On the Sunday after Hurricane Harvey hit our city, all the church services at St. Luke’s were cancelled. The following Sunday our schedule was back to normal. But everything wasn’t really normal.
There was a tangible sense of joy to be together, as a church family, back in God’s house. My participation in the three traditional services included receiving the collection plates from the ushers, usually filled with paper — paper bills and paper checks. However, in one service, in one plate, there was an anomaly. Sitting atop the plate was a zipped-up plastic sandwich bag. It was full of copper pennies, a sprinkling of nickels, and a couple of dimes. The weight of the plate was evident to me and to the usher from whose hands I took it.
I had a lump in my throat. Calls from our church to aid in flood relief had gone out regularly over the past days. I could just see a child, collecting these coins, and giving them to help the victims of Harvey.
It had been a full week for me. It had been a full week for everyone on the staff. Much of our days had been spent on the phone, calling people to see if and how they had been affected by the relentless rain and rising waters.
We listened as people told us how lucky they felt that the water had come up in the yard but hadn’t gotten in the house. But there were so many in our church, from all over the city, whose homes had one inch, two inches, three inches, a foot, two feet, four or five feet of water in the home. Many had to be evacuated by boat or helicopter. Almost all were in disbelief at the enormity of the damage.
What struck me the most in these calls was that I heard repeatedly, “We’ve been flooded, but we are so lucky compared to so many others in our city.” Time after time persons were thanking God for not having lost their lives or the lives of loved ones. It was people who mattered the most. In one of my calls I learned that a member of our congregation, who suffers from some dementia and who lives alone, had disappeared. A widower, he was last seen boarding a dump truck and being evacuated from his flooding home. Frantic calls to neighbors and friends produced nothing. By an extraordinary chance, a photographer had taken a picture of him and others as they were being rescued. The photo was published in a New York City paper, where some friend of the family recognized him, reported to the family and, within hours, he was located in a rescue shelter.
In another call, a member said this was the second time he had been flooded out. He knew the emotional beating that comes from losing precious photographs and mementos. He volunteered his name and personal cell phone number for us to give out to anyone who wanted to call him, day or night, for emotional support.
Still others, who had been flooded, asked if they could do anything to help others in need. Requests for prayer were frequent. On some calls prayers were given right then as part of this St. Luke’s ministry.
The church office was full of members who showed up and asked, “What can I do to help?” A number of them sat at desks for hours, phoning people whose zip codes were most likely affected by the flooding rains.
Our church members gave what they could, when they could, and they are committed to continuing to give relief and encouragement far into the future.
Mucking houses isn’t glamourous. Phone calls aren’t glitzy. Collecting flood relief items in the Blanton Building isn’t headline-making work. But, as the Sunday morning collection plate revealed, each person gave and is giving what he or she can. It may be a sandwich bag full of pennies, letting displaced people stay in our homes, loaning a car, preparing a meal, or making a simple phone call.
Now, about that bag of coins in the collection plate. When six year old Ava Wood heard the call for help on TV she wanted to go rescue people. She was sad that her family did not have a boat. When her mother told her that she could pray Ava dropped to her knees and asked God “to save all the people.” Then Ava told her mother it was her turn to pray. Mother and daughter got down on their knees and prayed together. On Sunday morning Ava came out of her room with the coins. She had completely emptied her piggy bank. When the offering plate came down her aisle she was excited and ready.
The faces of presidents and great Americans are on our nation’s coins — pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. The face of Jesus is in tHis (His) work.