Save me, O God,
  for the waters have risen up to my neck.
I am sinking in deep mire,
  and there is no firm ground for my feet.
I have come into deep waters,
  and the torrent washes over me. …
Save me from the mire, do not let me sink;
  let me be rescued … out of the deep waters.
Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind;
  in your great compassion, turn to me. (Psalm 69:1-3, 16, 18)

Since the flooding started in south Louisiana on August 12, these words from Psalm 69 have been echoing in my mind and heart. They capture the feelings of fear, desperation, and helplessness that so many felt as rising waters damaged homes, businesses, and vehicles, even entire communities, rendering thousands of people homeless and countless others destitute.

According to sources, around 6.9 trillion gallons of rain fell in south Louisiana between August 8 and August 14, with over 31 inches of rain falling in a single day. Thirteen people died in the flooding. More than 20,000 people were rescued, a great blessing. Across the affected parishes, one estimate puts the number of homes damaged at 145,000 and their worth at $30.4 billion. The scope and magnitude of this disaster is difficult to comprehend. It will take years to recover.[1]

We have seen some of the worst that Mother Nature can unleash. And in response, we have seen some of the best that people filled with compassion for needy neighbors can do, assisting even complete strangers.

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Until this flood, I’d never heard of the Cajun Navy. As the waters continued rising and people’s lives were in danger, ordinary citizens hitched boats to their trucks and launched out on search and rescue missions for hours at a time, all day and all night. Risking their lives, they rescued hundreds — perhaps even thousands — of people and hundreds of pets. They are heroes.

The Cajun Army organized supplies and mobilized teams of the young and old to gut out houses.

The Cajun Rosies deserve recognition for their work behind the scenes cooking food, washing clothes, running errands, delivering supplies, and setting up childcare so parents could work on their flooded homes.

This outpouring of love, generosity, and hospitality has been very moving. I’m reminded of a photograph I recently came across that shows three men standing knee-deep in flood water. In the water between them stands a grill with meat cooking over the charcoal fire. The caption beneath the photo reads:

No diss to other states, but Louisiana folk are a different breed. We don’t stress over the situation, we make the situation better. So what if it floods and we have to stand in knee deep water, come on by and get yourself a plate of food. #WeGotYou!

In “Weathering the Storm: Virtuous Communities in Southern Louisiana” (Ethika Politika, Aug. 24), Caleb Bernacchio sums it up:

In Baton Rouge and Denham Springs, total strangers gave of their time and resources, sometimes putting their own lives at risk, to help those in need. And in similar communities around the world, on a daily basis communal bonds are evidenced by the way in which fellow community members give assistance to those in need in a manner that extends beyond economic calculations. This type of virtuous care is vital to the well-being of community members, yet it often goes unnoticed.

Indeed, it does. Many of us who live in south Louisiana were frustrated and upset at the dearth of news coverage as the waters continued rising, even as rescues delivered people from their homes, motorists were stranded on Interstate 12 for more than 24 hours, and caskets in cemeteries rose above ground. In national news coverage, the Olympic games and Donald Trump’s latest gaffes overshadowed the suffering and the heroism of ordinary people in the midst of crisis.

Fortunately, social media got the word out to an American and global audience that might not otherwise have known how bad the flooding was. I was particularly moved to receive a message from a priest in the Church of Ireland with whom I have corresponded over the years. In response to my postings on Twitter, he wrote to tell me that he had said Mass in Belfast Cathedral with special intentions for me, for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and for all affected by the flooding. What a powerful reminder that in the Church the bonds of affection and care extend around the world.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. (1 Cor. 12:26)

The flooding came directly on the heels of this summer’s violence in Baton Rouge, which involved Alton Sterling’s death by shooting during his arrest on July 5, protests around the city in response, and the ambush and murder of three law enforcement officers on July 17. Anxiety and fear were pervasive. Temptations to take sides between law enforcement and the African-American community were prevalent.

A few days after the flooding started, I met an elderly African American lady who had lost everything. And yet she was filled with faith and hope for the future. Knowing all the unrest we experienced this summer in Baton Rouge, she looked me in the eyes and said: “I think God wants to use this to bring us all together.”

She’s right. God does want to use this tragedy to bring us all together.

Just as flood waters don’t discriminate on the basis of income, wealth, race, gender, politics, or creed, our call is to care for others regardless of who they are. Just as God reached out to all persons through his Son Jesus, God wants us to reach out in love to everybody who’s hurting and needy.

The flock I serve at St. Luke’s and this entire region of south Louisiana have a long way to go. For many, life will never be the same again. So many have suffered greatly. So many have lost most or all of their worldly possessions, and others have also lost their sources of income. So many are left feeling shell-shocked and broken.

Please remember and pray for all of us. It is a source of great strength, comfort, and hope knowing that others around the country and the world care.

And pray that we may have the courage and boldness to claim as our own the vision of Isaiah 58 for exiles who return to the ruins of their homes. For we are now rebuilding and raising up the foundations for future generations. We are repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in. And just as God was with his people who had to rebuild in the past, God is with us today.

God will show us where to go. He will give us fullness of life in even the emptiest of places. And out of the darkness and destruction, God will bring the beauty and joy of new life for us all.

Footnotes

[1] See Holly Yan, “Louisiana’s mammoth flooding: By the numbers,” CNN, Aug. 22; and Andrea Gallo, “Interactive map: Find your address, see where parts of Baton Rouge flooded,” The Advocate, Aug. 23. See also the data in Wikipedia’s article “2016 Louisiana floods.”

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Bryan Owen is rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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