LOUISIANA – We were surrounded by water the color of chocolate milk; it felt like we were on a boat, but we were riding on the back of a six-wheel drive Army surplus truck across flooded roads in the drowned neighborhoods of Livingston Parish, La.
There were five of us in the truck’s bed sitting atop stacked cases of bottled water and plastic sacks full of fresh sandwiches, boxes of toilet paper and jugs of bleach. We pulled up in front of homes that looked occupied, in spite of water lapping at porches and window sills, offering free food, water and words of encouragement. We had to shout above the roar of the unmuffled diesel engine as the truck plowed through water two to three feet deep leaving a swirling wake behind.
When we hit an especially deep spot, the driver had to really punch it so we wouldn’t get stuck, and when the engine sucked in water, it bellowed clouds of wet, oily soot that peppered our faces and shirts. Our driver, Clay Schexnayder, the Louisiana state representative of District 81, had borrowed the truck three days earlier and had been behind the wheel night and day carrying relief supplies to stranded residents. David Darg, OBI’s vice president of international operations; Jody Gettys, vice president of U.S. disaster relief and programs; and Dan Moore, director of U.S. disaster relief, and I offered to join him, providing relief supplies and extra hands.
Volunteers were also with us, and all of us were drenched because of a torrential squall with lightning and thunder so loud it sounded like God was bowling in heaven. Doug, whose day job was captain of a cargo boat on the Mississippi River, was wearing tattered shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. His face and arms were burned ruby red, and he hadn’t shaved for a few days, but his eyes were bright as he told me about the night the flood waters came into his home “like a tsunami in reverse.”
I asked Doug why he used the word tsunami. He said: “Everybody knows that a tsunami comes from the ocean and water rushes ashore and wipes everything out. In this flood, the water came from the the sky. Storm clouds circled out over the Gulf and sucked up moisture then came ashore and dumped the water, then circled back for another load. It was like a hurricane without wind and lasted seven days. Three times as much water came down as in Katrina. All that water had to go somewhere and it funneled down here to these parishes and drowned everything — like a tsunami.”
Doug said his own home was flooded, but in spite of that, he was with us on the back of the truck handing out water and supplies to neighbors he had never met. To me, this spirit of willingness to help in spite of personal problems is what sets Americans apart; regardless of social status, followers of Jesus feel a need to help when neighbors — even people they don’t know — need help. The teachings of Christ compel us to reach out to those who are weaker, poorer or in a situation worse than our own. If we heed the call, we feel good; but if we ignore the call, we feel bad. It’s as simple as that. Christians are hardwired to help.
In the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus was asked which of the commandments were most important, He replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT, emphasis added)
We are profoundly thankful for the people who answered the call and supported our efforts in Louisiana with prayer and donations, and for the volunteers and the many churches that acted as hubs of healing during and after the crisis. Organizations like Operation Blessing and churches all over America serve as a conduit for people of faith who need a channel through which they can help their neighbors — even ones they don’t know. For that we will be eternally grateful.