A Plea from Louisiana Bishop Harvey

A Plea from Louisiana Bishop Harvey

8/20/2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the NYAC.
We have received this message from the bishop of Louisiana, Bishop Cynthia Harvey, whose episcopal residence is in Baton Rouge. I invite you to share this with your congregation and to consider how God might be calling you to respond. There is a need for clean up buckets, for funding through UMCOR which can be sent to the NYAC conference office, at some future point for VIM teams, and most of all for prayer. You will receive more specific information soon.
We are entering into a period of unprecedented "natural" disasters, directly related to global warming. May God have mercy on all of us and empower us to care more gently and faithfully for creation.
– Bishop Jane Allen Middleton


It is Friday, August 19 and it is raining...again.  It was about this time last week that the rain would just not quit.  “Rain, rain, go away, come back another day.”  But it was not to be.  In two days we received 4,000,000,000,000 gallons of water– yes, FOUR. TRILLION. GALLONS of water; enough to fill 6,000,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  There has been little “normal.”  School will begin in East Baton Rouge parish next Wednesday and in the parish most greatly impacted – Livingston Parish – the headline on their school district website simply reads – “No school until further notice.”  We received our first piece of mail yesterday.  Our phone service has been spotty at best.  We are still under mandatory curfew.  As of Wednesday, over 4,000 people remained in shelters after 30,000 rescues.  40,000 homes have been affected so far.  In some communities that represents over 80% of its residents. 

I have described this storm as Katrina without the wind.  I spent the last two days visiting churches, pastors and residents.  Some areas were still impassable but we wove our way around and were able to connect with some of our good folks who were busy responding the best they could.  When 80% of your community is affected the response is difficult.  The area with the greatest number of trained Early Responders is the area that is 80% under water.

I have seen my share of disasters and each time I am shocked at the damage caused by water.  How in the world does a piano get turned upside down? Or a freezer that was in the utility room end up on the other end of the house?  Open-top dumpsters carried by rapid river-like currents for miles and landed on top of cars at a car lot.  A car sliced in half when the motor of a rescue boat makes its way down a street where the flood waters are so deep they have no idea there is a car underneath them.  It is like Atlantis! 

There is flooding from too much rainfall but what we experienced is different.  Cities and towns in South Louisiana are built around rivers, canals, bayous all which flow toward the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.  So, when 4 trillion gallons of water falls in two days, the rivers overflow their banks, that feed into the streams, that feed into the bayous.  This is the reason that the flooding is so widespread.  As the water moved it took people’s homes, pets, possessions with it. These floodwaters are not just clear rainwater, they are mixed with river water, sewage, mud, mud and more mud.  And oh the smell!  The smell from rotting food in refrigerators, sewage and gunk. 

It was not until Tuesday that Interstate 12 opened between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and portions of Interstate 10 remained closed until Wednesday.  This prevented any traffic to move which meant a loaf of bread became a coveted possession.  I was in a church on Wednesday and someone had found ONE loaf of bread in the entire town.  There were cheers for the loaf of bread.  This also made the movement of relief workers very difficult.  Most people were not able to get to their homes until Wednesday.  Think again about the smell of your prized possessions after sitting in your water soaked home for almost six days in 90-plus degree weather. 

This is a disaster of epic proportions and unfortunately national news has focused more on Lochte’s tale in Rio than the Rios we have experienced.  The recovery will be long and very hard and we have no idea yet what the long-term impact will be to our cities, towns, economies and our churches.  Thankfully we had only about a dozen churches damaged but several parsonages and of course many homes with no flood insurance.  Who would have thought they needed insurance – they were not in a flood prone area.  We experienced a 1000-year rain in two days. 

Yet, even in the midst of the life shattering experiences of the last week – we see signs of hope.  We see neighbor helping neighbor.  In Baton Rouge, where just weeks ago racial tensions were at their height we have learned that floodwaters cross every racial and socio-economic barrier.  We have witnessed black police officers carrying white citizens through floodwaters and white police officers carrying black citizens to safety.  Just yesterday, I helped one of our African American Churches distribute lunches to black, white, Hispanic people in need.  Need is need. 

So, while we aren’t making front-page news what we know is that we are Louisiana Strong and our United Methodist Connection is strong.  This is when we are at our best.  We have received emails, calls, texts, Facebook messages from United Methodists from all over the world.  We will need your ongoing support in the days, weeks, months and yes, even years ahead.  We are preparing to receive teams in the weeks to come.  For now, your prayers and your financial contributions will go a long way toward recovery. 

I rely on the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.  ..... you are precious in my eyes, you are honored and I love you.”