I wish I could transport every person that asks about the experience of Harvey to the morning of Wednesday, August 30th. It was the first day that we woke up without rain. It was the first day that roads began to REALLY open. It was the day that those of us without boats began to see the new landscape of our community. It was the day that everything got real.
The morning of the 30th, the energy and anxiety that we had stuffed into our houses for the last 4 days was overflowing. For the first time since landfall, people felt safe to move around. Because of the ground saturation, even the slightest moisture was cause for accumulation but by Wednesday, the sun was shining. We unlocked the doors to 218 shortly before 9am and almost immediately, volunteers began to flood in the building. Everyone wanted to help. With school cancelled until at least the following Monday and many jobs not requiring workers to report, families were serving together.
There was not an empty corner of the room at 218. Where guitars and drums once dominated, adult shoes were now home. Instead of worship seating, we had sections for men’s, women’s and kid’s clothing. Our family room was now the baby station. Our elementary classroom was home to bedding of all sizes. We rounded out the kids’ space with a room for games and toys and one for cleaning supplies and paper goods. There was little room to walk, but there were people and love and care and generosity abounding.
While there were many roads open, travel to some parts of our area was limited. The creeks were still high and crossing them proved challenging in places. For the two previous days, we developed a team of big truck calvary that could handle the water. As the tide went down and water drained from houses, many of our first responding drivers switched gears and began mucking out houses. Fortunately, not all of them took that role, as we came to depend on the friendship and love (and stories from the roads) that our drivers always brought back to 218.
It was in these early days that a bond was formed between those of us that would not leave. Call it survivor’s guilt or boundry-less nonsense, our desire to help our community pushed us past our limits. The part of this journey that I grew to embrace the deepest was the fact that many of my side kicks in battle had never walked in the doors of Ecclesia- Clear Lake prior to August 28th. While there were many that called this place home, there were also so many that came to be family in this space. It was on Wednesday that one of our new friends carried in a meal from a local restaurant and offered it to our volunteers. We had known each other for 2 days, but by lunch on Wednesday, it felt like an old friend throwing pizza on the coffee table and settling in for a good night of fun.
As hard as these days had been, we carried this weight together. When we needed a contact at a restaurant or hotel, we called on Clint. When we needed information on a social media site, Donna was the woman. Looking for cleaning supplies? Well, that was all Ramie. Didn’t know how to communicate with a Spanish speaking neighbor? We called Karen. We all had our place. We knew each other’s skills. When we were asked to send in a video segment on our work, no one wanted me. That was Marla’s wheelhouse and, wow, could she cover us. Hundreds of volunteers passed in and out of 218 Clear Creek Ave that first week. Teenagers worked alongside retirees. Little ones clung to their high school role models as they learned to break down boxes. Food was shared, stories were told and hearts were held. We had big jobs to do.
My favorite story of that day came when I realized that one of the grocery stores was open. I was informed that the lines were long, but we needed some food supplies to share with neighbors. I had $200 cash that had been donated. Knowing that there was a job for everyone, I walked into the main room where people were working hard to sort and fold and organize. Loudly I screamed, “Who is the most patient person in this room?”
While a few key faces spawned huge grins, looking sheepish in the t-shirt section was a man I had never seen. He introduced himself to me and said he could do whatever I needed. I handed him $200 cash and said, “We have never met, but we are in this together. Can you go to the grocery store, wait in whatever line you encounter, and bring back bread and lunchmeat and fresh fruit for our hotel friends?” He cheerfully accepted the challenge and struck out. Hours later, he walked back in. Receipt in hand, and food in the cooler, he thanked me for letting him go. I did not see him again in the next two weeks. I honestly don’t even remember his name. But for that moment, we were on a mission together.
At ECL we say we are “journeying together in God’s ongoing rescue of the oppressed.” I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen those words be more true than in the days following Harvey. We knew what oppression looked and felt like because we had experienced it firsthand. We felt the weight of the heavy load. And in the midst of it, we saw hope and redemption when we stood side by side and partnered together in this rescue mission. This was God’s beautiful story to tell, and I’m so glad that we were partners in the journey.
And there was evening and there was morning – the fifth day.