By Esther Carey, who volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse to help flood victims in Austin a few months after working as in intern in our Communications department
In the wee morning hours of October 31, Onion Creek crested at a record high of 41 feet, sending a flash flood surging into the surrounding area. The water affected more than 1,100 houses, pouring around four feet into many of them.
The Samaritan’s Purse team got to the area soon afterward, and I arrived for my first deployment just a week after the flood. I had never been in an area affected by a natural disaster, but I wanted to help somehow.
When Samaritan’s Purse sent out an email requesting volunteers to help flooded-out residents of the neighborhood in the Austin, Texas, area, I knew right away I wanted to go. Ever since this summer when I had the opportunity to attend two dedications for the organization’s rebuild programs, I’ve had the itch to take part in volunteering with this community of people who so freely give of their time and energy.
Although it was only for two and a half work days, my experience in Austin surpassed my expectations. After coming back to my “normal” life, I can’t help but think that doing the mud-out work for a few of my fellow Texans provided some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done in my life.
We basically did demolition work and whatever needed to be done to clean up a flooded house so it can be repaired. Helping pull out sheet rock and shoveling mud is such a seemingly small thing in the face of what these people are dealing with, and yet, such a concrete way to show Christ’s love. It means the world to the homeowners.
The small details that I saw struck me most: the fences pushed nearly flat to the ground by the force of the water; the stuffed dog which had probably been a child’s precious toy, now lost and filthy; the miniature Nativity scene carefully arranged on the grass near a pile of belongings discarded for the trash; water sloshing in the taillight of a ruined car being hauled away by a tow truck; and the plastic pumpkin trick-or-treat bucket a child never got to use.
But at the same time, somewhat less tangible factors impacted me too.
I couldn’t believe the astounding number of groups and people who came to pitch in however they could—folks on Gator carts driving by offering water or food, tents set up along the main road where people could pick up donated clothes, the city work crews who came by again and again to clear away debris piles. Even in the face of tragedy, God is at work redeeming it. Why does it so often take a disaster for us to remember to help our neighbors who surround us every day?
On my first day of work, I eagerly donned the characteristic orange T-shirt of a Samaritan’s Purse volunteer, and I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I wore Jesus’ name emblazoned on it. It made me stop and consider how everything I did in that garb should hopefully create a reflection of Christ’s love and service. This is a calling which applies to every day of a Christian’s life, but the realization of physically wearing His name really drove it home.
Little things can make a big difference. After two days of work on a house, the leader of the team I joined presented the homeowners with Samaritan’s Purse’s traditional gift of a Bible. The gentleman and lady receiving it both broke down in tears at the simple gesture that the volunteers had each taken a moment to sign the flyleaf. Their emotions at such a small thing served as a poignant reminder of how hard the past week and a half had been for them.
Each evening when the Samaritan’s Purse overnight volunteers and the BGEA Rapid Response Team chaplains gathered back at the base church, I listened as they shared stories of the people they had met. Our work did not only provide physical assistance. It also opened doors for spiritual conversations. It gave opportunities for divine appointments, so called “coincidences,” which, as I recently heard it expressed, are simply those times when God chooses to remain anonymous. And some peoples’ lives are being eternally changed as a result.
So now I ask those of you who are reading – what will you do about it? There are still hundreds of families in the Onion Creek area of Austin who are facing challenging obstacles. A thousand homes may not seem like that many—and in the face of tragedies such as the typhoon in the Philippines, it does seem small. But there is also an open door in Austin. They are your neighbors and mine, though separated by geographical distance, who feel knocked down by what happened to their houses.
Will you step up and answer the call to come alongside of them and help them back up to their feet? It doesn’t really take much, and you never know what kind of long-term impact you could have on someone’s life.
Please continue to pray for the victims of Austin, and consider volunteering for the end of response there or in Illinois, where Samaritan’s Purse is helping victims of tornadoes that destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes.