When Disasters Get Personal
No one can deny that we are living in a time of unprecedented change.
For the past two weeks, that has included two devastating hurricanes of historic proportions: Harvey, which struck southeast Texas with record-breaking flooding two weeks ago, and Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, which is currently poised—as I write this—to strike Florida and points northward this weekend, after leaving a path of death and destruction in the Caribbean. Add to that last night’s 8.1 earthquake just off the coast of southwest Mexico (the strongest earthquake in Mexico in a century) and its resulting tsunami warning, and this week’s other meteorological first— the first time two Category 5 hurricanes have been active at the same time (Irma and Jose)—and our hearts and minds can begin to be overwhelmed. (And that’s just natural phenomena; I haven’t even mentioned North Korea, etc.)
Throughout the past two weeks, one word has come up again and again from meteorologists, disaster relief authorities, and reporters, both in warning cities and families who may be in harm’s way and describing the aftermath as rescuers attempt to save as many people’s lives as possible:
Catastrophe comes in many forms. It can be something that affects thousands and thousands of people, and it can be something that affects one family and one person at a time. Occasionally, we can see catastrophe coming, almost in slow motion as with Harvey and then Irma, but can do little to change the outcome other than pray and flee. Then we try to pick up the pieces and help others pick up the pieces once disaster hits, as best we can.
This past week, our students tried to help others pick up the pieces. Inspired by our first graders, ALCS collected a special disaster relief love offering for families and Christian schools ravaged by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. Our children and entire school family gave over $1,600 this week during chapels and in the two days following, every penny of which will go to help families in desperate need in the immediate Houston area through one of our sister schools, Westbury Christian. Our prayer is that God will use and stretch and multiply our gift to provide healing and hope to so many families facing their own personal catastrophes, in the midst of the enormous catastrophe.
Each of us, each of our families, faces personal catastrophes during our lifetime. The sudden loss of a loved one, the unforeseen destruction of a home or family finances, or the unraveling of a marriage or close relationship can be personally catastrophic. When any of those things happens in the midst of multitudes of others experiencing similar, devastating losses, it amplifies the loss. It is catastrophic on a large scale.
In last week’s issue of EagleLink, one of the things I didn’t share with you is that Houston has a personal connection to our family. You see, Houston is my wife’s home town.
She was born there, and it was the home of my mother-in-law and late father-in-law. When my wife was a young child, the family moved to Southern California. But my mother-in-law still has relatives and friends there, and their house and my wife’s late grandmother’s and late great grandmother’s houses are still there. We have now been told that those houses were underwater last week and are likely all but destroyed. Worse, my mother-in-law has been unable to reach any of her elderly friends and relatives in the Houston area.
So our prayers continue.
And now there’s Irma. Regardless of whichever track and whichever meteorological model you use, we have family in the hurricane’s path. Two nephews and a niece and their families have already evacuated from south Florida. If the hurricane goes west, we have lots of family in Alabama, including my mother-in-law. If it goes due north, we have lots of family in Georgia, including my brother. If it goes east, we have lots of family in the Carolinas, including one of our sons.
Once more, our prayers continue.
And yet, in spite of unprecedented change, despite the catastrophes and potential catastrophes both personal and global, there is an unchanging reality that gives constant hope.
Jesus is still King. He suffers with us. And one day, He will return and put an end to catastrophes, once and for all.
And from the look of things, that may be sooner than later.
This is the great hope and truth that we teach at ALCS: That regardless of circumstances or difficulties, we have a God who loves us, who knows and feels exactly what we’re going through, and who is able to save us in every way. When we put our absolute trust in Him, we can have peace in the midst of the storm, whatever form those storms might take.
And as our children demonstrated in chapels this week, that also means being moved and used by God to use our hands and hearts to reach out together with the love of Christ to help others, even when we’re hurting or feel fear or don’t understand why things happen the way they do.
This is the counter-intuitive reality of Christ. When the world sees only devastation, He offers hope. When we are faced with grief and loss, He provides peace and joy. It doesn’t make any sense from the world’s perspective, but from God’s point of view it makes tremendous sense; it is further proof that spiritual things are true, and that God is really God.
These are the truths our children are learning at ALCS. Every coin, every bill, every check from home they put in the offering slot for Hurricane Harvey relief for people they have never met, who live 1,500 miles away, is evidence of what they are learning and taking to heart.
And that, my dear friends, is what happens when disasters get personal— but in a positive, Christ-reflecting way.
May our changeless God continue to bless all of us with His presence, even as unprecedented change swirls around us. Keep the faith, hold on to the certainty of hope in Him, and we’ll see you around campus.
Dr. Vance Nichols
Head of School
Alta Loma Christian School
Dr. Nichols (BS, MS, EdD) also serves as an adjunct professor of education at California Baptist University. He recently completed a three-year term as commissioner and chair of the ACSI Southern California Regional Accreditation Commission, and was an educational researcher, organizational leadership theorist, and 2015 Innovation Scholar at the University of Southern California. His most recent published research—“Schools At Risk: An Analysis of Factors Endangering the Evangelical Christian School Movement in America”—can be accessed online at: http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll40/id/294584/rec/82