When catastrophe strikes, instinctively we reach out to those we love whom we fear may be in harm’s way. I reached out to our good friends in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas: Bishop Andy Doyle, and two former Church House staff members, Jason Evans and Simon Bautista, who now serve that great diocese. They and their families are safe, and their minds solidly fixed on how they might be of service to their neighbors.
To be sure, many of our brother and sister Episcopalians–lay and clergy–are among those who have been evacuated and lost everything. Many church buildings have been damaged. Thus, as for other other service providers in the affected areas, the Episcopal Church is called to offer help while also needing help. In Bishop Doyle’s words:
We pledge to be conduits through whom God brings healing and renewal to others. We also commit to allowing other human beings to be vessels through whom God brings healing and renewal to us, for receiving is always its own kind of courage.
“Keep the prayers coming,” he texted me. “We need them.”
Jason Evans, now serving as missioner for the Diocese of Texas, was among the first volunteers at the Houston Convention Center. Amidst thousands waiting in lines for a cot, change of clothes, and some food, he met an elderly woman who had waited with her husband and sister to be rescued from their rooftop. When no help came, they walked for a mile in water up to their chins until a dump truck driver saw and picked them up.
Jason also met a young man who worked in a residential home for low-income, severely disabled adults. He had stayed with the residents until help arrived. “They hadn’t eaten for days,” Jason said. He helped the young man care for the residents–changing catheters and diapers, getting them water and food. “The guy was amazing,” Jason said. “He’s probably paid minimum wage, but he wouldn’t leave until all in his care were safe.”
Simon Bautista now serves as the Latino and outreach missioner at Christ Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Houston. This week, he’s been working to ensure that the cathedral’s Latino families are connected, well cared for, and able to serve their neighbors. He described the surreal experience of watching highways turn into mighty rivers, and of people lining up for miles, it seemed, either seeking or wanting to offer help. “Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I’ve seen a lot of hurricanes,” Simon said, “Never in my life have I witnessed such devastation.”
Both Simon and Jason’s families are providing lodging and gathering space in their homes. Both remain grateful for our love and prayers. Both acknowledged the magnitude of the work before them. “The recovery effort will take years,” Jason predicted. “Right now, the eyes of the world are upon us,” Simon said. “Please don’t turn away when the world’s attention moves elsewhere.”
Of course the physical and emotional toll is high. “We walked for two days in search of milk for a three-year old living with us; I worry about running out of food,” Simon told me. Jason said, “When I saw the sun shining for the first time since last Thursday, I broke down and wept.” Bishop Doyle wrote, “I was and continue to be a bit in shock with all that is going on.”
Yet here is a calm, prayerful resolve emanating from the Diocese of Texas. Its people are organizing for a sustained ministry of presence, compassion, and direct aid. Again, from Bishop Doyle:
We are engaging the mission of Harvey that has found us. And we are so fortunate to have friends from across the communion who have reached out as a sign of hope, who are offering prayers, who are reminding us that the storm shall not have the last word. Death and destruction never has the last word and we are ready to give a testimony to the hope that is in us. God is good and we are buoyed, literally, by the love of friends and coworkers here and around the world – for that is the love of Christ which is greatly evidenced in such dire times.
And always the good neighbor himself, Bishop Doyle reminded us not to forget those throughout Texas and Louisiana. “As the storm has left us, it now batters our brothers and sisters to the east.”
In whatever ways we can, Jesus invites us to be good neighbors, now and in the future.