On Sept. 4 drought conditions and strong winds contributed to the spread of several wildfires around my home in Central Texas. One was a few miles from my house in Pflugerville, another in Steiner Ranch near the church I attend. The largest was in Bastrop, a small town southeast of Austin where a number of friends live.
Almost immediately our friends posted a list of needs on Facebook. When my husband and I showed up at church with the requested case of water, the parking lot was full of provisions and dogs. Not all shelters take dogs. Food from local restaurants was arriving to feed displaced families. People were registering spare rooms and being matched with people needing a place to stay. Some families who had been displaced from their homes by the wildfires were showing up, not to be helped, but to help.
A friend from Steiner Ranch described her hurried departure from her home. They drove from their home with the kids, the dog, passports and a few albums of family photos, uncertain when they would return and what they would have when they got back. When her 8-year-old daughter worried about what they were unable to save from the approaching wildfires, she told her, "Everything that's important is in this car."
"If you had one minute to evacuate, what would you save in the fire?" That was the topic of many conversations. As people shared evacuation experiences the consensus on what to save, seemed to be animals, family photos and identification.
Facebook and Twitter posts were a continual call to action. First it was diapers, toiletries and pet food. Later, it was water and Gatorade for the firefighters. When Steiner Ranch residents were let back into their neighborhood, 24 homes had been destroyed and 30 damaged. Now the call went out for trash bags, cleaning supplies and gloves. The power had been off and houses smelled of smoke and rotting food. Volunteers drove through the neighborhood helping clean out refrigerators and taking away the trash.
Cash and gift cards to help with immediate needs and cash toward future rebuilding are most needed now, along with volunteers willing to get dirty and sift through rubble. There is also a call for donations toward new equipment for local fire departments, many of which are almost entirely volunteer-based and have lost equipment fighting the wildfires.
The American church has learned lessons about responding to disaster since Hurricane Katrina. In the time since the Texas wildfires, churches, nonprofits, businesses and communities continue to work together to help those affected. Austin Christian Fellowship, the church I attend, partnered with 34 different organizations to deliver needed goods and services. The Austin Disaster Relief Network works toward training churches in disaster preparedness as well as relief efforts. The Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance has been named by the city of Bastrop and Bastrop County to coordinate and distribute relief funds. In Central Texas, right now, as a response to those in need the Body of Christ is being the hands and feet of Jesus.
For three weeks I've seen and heard about so many acts of selflessness and unity among God's people. I think Christ's church may be at her best in times of need. Something wonderful has been brewing in the church community in Austin for quite some time. Pastors from different churches are meeting together to work and pray for the city. Unity, love and compassion seem to be what the church saved in the fire. This is our identification.
The reported figures have been staggering. Since last November in Texas, five people have died in the 18,776 wildfires that have burned 3,621,589 acres. Also lost have been 4,155 structures, including more than 2,000 homes. Agricultural losses are at $152.1 million dollars. Insurance losses are expected to reach $250 million. Fires continue to burn around Texas. We continue to pray for rain.
(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)