BY BOB MCFADDEN
There is a classic story I first heard decades ago. I don’t know its origin, but I love its message.
A boy was walking on a beach one morning and he noticed literally thousands of starfish had become stranded by the tide. As he walked, he picked up starfish and threw them back into the ocean.
An older man came along and noticed what the boy was doing. He approached the boy and said to him, “Son, there are so many starfish stranded. Do you really think you are making a difference at all?”
The little boy stood with yet another starfish in his hand and looking the old man in the eye as he threw the starfish back into the ocean he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
We are daily inundated with the troubles that plague our world. From hurricanes to fires to senseless shootings many of us often wonder, “What can I do to help? How can I make a difference?”
For 10 people from Impact Christian Church in Franklin the answer was to take a trip to Texas and assist with hurricane relief.
Working with the Disaster Relief Team, a division of the Church of Christ, we set out to help cleanup homes that had been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, as well as deliver donations collected from the Franklin area.
We arrived several weeks after Harvey had left his path of devastation, but the visible evidence of the destruction was everywhere.
Our work began in Beaumont, Texas, where the first task was to clean out a modest ranch home that had been submerged by up to 4 feet of water. Every bit of the house was damaged.
The team dove in and by the end of our first day we had gutted 90 percent of the house and put all of the wood, carpeting, drywall and other debris in the front yard. A quick survey of the area revealed hundreds of similar piles in yards all over.
“I’ve never seen so much destruction. I have never seen so much trash on the ground. It’s hard to say the word “trash” because that was somebody’s stuff,” said Clinton Hendrix, a Franklin resident and member of the church team.
Amidst the damage, the residents of south Texas are gamely trying to move on with life. Progress is slow, and the fickle nature of disasters sets up a tragic juxtaposition: Untouched structures right next to ruined houses and buildings.
Hurricanes are soulless and impact people irrespective of race, religion or socio-economic status. Even so, in disaster areas, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is never more evident as when the cleanup is in process.
We were careful to arrange a trip that included interaction with the people we set out to help. It was important to our team that we connect and do our best to be empathetic with our friends and fellow citizens who are hurting.
Brandi Ward, a leader of Impact Christian Church’s Hands and Feet ministry, envisioned a trip where we melded the need to fix the physical with the need to address the spiritual. More than once we were approached by Texans who thanked us for coming to help.
Our response was always the same: We simply are trying to show God’s love in a practical way. We know that if we were suffering a disaster in Indiana, our friends in Texas would help us too.
“I am proud of our Hands and Feet ministry that works every day in Franklin, the surrounding area and even around the country to be used by God to help others,” said Jeff Souders, pastor of Impact Christian Church.
On the second day of our whirlwind trip, we split our team in two. A few of us returned to the first work site and wrapped up the demo and cleanup. The rest of the team arrived at a site that had two houses owned by the Boren family. Our task was to get one house done which was likely all we could accomplish since we were leaving the next day.
The three generations of Borens — seven members in all — were living out of a shed and in tents in their backyard. They had a hose suspended and a tarp shaped in a circle that functioned as their make-shift shower. Despite this, their children were happy and playful and clearly excited by all the commotion.
“This trip was a real eye opener. A lot of people I know think their lives are horrible or they complain they can’t pay bills. After seeing the destruction I saw, I don’t have any reason to feel sorry,” said Eric Wade of Franklin. “Gib (Grandpa Boren) said it was a blessing that we came down. I told him, no, it is our blessing to be able to come.”
Team members were shocked by the water level in the Borens’ homes. One house had 10-foot ceilings, and they found a picture frame stuck in a ceiling fan. One member of the church could see water in the ceiling fixture light bulbs.
As the day dragged on and we removed wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of debris, we worked side-by-side with the family as well as another disaster relief team from Arkansas. The Borens are wonderful people who, despite the tragedy, have maintained their strong faith and positive attitude.
We neared the end of the first house and it didn’t seem likely we would get to the second house. As Gib Boren tearfully thanked us for all our help, we decided as a team to press on and attack the challenge of the second house as well.
By the end of the day, our two teams had removed the majority of the destroyed materials from both of the homes which made them ready to be inspected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Before leaving we took numerous photos with the families, listened to an inspirational story from their pastor and shared a heart-felt prayer. With hugs and tears we left these strong and resilient people and set out to return to our families and our homes with all the requisite comforts of life.
One can imagine the difficulty of leaving these people with nothing but a thin tent over their heads, no plumbing or electricity and only water from a lone hose to provide for their needs. And their story is one of many across Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico that speaks of the tragedies that are a part of our everyday lives even here in America.
The sheer number of needs may seem overwhelming and our efforts may seem in vain. Like the boy and the starfish, our focus isn’t to be on the enormity of the task, but on the reality of, “I made a difference for that one.”
This column was submitted by Bob McFadden, a member of Impact Christian Church in Franklin.