Yesterday, I returned to Houston after spending five days in Denver. Without even planning it, I managed to escape all of Hurricane Ike. But even five days after the storm struck Galveston and Houston, about half the city is still living in a sense of desperation.
Upon landing at Hobby Airport yesterday, the destruction was obvious even from the air. Trees were uprooted and strewn across fields. Half the billboards along 1-45 have been ripped to shreds. Fences have been demolished, leaving back yards exposed. When I entered my own neighborhood, I was sad to see trees that had been uprooted, crushing houses and cars.
I was one of the blessed who had no damage to my house or car. And only two hours after returning home yesterday, my electricity came back on. Talk about timing! So I figure that least I can do is reach out a helping hand to those who are still in a state of desperation.
Since the electricity is still down at my office building, this morning I volunteered at one of the dozens of POD (Point of Distribution) centers set up around Houston. My job was to distribute discount perscription medication cards. Within a span of 10 minutes, about 75 cars drove through our distribution center to pick up water, ice and non-perishable food that will feed a family of five for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since about two-thirds of the city is still without electricity, folks have been forced to throw away all the food in their refrigerators and are living off of canned tuna, Fruit Roll-Ups and such.
The line of cars at the POD center was filled with every type of car and person that represents the melting pot that is Houston. Silver BMWs snaked through the distribution line next to Chevy pickups that were falling apart. The drivers ranged from white-haired men who looked to be doctors, humbled to be asking for help, along with Hispanic moms quieting five children.
When a community experiences a tragedy, each person is affected the same. The divisions crumble between white, black and Hispanic, between lower, middle or upper class. When people need food and water, everyone stands on equal ground. We realize that we are all equal when our basic needs are relinquished.
As I asked people if they needed perscription medication cards, some seemed offended. “No, I have insurance.” But some were incredibly grateful. “Thank you, I really need to get my grandmother’s medication.”
One Hispanic man who looked about 20 had tears running down his face as he rolled down the window. He said nothing to me. He just cried. I wanted to hug him and ask him what has happened in his life the last few days.
The tears have also welled up in my eyes a lot over the last few days. They are tears of someone who aches for a community in need, who is grateful that Ike didn’t cause more damage, but who wishes things could just be back to normal.
While things are slowly improving in Houston, it is a turtle pace to recovery in Galveston, where my friend Drew is the outreach pastor of a church. Drew and other Galveston residents cannot return to the island for at least a couple more weeks. Yesterday, Galveston officials allowed residents a “look and leave” day. Most people were devastated to see three feet of water in their homes. But they are happy for their lives.
Over all, I am so proud of this community. Houston is a place of resilient, positive people. In the distribution line today, most everyone smiled and had positive spirits for the future. This city will bounce back quickly, and the Light of Christ shines even brighter in this darkness.