There is a children's song often sung in Sunday schools, which has in the refrain the lines: "and the rains came down, and the floods came up; the rains came down, and the floods came up." Such could be an appropriate refrain for 2016, given the frequency of floods across the United States this year.
Flooding is one of the most ubiquitous disasters, common to almost every region of the country - from flash floods in the western deserts and mountains, to coastal flooding during tropical storms and hurricanes, to flooding across the Midwest and South caused by cresting streams and rivers. While flood events are common, 2016 proved an exceptionally severe year of floods, with 22 flood events receiving federal disaster declarations and numerous additional localized flood events. The phrases "historic," "record-breaking," and "100-, 500-, and 1000-year flood" became an almost monthly addition to the news cycle, reflecting a larger trend of disasters increasing in frequency and severity.
These floods caused damage to thousands of homes, and recovery in many of the affected communities will likely take several years. Yet each new flood shifts the media, our collective focus, and (all too often) our donation dollars. Week of Compassion is committed to providing support long after the attention has moved to a new disaster. As this year comes to a close, we recall into our thoughts and prayers the thousands affected by floods this year and we share an updated summary of our ongoing solidarity and support:
January: Cresting rivers caused record-setting flooding in south and southeast Missouri. Areas that had not flooded in living memory experienced severe flooding. Week of Compassion provided solidarity grants for several affected households and congregations.
March: In Clarksdale, Mississippi, a late-December tornado caused damage on the south side of town. When heavy rains in March caused flash flooding across much of the south - from Texas to Alabama, the other side of Clarksdale got hit. In both instances, Real Faith Christian Church was there to meet the immediate needs of those affected. Week of Compassion was there to provide support for their efforts.
April: Central, South, and East Texas had higher than normal spring rainfall, causing flash flooding across the region, including historic flooding in the Houston area. Week of Compassion provided solidarity grants to local congregations who sustained damage and who were providing relief to their communities. In one affected town, Palestine, the Disciples congregation was instrumental in providing immediate relief, assistance in cleanup, and volunteers for repairs, with support from Week of Compassion. You can read a reflection by Rev. Jordan Byrd about the flood and the cleanup here.
May/June: Spring rains continued causing "500-year floods" in the Houston metro area and across southeast Texas. Week of Compassion again provided solidarity grants to local congregations, many of which were affected by the earlier flooding as well. Week of Compassion continues to be in conversation with local leadership to provide grants to support repairs and rebuilds across the region.
June: When on June 24 "1000-year floods" caused severe damage across much of the state, the governor of West Virginia declared a state of emergency in 44 counties. Twelve counties received Federal Disaster Declarations, and nearly five thousand households qualified for federal assistance. Week of Compassion made immediate relief funds available through the West Virginia Region. Since the floods, we have been in conversation with local leadership in order to support long-term recovery through grants and a potential site to host volunteers. In consultation with the Region, we are directing our support to counties receiving little aid from other voluntary organizations.
August: The worst single disaster since Hurricane Sandy occurred when Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas of southern Louisiana experienced historic flooding caused by heavy rains. Thousands of households were damaged, including many who had been affected by flooding earlier in the year. Week of Compassion responded through local congregations, providing solidarity grants and supporting a community meal through First Christian Church of Baton Rouge. Through partnership with the Jewish disaster relief organization, NECHAMA, and continued involvement of FCCBR, Disciples participated in clean-up efforts, mucking out flooded homes. A mission station is planned to open in the spring to host volunteer groups for repair and rebuilding work throughout the recovery.
September: 12 inches of rain in 24 hours caused flooding in the "100-year flood" range, affecting 13 counties in Iowa. Week of Compassion provided solidarity grants to affected households.
October: After causing destruction across the Caribbean, Hurricane Matthew moved up the eastern coast of the United States, causing the most severe and widespread flooding of 2016 in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Among the thousands of people affected by the floods were over 100 Disciples families from multiple congregations. In addition to solidarity grants to those churches and households, Week of Compassion supported the relief efforts at Southwood Memorial Christian Church. Staff from Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering are currently visiting affected areas in North and South Carolina to identify potential partnerships for long-term recovery support.
We are reminded in this season of Advent, as we recall and anticipate Christ's coming, that our God is with us always. So, too, are we reminded that we are called to bear the presence of Christ to others, to join in the struggles and celebrations of our neighbors. In the words of Albert Taule's Christmas hymn, Toda la Tierra (All Earth Is Waiting):
"In lowly stable the Promised One appeared;
yet feel his presence throughout the earth today,
for he lives in all Christians and is with us now;
again, with his coming he brings us liberty."