By Joe McKeever
Sunday, preaching in Biloxi, Mississippi, I asked the congregation, “How many of you were living here in 1969 when Hurricane Camille changed this coastline forever?” A lot of hands went up.
Then, “How many of you lived here in 2005 when Katrina destroyed so much of the area?” Many more hands.
I said, “So when you think of neighbors dealing with hurricanes, such as Harvey and Irma, you know. You’ve been there. You can pray for them with a genuine compassion and a deeper understanding.”
Before they left the building, those people made generous contributions to their neighbors impacted by the hurricanes.
Each hurricane is different. Each takes its own path and blows at its own speed. And each one is similar. They destroy and uproot and flood. Those who experience even one such storm forever identifies with the victims and veterans of all those which follow.
With that in mind, it might be in order for those of us with scars from past hurricanes (for my family, it was Betsy in 1965 and Katrina 40 years later) to offer a word or two of encouragement to friends caught in the path of the latest of these monster storms.
Ten words, actually…
(We will try not to insult you with platitudes such as “work hard” or “try not to cry.” You will work hard and you will cry, and God bless you as you do.)
One. FAITH. Keep your faith in the Lord of the Heavens and the earth, the One who created it all and for whom none of this was surprising. Trust that He knows what He is about and that the day will come when you look back and see His hand in all that has happened and is taking place in your life and in those you love. Keep your eyes on Him.
Two. HOPE. After Katrina, when we were able to get back into New Orleans, someone had posted Jeremiah 29:11 at intersections across the city: “God says, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” That was a timely word to people who had lose their neighborhoods and livelihood and were wondering what the future held. Later, when the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary began rebuilding, President Chuck Kelley chose the same Jeremiah 29:11 as the theme for its recovery. The promise was given to Israel in Babylon, of course, but is just as true for God’s people going through their storms today as then.
Three. LOVE. Something good is about to happen for all in the hurricane zones: God’s people will soon be arriving by the thousands, bringing help for recovery of homes and lives, bringing with them chain saws and mud-out crews and rebuilding teams, youth choirs and generous offerings from the churches. Your neighbors who have been skeptical about God and faith are about to see Him take on flesh and blood in the lives of dedicated disaster relief workers and fresh-faced young people.
Four. CHANGE. It’s true your area has changed, and probably changed forever. But, as with the case of New Orleans, that’s not all bad! (smiley-face here) Some neighborhoods needed revitalizing, some crime groups needed breaking up, and some churches needed to see their fields afresh and anew. It’s important not to try to remake your church into what it was before; God is doing a new thing in your midst. Trust Him that He knows what He is about. Keep reminding yourself and your friends of Matthew 16:18–“It’s His church and He will build it.”
Five. GRATITUDE. “In everything give thanks,” Scripture commands (I Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is the ultimate grace, we’re told. No doubt you can find things to be grateful for even in the midst of the suffering about you: that the devastation wasn’t worse, that more lives weren’t lost, that even while looters were at work and price-gougers were doing what they do, people all around you were showing love and compassion. God is on the scene and He is faithful.
Six. PATIENCE. The rebuilding of your city and your lives will not happen as quickly as they were destroyed. The wheels of government agencies often turn slowly and people are frightened by new conditions, new regulations, and new everything. In our case (New Orleans), we lost hundreds of thousands of our neighbors who never moved back but gained almost an equal number, many of them fresh-faced young adults wanting to get in on the rebuilding of the city, but a large number from Hispanic countries who helped in the reconstruction. All of these things required adjustments and patience.
Seven. COMPASSION. While you may have had it bad, you can find others who had it worse. Show mercy and kindness toward them. Offer whatever assistance you can. One of our associational leaders, Freddie Arnold, lost his house to the floodwaters, but spent many weeks after the hurricane with chain-saw crews helping neighbors. When asked where he was staying, Freddie joked, “I’m sleeping around.” In time, Louisiana Baptists named their annual award for “disaster relief worker of the year” in Freddie Arnold’s honor. Then, fittingly, he was its first recipient.
Eight. EXPECTATIONS. Perhaps only Christians will appreciate this, but it’s important to put your expectations on the Lord and not on people. If we expect the government to take care of all our needs, or for the wonderful compassionate agencies–whether the SBC DR group, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Red Cross, or any of a hundred others–to do everything we require, we will probably be disappointed. The familiar advice of Philippians 4:6 is always in order: Be anxious for nothing; Pray about everything; Thank God for anything.
Nine. LESSONS. You will be learning a great deal about yourself, about human nature, as well as about the Lord God in the next weeks and months. The lessons will come in all shapes and varieties. “It is good that I was afflicted,” said the Psalmist, “that I might learn to fear Thy name” (Psalm 119:71).
I suggest you start a journal and keep good notes, of what you went through, and everything you see God doing. Future generations will read it and will benefit from it. (Our Katrina journal is on our website www.joemckeever.com. Scroll down to the archives, then click on September 2005 and scroll to September 1. The “journal” covers the rebuilding of New Orleans for the next two years).
Ten. LIFE. “Stress is not par for the course,” said the grandmother to her teenage offspring. “It is the course.” This hurricane may have interrupted your life (or presumably ended it!) the way you were living it, but it’s just taken a hard right turn. Nothing is going to be the same. Embrace the change as you begin each new day.
As they said in Israel in days of old, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:17).
Joe McKeever is a former director of missions for New Orleans Baptist Association. This editorial originally ran in McKeever’s daily blog.