Every time an image of the flooding comes across my newsfeed, or my TV screen, my heart breaks a little bit. The images of the interstates completely submerged…of homes deep in water…and of people awaiting rescue takes my breath away.
And like many of you, my mind turns immediately to friends who live and work along the gulf coast: Peggy, Jessica, Michael, David, Rozella, Beth, Karen and others. And there are those people I’ve gotten to know who work at the Hyatt in Houston, where the Extravaganza will be held from January 26-29, 2018: Elizabeth, Michelle and David. And I worry, and I pray. I’m certain that you are praying too.
Disasters like floods, tornados and hurricanes are always awful experiences. But when you attach names to them, names of colleagues, friends and loved ones, the anxiety just continues to go up.
I’ve received messages from people wondering about the status of Extravaganza 2018 in Houston. And I’ve seen posts on Facebook with people wondering how these floods will affect the ELCA Youth Gathering next summer. The answer is: “of course the floods will have an effect.” It’s too early to know or understand that effect yet.
We will remain in contact with the Hyatt. I’m confident that they will be working to restore their property quickly. As Houston begins its clean up after the storms, the E-Team will be talking about how the events in Houston might affect the program in January.
And while I cannot speak for the Gathering, I’m certain that they too are already thinking, praying and wondering about how these events will give shape to how our young people will walk alongside the residents of Houston next summer.
In the meantime, please continue to pray.
- Pray for the people.
- Pray for their homes.
- Pray for the congregations there.
- Pray for safety.
- Pray for patience.
- Pray for the physical and emotional security of our friends in Houston.
And give. And encourage our congregations to give. As congregational leaders, we are in positions of influence within our communities. Please influence your people to give. Giving to Hurricane Harvey Relief through Lutheran Disaster Response is a great way to give. 100% of funds donated go straight to relief efforts.
And I’d encourage you to follow along with what is happening. Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod has been great about posting updates on social media. I encourage you to follow his blog.
To be church together means that we hold each other in times of joy and in times of pain. This is one of those times when we are called to surround a city with prayer, compassion and love.
Let’s be church together.
Guest Blog: Rev. Paul Amlin, who serves as the Program Director for Youth Ministries in the churchwide offices of the ELCA, wanted to share this story of service and gratitude with the Network.
I had a recent experience that demonstrated the value of the Network, and I feel the need to share it in a public way because of what it says about this group of peers and belonging to something larger than ourselves. I’d also like to publicly thank a Network member who dropped everything to help me handle a crisis. Two weekends ago I was blessed to host the Youth Core Leadership Team in Chicago at the churchwide offices. This is a fantastic group. Seriously. But that’s not the story here.
The story began with a flight home, an inexperienced flyer, a snowstorm and Chris Okey who serves at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, MN. After a great weekend of learning, I sent the participants on their way to O’Hare with the other adult sponsors who were flying home. The young lady got on her flight and jetted off to Minneapolis only to find out that her flight to Fargo had been canceled and that there would be no other flights out until the following day and even then, not until late that evening. She called me with the kind of concern you might imagine and I was able to work with her, the airline and the phone line for stranded travelers needing hotel rooms and we found her a room.
Because she was pretty upset, I decided to post something on the Network Facebook page to see if anyone was close by who might help out in case it was necessary. In a matter of moments, Chris Okey responded to me via a private message AND I had another offer in the comments section of the post with a phone number from Ian McConnell.
Chris gave me his phone number and let me know that he could be at the airport in five minutes if needed. What a gift and what a relief! I called the young lady back and she asked if it would be okay for Chris to come and pick her up to take her to the hotel. Chris loaded the family up and went off to the airport, then texted me to let me know that all was well and that she had been safely delivered. The young lady called me after she got into her room, in tears, and thankful that someone would be as kind as Chris and help someone that he didn’t know (and so quickly!).
That would be a nice ending, right? The next morning I got the call I asked for from the young lady to let me know that she was alright and that she had a plan for the day and her return to the airport. I was surprised to find out that she had been invited to the Mall of America to shop and have lunch with Chris and his family. “Seriously?” I thought to myself, “this is way beyond the call of duty” and “wow!” I got a phone call as she boarded the plane and she couldn’t stop talking about how great Chris was, even as I thought to myself how right she was. Later I received a text along with a really funny photo of her crashed on the floor of her home with her parents in the background to let me know she’d made it. The next day her mom called to sing the praises of the mystery person she’d never met in Minneapolis, and to say thank you for the care and concern the ELCA had for her child.
This is a beautiful example, to me, of the value of being connected with each other. I’d like to think that if there were a crisis close to me, I’d respond in the same way as Ian and Chris. We are all connected, after all, in our faith and in our ministries. Each of us works together for the good of the other and because we take seriously what it means to be community, we are able to see God at work in, with and through each other. So, publicly and with a big smile I say thank you Chris Okey and thank you ELCA Youth Ministry Network for being my community.
And thank you for sharing this story Paul!