By Rev. Joseph Yoo
Where was the power and presence of God?
I woefully underestimated the power of Hurricane Harvey until it started to rain the first night. Then it kept raining. It just wouldn’t stop raining.
However, our power never went out. Our house never flooded. Sure, we had some water creep in from the floor. But we were able to take out the affected carpet before there was too much damage. We were so fortunate.
I started obsessively checking social media and watching the local news. I just couldn’t comprehend water that would rise to someone’s roof. Our city was drowning and all I could do was watch.
I felt so helpless. I also felt guilty.
Guilty for stressing out over the wet patches of carpet in our home; for being fortunate while many of my friends, church members, and many more Houstonians were being flooded.
It was beyond my control whether or not our home flooded. I couldn’t get out and help because the roads leading away from our house and out of our city were flooded. All I could do was refresh my Twitter and Facebook feeds and text/call friends checking on their status.
The rain eventually subsided (my city received 57 inches). The water levels in my neighborhood started to go down. There were rays of sunlight breaking through the dark clouds. Harvey was gone but it sure as hell left its mark.
Our church started organizing a group of volunteers to help those whose houses flooded. The devastation of these homes, and the heartbreak of the families throwing pieces of their lives out into the driveway was too much to handle.
|Graffiti questioning God is painted on a grain elevator at Dakota Midland Grain in Minot, N.D. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.|
How could God allow this?” someone uttered.
After a natural disaster or a tragedy… well, paraphrasing the common Game of Thrones meme, “Brace yourself. Bad theology is coming...”
I am not here to discount what helps someone through. If someone — whose life has been devastated by Harvey — came to me and said, “There’s a reason that God allowed this,” or “This happened for a reason,” I would admire their strength and faith.
But to that person who asked the question, my response was simple: “God didn’t.”
I don’t think God is up there blowing into the clouds to make it swirl and using his fingers to swirl up a hurricane. And I sure as hell don’t think God sent Harvey as a response to anything we have done.
Hurricanes are created by… weather stuff… winds and weather systems and things… Google it… (Science was never a strength of mine).
A natural disaster is simply a natural disaster.
“Well, if God didn’t allow it, where was God in the midst of this devastation?” was their follow-up.
Here is where I saw God in the midst of Harvey and its aftermath:
- I saw God in people using their personal boats for hours rescuing and saving people;
- I saw God in the heroic act of Sgt. Steve Perez, who went out looking to help people at night — a decision that cost him his life;
- I saw God in the generosity of Mattress Mack who opened up his stores so that people and rescuers had a place to lay their heads for rest;
- I saw God as people of Houston came together putting humanity and life over labels and division;
- I saw God in the generosity of Killen’s BBQ who throughout the week I’m writing this, gave free meals. (If you’re ever in Houston, you need to stop by Killen’s BBQ.)
- I saw God in how people came together to help friends, family, neighbors, and strangers with the rebuilding project.
Many of you might say that’s just people doing good; being decent. But as a person of faith, I’m convinced this is people leaning into God’s goodness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” The deep morality of our universe bends toward good because God is good.
That’s why when we witness an extraordinary act of generosity and kindness, it resonates deep within our being.
That’s why there’s a deep sense of anger that arises in our hearts and souls when we witness injustice, like a child being bullied. We witness things like this and our souls say, “That ain’t right…” That’s why when we witness people suffering through disasters like Harvey, there’s something deep within us that says, “I have to do something.”
God’s presence was everywhere during Harvey; in the people who were saving lives; helping neighbors, friends, families, and strangers; in the people who were doing good in the midst of chaos.
Though the storm has passed, the hard work for the rebuilding and recovery process will be long and arduous. We are going to need your help, support, donations, and prayers for years to come.
If you want to donate to the Harvey relief, there are many organizations you can connect with.
On a national level, UMCOR is a great organization.
On a local level, I don’t know how you feel about JJ Watt, but he has done many great things for the city of Houston and Harvey is no exception. His foundation (at the time of writing) has already raised 18 million dollars.
If you are looking for a religious organization, the Texas Annual Conference is a place where you can donate.
Or find a local church to support as they continue to work on helping those affected by Harvey. A few local churches:
- St. Paul UMC
- Chapelwood UMC
- St. Luke’s UMC
- St. John’s UMC
- And finally, the church that I serve. FUMC of Pearland
|Debris from flood-damaged homes lines a street in Denham Springs, La., following the floods of 2016. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS|
We will also need lots of human power and resources in the weeks and months to come. If you feel led to come to any part of the Greater Houston area, first get in contact with a local church or an organization to find out 1) if they need/want you to come and 2) where they need you to go. Sometimes, just getting in a car with a bunch of well-intentioned folks creates more chaos in trying to provide shelter and relief. And chances are, your help might be needed more in the months to come.
It is going to be a struggle to find our new normal.
But, we will rise above the water and the debris.
We will overcome.
We will find joy and life, once more.
We will be strong and courageous as we rebuild. And we will be strong and courageous for those who are having a difficult time doing so.
We will move forward knowing that God is with us and for us. We will continue to do all the good that we can letting people know that everyone matters to God even if God doesn’t matter to them.
Rev. Joseph Yoo is a Californian Texan that currently serves as one of the pastors at First United Methodist Church in Pearland, Texas. Find more of his reflections about life, ministry, and "Game of Thrones" at JosephYoo.com.