Time to Become A Beacon

Mark Lambert
May 21, 2021
United Methodists in Storm-Weary Lake Charles Reflect and Respond to Flash Flooding 

Helen Page was with four other Methodist volunteers on a rainy Monday to wrap up repairs to a home that had been damaged from Hurricane Laura, which in Lake Charles terms was four disasters ago, though the calendar marks it as only nine months.

Monday’s rain turned into a deluge, and the water began rising, first on the street, then quickly up the yard and into the home, growing deeper by the minute. The small house in the modest neighborhood on the brink of restoration was being taken by a flood.

The water now was too deep to drive out. Helen and the other four volunteers abandoned their cars and trudged nearly a mile through Lake Charles’ waist-high floodwaters before a rescuer spotted them and ferried them home.

Soaking wet but relatively safe in her own home – which is still missing sheetrock and the kitchen that hurricanes Laura and Delta stole last year – Helen’s thoughts were of gratitude.

“I was just thankful I was with people who helped me get out of the situation,” she said two days later, recounting the story as she boxed up items from her flood-ruined car so the insurance company could tow it away. “I am living in my home now, but there’s no kitchen. It still needs a lot of work. I live there when I can, and I live somewhere else when I can’t.”

Even after the hike through the flood and losing her car, Helen kept helping others. On Tuesday, she removed carpet from a flood victim’s home. On Wednesday, she arrived ready to volunteer at her church, St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church. Her pastor, Rev. John Robert Black, picked up the story.

“Her car floods while helping another person rebuild her house. And what does she do?” he said. “She comes to the church to pull up carpet.”

Rev. Black, whose home at St. Luke-Simpson flooded on Monday, said Helen and thousands more like her in Lake Charles share a Christ-centered determination and, even, joy, despite an assembly line of afflictions.

"At Our Wit's End, But No One Whines"

The May 17th rain that dropped 18 inches on Lake Charles in just a few hours capped a nine-month string of weather disasters that would fill an average person’s lifetime.

“We’ve all cried a lot, we’ve all been exhausted and at our wit’s end,” Rev. Black said. “But no one down here pouts, no on whines.”

Rev. Weldon Bares, Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lake Charles, said water forced many of his members from their homes. FUMC’s sanctuary was spared, but the worship center and other buildings took on significant water.

Around Lake Charles, parents with small children began to panic because the flood prevented them from getting to their children’s schools, which fed and housed the students well into the night.

“It seemed apocalyptic,” Rev. Bares said. “There were stranded vehicles everywhere.”

By Wednesday, FUMC Lake Charles served as a clearinghouse for cleaning kits – five-gallon plastic pails that contain bleach, cleaner, gloves and scouring pads – that were picked up to be distributed to flood victims throughout the area.

“The conference’s emergency response team has come into the area,” Rev. Bares said. “They are on the ground, knocking out one house at a time.”

At St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church, which also houses a pre-school, word spread on Monday that the buildings were taking on water. Parents arrived to pick up their children, but their cars were pushing even more water from the parking lot into the already flooded buildings. The school instructed parents to park in another lot nearby, and teachers piggy-backed children across the lots into their parents’ arms.

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“We have never seen that type of flooding, and I’ve been her 20-plus years,” office manager Lea Simon said. “We looked out and saw the water was over the tires on our vehicles, and in a matter of hours, it was waist deep. It was worse than (Hurricane) Rita.”

Time to Become a Beacon

Just a few miles south of FUMC, Rev. Davis Clark of Warren United Methodist said his church did not take on water, “but like everyone else, we’re still recovering from the hurricanes. I don’t know how much more people can stand.”

Still, he said, the church and its people were born in hard times and has persevered.

“If the church is going to be the church, what better time than right now?” Rev. Clark said. “The church has to be the beacon for all of humanity.”

Rev. Black, whose hurricane-damaged roof at his home was replaced just months ago but began leaking on Monday, said God has put a special message in his heart.

“As hard as this has been, there is still far more good in my life and far more good in the world,” he said. “I am convicted of the sheer number of blessings I’ve taken for granted. This has added a depth to my prayer life that hasn’t always been there. I will try to be intentional of all of our blessings in a world that seems intent on complaining.”

All of the pastors said they will hold services Sunday.

“It’s Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is real,” Rev. Black said. “Pentecost happened to a group of scared, lonely people in the vise-grips of the Roman Empire. We’re not going to just gather and cower and cry. We’re going to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us. And fight on. That’s who we are.”

Rev. Davis agreed.

“This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and we’re going to represent the season that is before us,” he said. “And, if anyone wants a take on what God is proclaiming to us, they need to read Psalm 91. It’s so powerful. It’s about reassuring the people of God. We have to be still and know that God is always God.”

The Tomb is Empty

People in Lake Charles are reeling and feel somewhat forgotten, but they are not defeated. That is perhaps best expressed through an email and Facebook post from Rev. Bares: “I love the quotation from St. Barton’s Ode:” the post reads. “I am hurt, but not slain. I will lie me down and bleed awhile, then rise to fight again.”

Rev. Black said faith is what fuels Lake Charles’ determination.

“Since August, it’s been, historic hurricane, followed by another hurricane, followed by a winter ice storm, followed by a flood, all on top of Covid…it’s really hard to fathom,” Rev. Black said. “And this is where theology really matters. We believe that tomb is empty. We believe Jesus is alive. We believe in each other.”
Helen Page has the same beliefs, instilled from a lifetime as a Methodist.

“My dad was president of the John Wesley fan club, and as long as I can remember it has taught me to help those who need help. Even as kids, I remember taking Thanksgiving baskets to families,” she said. “It’s part of that Methodist mission type of thing. That’s the way I do church.”

“We believe in each other,” Rev. Black said. “Down here, no one cares if you’re Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, gay or straight. We’re Lake Charles, we’re proud of who we are. It’s people who have been devastated, right there, helping their neighbor. Body of Christ.”

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