When God brought us the Clean Machine in the summer of 2013, we knew that in addition to providing a much needed service to our homeless friends, it would be a good tool to have in the event of a natural disaster.
So when word came that the recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana had brought devastation that some say was worse than Hurricane Katrina, we prayed and asked God if we should go. We knew within hours that we should.
Soon after we posted our supply needs on Facebook, we were overflowing with laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, trash bags, and more!
Then, Matt’s truck (that we needed to pull the Clean Machine) broke down. We thought we might have to postpone or cancel the trip, but Fincher Timber loaned us a truck! So Matt headed out with loads of supplies, not exactly knowing what to expect.
Total devastation. That’s the only way to describe Baton Rouge after the flooding. Mountains of belongings lined the streets. Businesses were destroyed. Homes were uninhabitable. People were in shock.
Baton Rouge is not in a flood zone, so the vast majority of business and homeowners did not have a flood insurance policy. It seemed so hopeless and overwhelming.
But in interacting with people one-on-one, we discovered that hope survives even the most dire of circumstances and God truly does comfort the brokenhearted.
The stories below are snapshots of our time in Baton Rouge, told from Matt’s perspective. All names have been changed.
John and Cindy
Each day, we left in the morning to find people who needed their clothes washed. We found John and Cindy in a neighborhood where some homes were flooded and some were perfectly fine. There was even a man near them working in his yard. When we arrived at John and Cindy’s, John was having a rough moment. He was sitting on a cooler wondering out loud how they would ever recover. I noticed he had a lot of LSU stuff, so I started talking to him about football and assured him I’d make sure I took care of his LSU clothes, fold them and put them on top. Just that little bit of interaction made him smile — it was amazing to see his attitude change because of something so small.
Community on the Interstate
I met a family who was on their way to the beach when the interstate flooded. Thousands were trapped on the road for more than 24 hours. Their daughter has autism and they also had an elderly grandparent with them. Instead of panicking, all the people who were trapped on the road pooled their resources and their food, and they made the best of it.
Mark and Lynn
One morning as we were driving around trying to find clothes, we stopped and spoke with a family who said they were already taken care of, but they knew an elderly couple down the street who really needed help. When we arrived at their house, Lynn was in the back laying on a cot because her legs were hurting. They had been trying to clean out their own house because a crew came by, quoted them $600 and then didn’t come back for days. When they returned, they said they’d charge them $2,400. Mark and Lynn had just moved to Baton Rouge from Florida, and they couldn’t afford that.
When I told Mark I wanted to do their laundry, he asked what we were charging.
“Nothing — we just want to help,” I said. He didn’t believe me. After I assured him it would be free, he allowed me to pray for him. This retired military guy had these huge tears in his eyes and was just so grateful. It was great to help him and restore a little bit of faith after he had been so disappointed.
Gumbo: Coming Together
Coming together over food is common in Louisiana, so I wasn’t surprised when someone started making a giant pot of gumbo at the distribution center. As I sat there looking at this pot, God showed me that the Kingdom of God is like a big pot of gumbo — all the ingredients by themselves are OK, but they’re so much better when they come together. The whole is better than the sum of its parts. That truth was, and always is, on display during disaster relief efforts, but why isn’t it like this all the time? Why don’t we always so selflessly work together?
God’s desire is for the body of Christ — all its different parts — to function as one unit. We all need to serve our communities together, not just in times of tragedy. We need to leave our territorial tendencies behind and seek God’s kingdom above all else. God intends us to be there for each other no matter what color or socioeconomic level or denomination. He has called us to come into unity with each other… ALL THE TIME.