How the Suffering from Harvey and Irma Can Strengthen Faith
Countless churches and religious people from all over have banded together during this most difficult time
After the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey — and now as a new hurricane hits the Florida coast and heads northward from there — it’s hard to imagine how faith and hope have any place in a world of such suffering.
Homes that thousands of families devoted their lifetimes to in Texas were washed away or destroyed by flooding in the blink of an eye. Families and friends were separated — and some even now are waiting to be reunited with loved ones.
An estimated 450,000 people will need assistance in disaster recovery, while over 30,000 people will need temporary shelter, even possibly needing to relocate elsewhere and restart their lives in a new town — with virtually nothing. Almost 200,000 homes were destroyed by the wrath of Harvey.
Yet amid such suffering, the beauty of human resilience shines through — a resilience strengthened by faith in God. We've heard the countless stories of bravery and faith-filled actions coming out of the wreckage in Houston and other areas affected by Harvey.
These stories give us hope and comfort in the face of suffering and devastation. Even so, suffering and sacrifice often test the faith of many people, whether victim or bystander, as they start wondering how God could allow such hardship to occur.
The most beautiful opportunities can bear witness to faith. We have the inclination — even the temptation — to believe that life should be easy and without pain and suffering. But suffering is the opportunity to lean fully on faith in God. Times of suffering and sacrifice can even be a reminder to deny oneself — and embrace hardship, as Christ embraced His suffering and death.
"Jesus reminds us that His way is the way of love," Pope Francis said in his Sept. 3 homily, referencing Christ's commandment to His disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8: 34). It is only through suffering that we can come to know Christ's love for us.
Suffering also has a way of making people realize what is most important in their lives, as they put service to others over themselves and their own wishes. Christ calls us to deny ourselves — and this denial imparts meaning and even joy in suffering, strengthening our faith in God. Within their suffering, many faith-filled people turn to God even more than before. We are called to do this in our daily lives.
"God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea/ Though its waters rage and foam and mountains totter at its surging" (Psalms 46:2-4).
Now, in the aftermath of Harvey, faith-filled communities of people are taking this psalm to heart, putting their strength in God and banding together in recovery efforts. Churches all over the country are asking for donations to send to counties affected by the hurricane — and are sure to do this in the wake of Irma as well. Faith and prayer can guide many people through times of suffering.
Some Florida Keys residents are heading to (or have already arrived at) Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto — gathering in prayer and safety. Many residents have faith in the story that surrounds this grotto, which is supposed to protect Key West from the full forces of a hurricane.
Such faith and prayers have been answered in the past during catastrophic times, with miraculous outcomes. In 1945, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, four Jesuit priests who were within the hypocenter of the attack survived, miraculously. While the bomb killed 80,000 people instantly and caused the deaths of nearly 130,000 people due to the impacts of radiation, these Jesuits were not affected at all. They sought refuge in God and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who protected them during this catastrophic event.
Now, just like the Jesuit priests who turned to prayer and faith in times of suffering, the faithful of Florida are seeking refuge in God and each other.
As Hurricane Irma approaches, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints released a statement instructing members and missionaries to seek shelter, gather food and water, and even evacuate. Relief efforts are planned already to help in the recovery as soon as possible. The church is also helping Harvey victims, sending money and supplies to Texas communities.
Other Florida community churches are also preparing to help — collecting water, supplies, and volunteers. Bayside Community Church of Brandenton, Florida, has teamed up with City Impact Relief to create preparation plans for relief efforts after Irma passes.
Although mandatory evacuations are in place for Florida towns in the hurricane's path, some Christians are staying behind to help older Floridians prepare their homes by boarding up windows and storing supplies. Many faith communities are even preparing their churches as shelters if needed. Some Christian communities, such as Woodland Ministries, have canceled their Sunday services and activities but have kept their food banks open. Other churches in the areas already affected by the hurricane have welcomed victims and those in need.
Even amid suffering, the faithful have found refuge in God — though it would seem easy to abandon faith at a time like this. Yet it's also a time to remember that love and faith in God gives meaning, peace, and even happiness in the most trying of circumstances.
Steffani Jacobs is a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities area. She has written about everything from military history and weaponry to theology and church doctrine.