What My Experience with Hurricane Harvey Taught Me about Missions

#PrayforTexas. It’s the latest hashtag making its way around social media as the world watches Houston drown under Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters. Normally, I would be posting it as one watching from a distance. Now, I’m included in it. It’s devastating to see the roads we take to church every Sunday made invisible under flood waters; people just down the road from us pleading for rescue; and we ourselves the recipients of numerous texts from friends and family checking on us. It’s surreal.

By the Lord’s grace, our small area of Houston was spared most of the disastrous flooding going on around us. On Monday, I sat on my couch under the warm glow of lamplight, listening to the familiar hum of the air conditioner and tapping of rain on the window. I finished up a round of editing for my work-from-home job. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was a normal day.

The TV is quiet now, but for two days, my husband and I watched the one news channel we could pick up on our antenna. Hurricane Harvey ravaged towns in the Texas Gulf Coast three days prior, and then parked over our city and dumped more water into it than Houston has ever seen. Nine trillion gallons and counting. Our city is under water.

I didn’t lose power, I have food and water, and at its worst, the water was knee deep in our apartment complex parking lot. Yet I couldn’t leave my house. I couldn’t make it to the areas that need the most help because I may become another person in need of rescue, rather than a help to the already inundated rescue teams. I was overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness because there was nothing I could physically do to help the thirty-thousand-plus people who have been displaced.

In a way, this has taught me a few lessons about missions.

We Are So Quick to Act before We Pray

In times like these, my first instinct is to act—to don my savior complex and forget the One who holds this city, and the world, in his hands. It takes being forced to stay inside my house to remind me that prayer should be my first instinct.

“Being forced to stay in my house made me put away my savior complex and remember to trust the One who holds this city, and the world, in his hands.”

I’ve been reading through the Psalms in my quiet time and have been going back to a small part of Psalm 56 during this time:

“This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
In the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.” (ESV)

In context, these verses aren’t necessarily talking about a natural disaster, but they still hold truth that so many in my city need to hear right now. Not only is the Lord sovereign over this natural disaster, his love for us is from everlasting to everlasting. God is for us.

And so the first thing we do is pray. We praise God for his love and his sovereignty. We beg for mercy, for the rains to stop, for people to be rescued, and for minimal loss of life. And we rest, knowing that God has not left us to fend for ourselves.

This applies to so much of our mission. In everything, as we make disciples and plant churches, we should start our efforts in prayer. It doesn’t mean we never act, but it does mean that we refocus our attention from ourselves—who actually control nothing—to the One who controls all outcomes.

Cooperation Matters

In spite of the devastation, one of the most amazing things about a natural disaster is its unifying effect. For a moment, all people work together and forget their political, religious, and economic differences. Believers from across denominations work shoulder to shoulder to provide rescue and relief. I’ve witnessed this in the past few days as churches and agencies have come together to provide what relief they can. My husband is involved with ministry leaders across denominational agencies and churches in our city to discuss how we will conduct relief efforts in the days to come.

There is nothing like disaster relief to force us to cooperate, but it’s a shame that it sometimes takes a natural disaster to remind us we need other believers. One person, one missionary, one church cannot carry out God’s mission alone. Thankfully, we don’t have to. It sounds cliché, but we can do so much more together than we can do apart.

“For a moment, all people work together and forget their political, religious, and economic differences.”

Even more importantly, we display the gospel best when we are unified. People notice when believers bark at each other on social media or refuse to work together even though their churches sit within a mile of each other. But the gospel unites. Our salvation means we have more in common with the believer in an African village than with our unbelieving neighbors down the street. And this should affect how we work together with other believers, whether we are church planters in Southeast Asia or a pastor of a small, rural church in Virginia.

Our Response Will Have Global Effects

Houston is the most diverse city in America. If you add up university students, immigrants, and refugees, you’ll see there are thousands of people here who have come from all over the world. In fact, the Minister for External Affairs in India tweeted about the flood because two hundred Indian students were trapped in their apartments at the University of Houston. Many refugees—who have been displaced from one home already—may find themselves displaced from another. Others are scared to seek help for fear of deportation.

These are people that come from hard-to-reach places. Although all people, Americans and immigrants alike, will need both the gospel and physical help in the coming days, there is a particular opportunity among the international population here.

Refugees already face challenges with housing, finances, language, medical care, and transportation. Many do not have family close by or even good friends. To face a disaster like this must only increase the anxiety, loneliness, and fear they may feel after moving to this strange country. We have an enormous opportunity to give them the hope that only Christ can provide.

Nine trillion gallons. There is no telling how long that much water will take to drain and how many months it will take to recover. But we do not despair. Hurricane Harvey reminds us that our hope rests not in earthly possessions or places, but in Christ alone. Natural disaster or not, may we continue to seek opportunities to share this hope with others.

Meredith Cook is a content editor for the International Mission Board. She has an MDiv in missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives with her husband in Houston, Texas. Find her on Twitter @MeredithCook716.

To support relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey victims, visit Southern Baptist Disaster Relief here.