mother was rescued for the second and final time. It involved my sister spending countless hours on the phone with official hotlines, my brother recruiting a former coach with a brother-in-law with a boat, my former executive pastor with a large vehicle (and two adorable children for encouragement), and a friend with a house on a hill, to bring my mother to safety. And I can’t image a better picture of the gospel. The rescued people of God moved in to rescue another. Their physical activity tells a spiritual story. The people of God, in that moment, became a live action display of the drama of redemption.
 
There is still much to do. It's going to take all of us to overcome. Send a kind text, support a relief organization, or donate to a trusted charity. Most importantly, pray. Pray for Houstonians who continue to face the complexity of the aftermath - that as fear rises anew, resiliancy, rooted in a rescuing God, would rise above the tide.
 
 
 

[i] Washington Post,Stephanie McCrummen August 31 at 8:12 PM, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/with-floodwaters-rising-and-a-rescue-boat-waiting-what-to-bring/2017/08/31/429a77c2-8e76-11e7-91d5-ab4e4bb76a3a_story.html?utm_term=.9890533ff7c1&wpisrc=nl_rainbow&wpmm=1
[ii] http://gizmodo.com/harvey-just-broke-the-record-for-largest-rainfall-event-1798545348
[iii] https://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2017/08/30/harvey-costliest-natural-disaster-u-s-history-estimated-cost-160-billion/615708001/Doyle Rice, USA TODAYPublished 9:56 a.m. ET Aug. 30, 2017 | Updated 9:12 a.m. ET Aug. 31, 2017
[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/01/hurricane-harvey-death-toll-rises-houston-residents-return Rory Carroll and Tom Dart in Houston