Responding to the South Carolina Flood

The rains from Hurricane Joaquin wreaked catastrophic damage on South Carolina and its residents earlier this week. 771 trillion cubic inches of water have fallen within its borders. That translates to 12 trillion liters, or 21 trillion 20-ounce bottles such as the ones people drink from every day.

That’s an epic amount of water to fall in about three days over just 32,000 square miles. The description “of biblical proportions” has been used by media to help viewers and readers get a sense of the scope of this disaster. But even as the floodwaters recede, the heartbreak continues and the danger increases. Homes destroyed, people killed, and dams on the brink of collapse, potentially leading to more homes and lives ruined.

My husband and I, though residents of Texas, had a personal stake in this event. Some of our best friends live in South Carolina—in fact, we travel there almost annually to vacation together. We were relieved to hear that their town was spared the worst of the rains and damage.

But many, of course, are not so fortunate. It’s what follows in response to crises like these that reveals the heart of a community, and of its individual members. Typically, three things happen:

1.     Looters take advantage of the chaos.

2.     Onlookers watch sympathetically from the outside but do nothing.

3.     People take action. They donate to NGOs, the Red Cross, and churches on the front lines. They travel to the area and pitch in with supplies and elbow grease. They counsel the grieving, remove debris from yards, provide legal help, and so much more.

So far in South Carolina, we’ve seen all three reactions. The first two are easily attributed to sin and I’m going to move on from those. Thankfully, the third reaction dominates: the grace-filled, generous, giving, sacrificing efforts of neighbors loving their neighbors like themselves.

For instance: “Heartbreaking and heartwarming,” said Eugenia Hardwick, describing the scene at her friend’s yard in Columbia, SC. Strangers had come to help clean up the debris. Volunteers from local ROTC programs, church youth groups, and community organizations have already descended on the neighborhoods and homes hard hit by the rising waters.

NewSpring Church, a large multi-site church led by pastor Perry Noble, launched #FloodSCWithLove to mobilize aid statewide. Massive numbers of volunteers are donating, organizing, transporting, and distributing necessities such as water, toiletries, and non-perishable foods to affected residents. Teams from local Christian schools are moving through neighborhoods with their yard tools, raking, stacking, trashing, clearing, and cleaning. Thousands of volunteers are on the move this week.

In response to reports of such widespread volunteerism, SC Governer Nikki Haley said, “We are a people of compassion.” Perry Noble put it this way: 

On the other side of the country, the neighbors of a Lamont, Washington, farmer are making national news for their generosity and kindness. Back in August, Steve Swannack suffered a severe bout of pancreatitis that rendered him unable to harvest his wheat crop. When the neighbors realized this "big strong farmer" wasn't out in his fields, they organized a day to help him out. Sixty people showed up, and his crop was brought in ten hours later. "We're small," said one neighbor, "but we're mighty."

Though it happened two months ago, the story has gone viral in just the past week or two, appearing on TV and radio news. 

Catastrophe is always personal. Each South Carolinian affected by the flooding must individually move from chaos to order, destruction to renewal. Steve Swannack faced a situation that could have devastated emotionally and financially for several years. 

In the same way, generosity is personal. Look around you. Who needs help? How can you reflect the love of Christ in a tangible way? What gifts and talents do you possess that will serve someone else in need? 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:5-7

Kelley Mathews (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) has written and edited for the Christian market for more than 20 years. Currently a writer for RightNow Media, she lives in North Texas with her husband and their four children. She has partnered with Sue Edwards to coauthor Mixed Ministry, Women’s Retreats, Leading Women Who Wound, Organic Ministry to Women, and 40 Questions about Women in Ministry. Find her books and blog at KelleyMathews.com.