What I did to close out my summer vacation:
I went to Houston…
a week and a half after the hurricane.
I'll never forget the trash. There's so much trash. Houston now hosts entire neighborhoods of houses that have spewed all their contents onto the lawn. It's daunting. Who knows when all that trash will get picked up and where it will all go.
I met Ernestine — a nice elderly lady who refused to be evacuated from her flooded home by helicopter. Instead she rode to safety on a neighbor's inflatable mattress.
I met Chad and his 13-year old son, Sam. Chad read a tweet from a Houston pastor asking for volunteers to come help clear houses. Two hours later, he and Sam were in the car and on their way. They drove 20 hours from Minnesota, stopping for sleep for "a couple hours."
I met "Javier", who cleared out half the drywall in his in-laws' house using only a watermelon knife.
I carried strangers' water-logged photo albums and stuffed animals out of a home and threw them onto a roadside trash pile while the owners silently sat on their porch and watched.
But some aspects of life were returning to normal around Houston. Rush hour hosted lots of traffic. No one honked at each other, though. My work team went out to dinner one night at a very busy restaurant. The wait staff took time to talk to us and ask about our experiences.
Not everyone got along. A homeowner was tired of salvage pickers taking things from her lawn, and chewed out one who lingered in front of her house. It was the second time her house flooded in the last 16 months. She lost her household possessions twice — and was wary of losing any more. Someone looted her new washing machine a few days prior.
At church service, licensed counselors, not a pastor, presented the weekly "sermon". They recommended not falling into an assumption that everything was fine. Everything was not fine. The city experienced trauma. The counselors recommended extending grace to others, and accepting grace for ourselves.
I'm home now, far away from Houston. I want to piece together some kind of life lesson from my experiences there — from meeting people so deeply affected.
People have tremendous ability to do good. That is evident in the wake of disasters. We're more inspired, more graceful. It's a bit easier to cut someone else some slack because we assume they've got some issues to deal with. In Houston, it's safe to assume that people are not OK, because… well… they likely just had a team of strangers turn their moldy, water-logged home into a pile of trash. People could use a little grace.
Natural disasters bring a sense of urgency to doing good things. The other members of my relief team articulated that sentiment regularly: "People need help now."
I suppose that's always true, however. No matter where we are. And it's humbling to admit that fact because I don't always feel the same urgency to do good. But here's the truth: there's always an urgent need to do good.
There's a popular motto in the Methodist movement — which is sometimes attributed to the movement's founder, John Wesley:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, as long as ever you can.
I believe the world can better than what it is. I believe humanity has an ordained role to play in making the world better. That calls for a sense of urgency, doesn't it? It calls for activity, not passivity: we don't wait for the world to get better, we act in making it better.
It's a shame it takes an event like a hurricane to remind me to do "all the good I can." That's a hard lesson learned.
The good news is that people are reminded and are actively doing good. And I pray this momentum not stop. May it spread as a movement not just in Houston, or Florida, or Puerto Rico... but around me — and around you, too.
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Ryan Dunn is the author. He is the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church. Ryan had the opportunity to do good alongside a team of volunteers sent to Houston from Providence Church in Mt. Juliet, TN.
Published September 28, 2017