From Katrina to Harvey

by COLONEL KENNETH ALLARD (US ARMY, RET.) August 30, 2017

Hurricane Harvey was powerful enough to knock down trees here in San Antonio, to devastate the Texas Gulf Coast and then, with unhurried grandeur, to produce the record-breaking floods now playing out in Houston. But there is no way for televised images to convey the storm's true devastation: the pathos of lives lost, the stark realization that the homes, businesses and livelihoods of an entire region will take years to recover. Our politically-correct, down-scoped electronic multiverse is similarly handicapped in telling you the rest of the story: the enduring realities, of hope, faith and strength-of-spirit that make Texans unique and the Lone Star culture even more so.

Of course, I'm only a rookie Texan, moving here twelve years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. (My eyewitness account of those events - survivor, relief volunteer and NBC News embed in New Orleans - was published by FSM and reprinted several times since.) Talking with TV reporters yesterday during a Houston water rescue, our lieutenant governor tried to explain what makes Texans different. A lot of people move here to live and work but then a strange thing happens: Texas moves into you as well.

We are a bundle of contradictions, an incomparably diverse place where Spanglish - "Vamos a comprar some dinner rolls, chica" - unites us, breakfast tacos nourish us and we warmly embrace imperatives that are paradoxes anywhere else: strong self-reliance and deep religious faith. Back during Hurricane Katrina, I was also a rookie Christian, my Jesus-take-the-wheel moment swiftly followed by practical discipleship: walking the second mile to share food and water with other survivors. In New Orleans, every imaginable religious organization was present as well: Not advocating their religious beliefs but simply reaching out and helping desperate human beings.

Something very similar is happening now in Texas, possibly backed up as other Americans embrace that same message. If Dallas and San Antonio were spared the worst of Harvey's manifold disasters, then how do we reach out to our fellow Texans who weren't so fortunate? There is a Biblical commandment to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves. But how can we love unconditionally when our pride, egotism and identity politics had reached critical mass just as Hurricane Harvey was gathering strength and momentum offshore? How well does self-obsession serve you when a hurricane builds, strikes, devastates and deluges - and then hangs around just to be sure you got the point? How's that self-sufficiency working when the rain must be measured with yardsticks and the levees are overflowing?

Having once stood with them, I was moved to tears when the Cajun Navy simply swept in unannounced with their rescue boats and "swamp dawgs," precisely the right tools and can-do attitudes when Houston neighborhoods are suddenly indistinguishable from its rivers. In normal times, those neighborhoods are a microcosm of world society, where every conceivable racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious group is well-represented. Isn't that precisely the kind of mission field where Christians are called to serve? And do you really think they will care what you say until you have shown them how much you care?

We are located in the heart of the Bible Belt, but every real church is now asking itself some basic questions: Do we really express unconditional love for all people or are we just another religious interest group? Is it really unconditional love if we are not giving it away, especially if it must be expressed as diapers, clean water and chain saws? Or was Jesus only kidding when commanding the real disciples to pick up their own crosses and follow Him?

Once our churches have settled the unconditional love question, the next big issues revolve around the urgent but unfamiliar terrain of logistics. How do we mobilize our congregations? Should we try to help one city or many? On our own or with other churches, even if we don't necessarily share all the same doctrinal beliefs?

So how well is that working? Last night Ray Jones of San Antonio's Community Bible Church sent me this note: "We are ‘all in' for this effort, collecting water bottles, sending 2 trucks to the coast and a large trailer to Houston. We are now becoming a place for other churches to join in as well, collecting over 16,000 gift cards and mobilizing our congregation to take care of folks in the shelters. We are working hand in hand with the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Samaritan's Purse."

I'm now too old to "march to the sound of the guns" as I once did: But my next mission is somewhere in that last paragraph. Y'awll keep praying for us, OK?

Colonel Ken Allard is a widely known commentator on foreign policy and security issues. For more than a decade, he was a featured military analyst on NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC. That experience provided the backdrop for his most recent book, Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War. 



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