When the bleeding stops: Responding to hurricane Harvey from an empowerment perspective

Emotions during the devastating hurricane have run their course for so many of us who are deeply committed to helping others in need. Helplessness came early as we watched the daily newscast with images of downfalls of fifty inches of rain on America’s 4th largest city. Residents were caught between the unimaginable choice of fleeing their homes and possessions as the waters rose or bunkering down with the hope that the rains would move on and the waters would soon recede. Breaking news showed hundreds of residents huddled in flat bottom boats, floating on their own neighborhood streets and clutching the few precious keepsakes they could hold. Scenes of submerged vehicles, dramatic helicopter rescues, and children clinging to their parents disrupted the normalcy of the rest of us who were going to work, headed to the golf course, or mowing our yards.

What are we to do?

Guilt followed. The majority of us celebrated incredible acts of compassion, not only by helpers from our own State, but by those from all over the U.S. who temporarily left their jobs and families to head to Port Arthur, Richmond, Houston, Dickinson, Beaumont, and scores of smaller communities. Bringing clean water, food, blankets, tow-ropes, all-terrain vehicles, money, and more boats, we watched them head to the shelters and go door to door looking for others who had not yet been rescued. With so many good-hearted people, why were the rest of us still here? Shouldn’t we also be there? Is giving $10 to the rescue hotline or dropping off clothing or a case of water at my own Salvation Army or Red Cross the best choice?

What are we to do?

Even while evacuees are still finding FEMA approved shelters in Texas cities, some over a hundred miles away, there are those who have already returned to their water-logged homes to rip out wet sheetrock and carpet, move ruined furniture and appliances to their curbs, and begun the clean-up process. Volunteers are helping comfort families who are overwhelmed with the personal loss and unimaginable costs and challenges to rebuild. We are all conscious that the recovery will takes months, even years, to find some semblance of order and normalcy.

What are we to do?

In Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts, one of the best-known Christian books about the helping process, the authors suggest that “when the bleeding stops” rehabilitation begins. In this phase, healthy responses require a dynamic relational teamwork for the helpers with Harvey victims. They warn, “one of the biggest mistakes that North American churches make-by far-is in applying relief in situations in which rehabilitation or development

Attack Poverty’s Friends of North Richmond serve with their neighbors in Richmond, TX.

is the appropriate intervention” (p. 105). This is often a difficult role for helpers, not only to work with the victims, but to understand at what point does the helping process take the dignity away from the people with the problem. It can only be understood in a relational way.

The Texas Christian Community Development Network is a statewide association of compassionate Christians whose goal is to empower the poor and marginalized, both through action, education and advocacy. We know the months ahead will be challenging for hurricane victims to rebuild their lives. Long after the cameras have gone, there will be the daily complexities of finding funds, contractors, and encouragers. It will be frustrating and difficult. It is here, that we know we have a role.

Providentially, our annual upcoming conference No Need Among You will be held in the midst of the disaster zone in just a few weeks. On October 25-27, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston chose, before and after the flood-waters encroached, to host us this year. Some 700 attendees are expected to come hear outstanding speakers and attend some of the 63 workshops. There will be ministry tours and times of worship along and network meetings. We hope you will register soon, if you have not already (txccdn.net/event/nnay.) Moreover, we want you to be a part of the helping process.

Perhaps one of the most important components of this year’s conference are the two Listening Sessions to discuss appropriate responses to for our network of folks to the disaster. The TxCCDN Board of Directors agreed that this will be an important step, allowing our network to work together to decide what is the role of TxCCDN in the days ahead.

Friend’s of North Richmond

For example, should we:

  • Create a detailed list of churches, non-profit ministries, and residential areas where the poor were most impacted by the hurricane to help connect Texas churches and groups with them?
  • Seek funds for a temporary staff member to help coordinate relief and development work?
  • Create and promote donations that will help rehabilitation efforts?
  • Provide tangible guidance to “helpers” seeking appropriate ways to help through Christian community development?

There are other questions and decisions yet to be made. We want your input and engagement as we go forward. While seven weeks may seem like a long time to victims in need, we know the community development will be a long process. Your response will make a difference.

Will you consider joining in?

The good news is that we can reject the helplessness and guilt and come together in the joy of serving our fellow Texans in the days ahead. We can proclaim unequivocally that God is with us all.

Jimmy Dorrell                       Rucker Preston
President                              Executive Director

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