I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Houston Professional Firefighter’s Association, but now I do.
The President of the Association called the main St. Luke’s number on Sunday morning and, because services were cancelled, had to leave a message. He was inside Station 51, which is next door to the Gethsemane Campus and one of the busiest stations in Houston on a normal day, but of course Sunday, August 27 was not a normal day. He said there were 20-25 people who had been evacuated from their Sharpstown and Gulfton homes and apartments by the fire department, but the roads were so flooded that not even the fire engines could make the drive to emergency shelters like the George R. Brown. There was no shelter available for these people, except possibly the mid-century Methodist church next door, its stained glass windows still shining wet and defiant against the storm. Where would these people go? Would the church be the church when Houston desperately needed us to be the church?
Within the past three years, Gethsemane has had to answer a new call from the Spirit to a new area of ministry: refugees, mostly from central and eastern Africa. These are political refugees fleeing war from their home countries; they are our neighbors, our church members, our family. But these folks, rescued from their homes with only their children and clothes, crammed into fire engines, with floodwaters rising by the minute, had suddenly become a different form of refugee: they were weather refugees, a congregation of water rescues, and they needed safe sanctuary.
I called the fireman back and told him the church would be open for any and all. I couldn’t leave my home in Westbury even I wanted to, and I did want to. But I was able to provide him with the security codes to our automated entry points over the phone, and my heart rejoiced when I heard him enter the building. At least we were doing something, not much, but something. But Jesus can take something and make a miracle. He did it with bread, fish, and wine, and he could do it with Harvey, too.
Throughout the day, I talked to the fire department and a friendly police sergeant who had taken command of the shelter. People could make beds out of the pews. They were welcome to our water fountains and bathrooms. They could use our Internet. Honestly, I don’t know, and I may never know, how many people were housed at Gethsemane on Sunday, August 27. But what I do know is that God called the church into ministry through our local heroes, and the church did not run from the challenge.
Looking ahead (I’m writing on Monday, August 28. The rain hasn’t let up all day.), Gethsemane will become a makeshift soup kitchen for anyone who needs a warm meal and a safe place to be. We’ll help clean up homes and apartments as needed. We’ll be in constant prayer. We will not back down. We will rise to the challenge. We will show Harvey that Houston – and Jesus – are stronger.