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By Dr. Joshua Mitchell
I have been working in the city of Houston since 2012 and in my five years of living in the state of Texas I never experienced a “real” hurricane making landfall—until Harvey. What our city experienced was something much more than any of us could have imagined, as so many homes, vehicles, businesses, churches, and lives were lost.
For a bustling city of over 7 million people, Harvey seemed to freeze time as access to every major highway and feeder road was restricted by flood waters. Many families spent days in their homes unable to venture beyond their subdivisions for groceries, medication, or even to help other friends and loved ones in need.
Growing up on the East Coast, I was accustomed to the challenges of snowstorms and blizzards, but I had never experienced a natural disaster that seemed to devastate so many people so quickly. Hurricane Harvey, however, did more than simply usher in a season of destruction and devastation for the city.
Disaster seemingly brings the best and worse out of people, and while I saw a few reports of people taking advantage of the misfortune of others, the sense of love and camaraderie that I witnessed among our people in the aftermath of Harvey was overwhelming. In a season of boiling racial tension, highlighted by the acts of terrorism in Charlottesville, it was refreshing to be in Southeast Texas and watch people of all races, ages and economic backgrounds work together for the benefit of the community.
For a workaholic like myself, Harvey literally slowed me down long enough to reflect on life, God, and the needs of my community.
As our city weathered the storm, I was reminded of the story of Job, a man of God who survived a storm both in his personal life and physically (Job 38:1). As I revisited the text, I was amazed at some of the parallels I saw between Job’s storm experience and our own modern-day experience here in Houston. And, as the storm continued I gleaned lessons that I would like to share with the readers of Urban Faith.
“His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ 10 He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:9-10)
Storms never just affect us.
In Job’s case, everything he lost as a result of this “test”—his livestock, servants, and children—Job’s wife lost as well. In this text, she is grieving and her statements to Job suggest that she has a knowledge and maybe even a relationship with God. However, in the face of the loss and hurt, she is feeling her words communicate a distrust or a frustration for this God that Job seemed to cling so closely to.
As I followed social media during Hurricane Harvey, one of my major frustrations surrounded the ways in which people, especially those who were not in Houston during the storm, began to call out churches and pastors in the city for not responding to the crisis in a way that they deemed appropriate. The constant refrain seemed to be, “How could these churches and pastors who live off the offerings and donations of the people of the city be doing NOTHING to help them?”
As a staff clergy member of a larger primarily African American congregation in Houston, it was disheartening reading these posts and hearing the chatter of the skeptics in the crowd. This was especially difficult while being aware of knowing the planning, research, partnerships, and projects our own staff was working on behind the scenes to implement when it was safe to travel back to our building and re-open it.
Storms, disaster, and loss have a way of bringing out the skeptics- those looking for a reason to affirm their distrust for God and the institutions that serve in God’s name. The key is knowing the heart of God (and those who serve God) and remembering that temporary silence is not always an indication of apathy. Instead, it may be conduit to strategizing how to be most effective in the face of the storm.
Check back soon for Part 2 and more lessons on what #HarveyTaughtMe from Dr. Mitchell.