Thanking God for Good Samaritans

It is difficult to watch the news these days. The events transpiring in Texas as Hurricane Harvey continues to unleash his fierce rains following the destructive power of his winds. They say it is a flood of historic proportions. The pictures of people wading waist-deep through flood waters, sitting on roof tops, and being lifted into boats and rafts drive home the struggle to escape the rising waters. The massive destruction of property is seen in submerged vehicles and flooded businesses, homes, and apartment buildings. There are stories of fear and survival told by folks stumbling into shelters. Commentators calculate the property damage and the impact of the devastation upon the nation’s economy rising to the hundreds of millions. Experts estimate it will take years for the region to recover.

There are stories of people waiting in long lines at the service stations that remain open in the devastated areas of South Texas praying that the pumps don’t run dry. Some people intent upon their own survival wait with every container they could find to fill with this precious brew. There are stories of tense situations in convenient stores when the hot coffee runs out. People are desperate to secure drinking water. Grocery store shelves are bare, and there is no plan to restock them. The very basic services and commodities people take for granted are now scarce as hen’s teeth.

There are stories of fear, survival, and devastation that inspire fear and trepidation in the hearts of people safe in their homes far from the pouring rain and flood waters. I, too, am moved by these stories, but there is something else going on that hooks me. I am engaged by the compassion, courage, and sacrifice of those individuals, who forgetting about their own survival, are helping friends, neighbors, and strangers. Last night, I caught a television reporter’s interview with a woman who had just missed the last bus out of a town that was under an evacuation order. The rain was pouring down. She held her dog in her arms. The reporter was asking her what she was going to do now. Where she was going to go? How she thought she would escape the rising waters? I kept thinking, “You are there. You have a way out. Why aren’t you putting her in your vehicle and getting out of Dodge?” About the time I finished my rant, an SUV pulled up. The driver recognized the woman. He drove away with her toward safety.

Where do these courageous people come from? What motivates them to place themselves in harm’s way to do whatever they can to help neighbors, friends, and strangers? What inspired those kind folks to leave their dry homes to welcome folks into shelters, to prepare hot meals, to wrap an elderly person in a dry blanket, or to comfort a distraught mother with a crying infant? Who are these people who have assembled an armada of kayaks, canoes, ski-dos, john boats, pontoons, airboats, and motor boats patrolling flooded neighborhoods searching for strangers who might be in trouble? It is inspiring to watch these individuals who are forgetting about themselves and their survival to help others who are facing desperate situations.

This compassionate risk-taking is something we often miss in the story Jesus told about the man left naked and half-dead by the roadside between Jerusalem and Jericho. The road was notorious for the bandits that terrorized travelers. This man was certainly foolish to have traveled that way alone, but, if you think about it, the priest and Levite were just as foolish. Maybe they passed by the dying stranger afraid that the bandits were nearby waiting for more victims. It is the despised Samaritan that forgets about himself and his own safety. He stops. He tends the man’s wounds. He places the dying man on his donkey and checks into an inn. He cares compassionately for a man, who on other days, might have rejected him. It seems that to be a Good Samaritan you have to be willing to courageously put yourself at risk in order to translate the compassion of your heart into acts of compassion.

The courageous and self-sacrificing response of Good Samaritans in South Texas reminds me that for people of faith the question, “Who is my neighbor?” is the wrong question. The right questions is—“Am I acting like a neighbor?” As we observe this natural disaster from our safe and dry living rooms, let’s thank God for the Good Samaritans who are selflessly serving the people who are striving to survive this nightmarish storm and flooding. When the time comes for us to respond to this crisis, may we embody both the courage and compassion of these Good Samaritans. Jamie