The Longest Night
In anticipation of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, my family and I took all of the standard precautions. Since I’m from Cuba, where we face these natural phenomenon on a yearly basis, I have had some experience in dealing with these intense storms. We reinforced the windows and gathered food and water. We prepared a first aid kit and had batteries handy for when the power went out. We moved our cars to the highest point of the apartment complex where we lived and placed all of our belongings on higher ground.
We kept up with the news and kept track of the storm as it approached Texas. The forecast that concerned us the most was the threat of torrential rains that would move over our home in Houston at a painstakingly slowly rate, causing major flooding. We live in an lower area surrounded by lakes, so it was crucial that we continued to monitor the situation.
As night fell, the power went out. We could only follow the news on our cell phones. All of a sudden, the water levels started to rise. In a matter of minutes the roads going out of our community were covered. The speed at which the water currents moved through the area was so strong that the entire first floor of our home was under water in just a few hours.
We went up to the second story of our apartment to escaping the rising water in our home. There, we began desperately calling the official rescue hotlines for help. As there were thousands of people in the same situation as us, securing our rescue was difficult. We spent the entire night asking for help. We found solidarity in other pastors and church members who had joined our efforts to find rescue. Some even tried to reach us, but the authorities had the streets blocked. Only official rescue responders were allowed through.
The night seemed to last an eternity. We followed the instructions we had been given, trying to make ourselves as visible as possible by flashing lights in case rescuers came near. As dawn broke, we were able to see the shocking amount of water surrounding us, which was just a few feet below the second story window. The strong water currents dragged everything in their path and the long awaited rescue was nowhere to be found.
My wife and I were trapped in our home with four other adults and two children. We were among hundreds of tenants from our apartment complex awaiting rescue teams.
I kept praying and holding on to the promises of Psalms 46. I kept repeating the words of Psalms 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” In the distance, we heard a helicopter approach. I jumped into the water to get their attention and my fearful plan worked. The helicopter turned towards us as I waved my arms and signaled them towards my family and neighbors, who were waving an improvised white flag out of a window.
We thought that perhaps we would be rescued soon. It took hours, but a boat finally did arrive. The water currents were strong and we struggled to help a woman board the boat with her seven-month-old baby. My wife and son also boarded the boat, but as the women and children were the priority, we were forced to part ways and send them ahead to safety.
Time passed without any more official rescuers. Two members from one of the churches that I pastor managed to reach me on a two-person plastic kayak without paddles or life jackets. I jumped out to them and we began our escape through the turbulent waters affected by helicopters flying nearby.
As we moved forward, we came across a woman who was desperate and anxious for someone to help her. She couldn’t swim and we knew the kayak couldn’t support all of us. But we could not leave her behind. We got her on the kayak and kept going. After a few hundred feet, the kayak began to sink.
I grabbed onto the metal roof of a sunken structure and my church members jumped out to swim along on either side of the kayak. Moments later, a rescue diver appeared, along with a larger boat, to finally take us to a safe place.
God had everything in place to save our lives. He sent help for my wife and son in a rescue boat. He guided and protected the efforts of my faith-filled members who came to my rescue. And then, he provided official rescue at precisely the right moment to save the four of us from capsizing on a plastic kayak.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that in addition to what God did to rescue me, I was also saved by my church. It was my fellow brothers in Christ who risked their lives so that I could live to tell this story. At the end of this whole ordeal, I can honestly say that I have gained more than what I lost, because I gained the reassurance that we are not alone, and that my brothers, sisters, and colleagues in ministry are not only servants of the Lord, but they are a great family.
Deyner Acosta is the pastor the Houston Spanish North and Kingwood Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Churches. He lives in Houston with his wife, Yoly, and children, Karen and Keyler.