A HUMAN CHAIN OF HOPE
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:43-48, NRSV)
The massive damage inflicted on Texas and Louisiana by Hurricane Harvey boggles the mind. It will go down as one of the costliest storms in U.S. history. While as of Friday only 39 deaths have been confirmed, that number will sadly go up. ABC news reported Hurricane Harvey by the numbers: estimates of over 20 trillion gallons of rain fell, almost 52 inches of rain fell on some parts of Houston in five days, a new rainfall record in the continental U.S., over 180,000 homes damaged or destroyed, 42,400 people in shelters, 200,000 customers without power, 24,000 National Guard troops deployed to assist in relief effort, over 1,900,000 meals distributed by FEMA in Texas as of Friday (http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-harvey-wreaks-historic-devastation-numbers/story?id=49529063).
Most of those numbers are heart breaking, while the last two are heartening—24,000 National Guard and over 1,000,000 meals served. There is tragedy in the wake of every hurricane that inflicts death and damage, but there is also heroism and resilience.
An NPR piece told the story of what is being called the Texas Navy where private citizens are showing up in Houston with pickup trucks towing fishing boats. These boats are traversing rivers that used to be streets in order to rescue people trapped in homes and cars. Texans with boats began showing up in earnest after Harris County judge, Ed Emmett, put out a call last Sunday that the fire department, police department, and Coast Guard, despite all of their resources, were unable to rescue all of the stranded people in a timely manner. They needed help evacuating the thousands of people still waiting throughout the massive flood zone. So people with boats drove south from Dallas, north from Laredo, and east from San Antonio to help.
One person, “Ray Ortega, an oilfield tool salesman, drove up from his home in Victoria pulling a 23-foot fishing boat that he usually uses in the Gulf. Ortega was looking for a place to launch his boat and rescue more people. [He said] ‘I’ve been able to rescue 10 to 15 people at a time. Yesterday was a very good day. We rescued 53 people into the night’” (http://www.npr.org/ 2017/08/29/546834292/flood-of-texas-navy-private-citizens-help-in-houston-rescue-efforts).
Two of my favorite rescue stories involve people forming human chains to help those in crisis. The first time I heard of something like this was earlier in the summer when the Washington Post reported a story about a family in Panama City, Florida, who were pulled out to sea by a riptide. According to the story, “Six members of a single family — four adults and two young boys — and four other swimmers had been swept away by powerful and deceptive rip currents churning below the water’s surface…There was no lifeguard on duty, and law enforcement on the scene had opted to wait for a rescue boat. People on the beach had no rescue equipment, only boogie boards, surf boards and their arms and legs.” While some headed out on surfboards and boogie boards to attempt rescues, beachgoers formed a human chain, arms interlocked, out into the water to save the stranded. In the end all 10 people were saved (https://www.washingtonpost.com/ news/morning-mix/wp/2017/07/11/a-riptide-swept-away-a-florida-family-then-beachgoers-formed-a-human chain/?utm_term= .8dc7a996a3e3).
The human chain rescue stories from Houston were amazing as well. The first happened when an elderly man was seen stuck inside his SUV that was sinking into the flood waters. With no rope, random people formed a human chain, hand in hand, one person and then another, until they reached the man, getting him out of his truck in the nick of time (http://www.bbc.com/news/ world-us-canada-41101712).
In another story from Houston, a woman went into labor during the hurricane. Someone called the fire department that showed up with a huge dump truck. Bystanders formed a human chain to help the woman and her husband, Annie and Greg Smith, get through the water to the bed of the dump truck. Thankfully, the baby was born, safe and sound, in a dry hospital room. “‘We had two miscarriages before this,’ Greg said. ‘And we’ve always wanted a…baby.’ The couple says they are undyingly grateful for everyone who stepped in to help them during their time of need” (https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/08/29/ neighbors-form-human-chain-to-rescue-woman-in-labor-during-hurricane-harvey/23189666/.) They named their new daughter Adrielle, which in Hebrew means, “She belongs to God.”
I am always inspired by stories like these. One moment people are milling around and in a flash they work as one to accomplish together what they could not have accomplished alone—most of the time they are a cross section of America coming together, risking their own lives, for people they have never even met. There they are arm in arm, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, women and men, young and old giving their all for someone else. Looking at them we can’t tell who is a Democrat and who is a Republican, who is gay and who is straight, who is rich and who is poor, who has a Ph.D. and who is a high school dropout, who is Christian and who is Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or Jewish or atheist or none of the above.
One of the takeaways here is that when a hurricane strikes or a tornado hits, all of our divisions go out the window for the moment as we pull together to help those in crisis. It is a strength of our society that we are a diverse people with divergent views who nevertheless see the humanity in someone on the other side of the barricade. Being on different sides is not the problem, it’s when the crazies decide to hurt someone that all bets are off.
Thankfully there are those who can rise above the fray to see what unites us as human beings. I heard a story on NPR about an African American reporter, Al Letson, who put himself at risk to protect a right wing protestor from a liberal fringe group who call themselves antifa, short for anti-fascists. According to the story, [Last] Sunday a planned rally of right-wing activists in Berkeley, Calif., mostly fizzled out, but thousands of peaceful left-wing protesters turned out, singing songs and chanting. About 150 members of an anti-fascist group — also known as antifa — also were there, marching in formation with covered faces. Then a couple of people from the right-wing did show up. That's when Al Letson, host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal…saw one right-wing man fall to the ground, and some left-wing antifa protesters beating him. [Violence can never be tolerated from any side.]
Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him, because, he says, he didn't want anyone to get hurt…"When I glanced to my left I saw…a mass of people coming off the lawn towards this guy…I thought they were going to kill him. And I didn't want anybody to die," Letson says. "I just put my body down on top of his, in the hopes that they would not hit me."...What came to me was that he was a human being, and I didn't want to see anybody die…I've been thinking a lot about the events in Charlottesville, and I remember seeing the pictures of a young man being brutally beaten by these guys with poles, and when I saw that I thought, "why didn't anybody step in?" And you know, in retrospect, it doesn't matter if he doesn't see my humanity, what matters to me is that I see his (http://www.npr.org/2017/08/28/546831794/i-saw-his-humanity-reveal-host-on-protecting-right-wing-protester).
What Al Letson did may seem like an isolated act of heroism, but if you think about it, this selfless action is connected to everyone who ever showed Letson kindness. All of the good deeds in the world stretching back to time immemorial are all connected in a human chain of hope and love. For followers of Christ, this human chain connects us to Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who would harm us. It’s a tall order to be sure, but at least we are in it together, the human chain of hope that is The Congregational Church of Manhasset (UCC). AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
September 3, 2017
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
O God our help in ages past our hope for years to come, we pray this day for all who are suffering as a result of Hurricane Harvey. May the relief efforts be swift and effective. May people find the resources they need to sustain them in this time of crisis. Comfort those who have lost loved ones and bring them peace. Assist all who have lost property and encourage them not to give up.
Through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.