As I write this Wednesday, Oct. 5, the mandatory evacuation of 1.1 million people from the coastal low country of South Carolina has begun. People seeking to escape the arrival of Matthew the Hurricane are being told to move at least 100 miles inland.
When I posted about this on Facebook, and mentioned family members from the low country would be evacuating to our home in Columbia, S.C., a ministry colleague from the Cleveland area — Jonathan Glass-Riley, senior pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church — suggested it might be a good sermon to preach on refugees as family members. That got me thinking.
Schools are closed for three days not only in the areas expected to be impacted by the hurricane, but also in the areas to which people are fleeing. The schools 100 to 200 miles inland will be used as emergency shelters for people from the coast who do not have family, friends or commercial lodging available and affordable for them. Hotels 100 miles inland are now fully booked, and people are encouraged to go farther inland for commercial lodging.
More than 300 school buses have been sent to the coast from up to 200 miles away to transport people inland who do not have their own transportation. Roads are being closed to two-way traffic Wednesday afternoon so vehicles will only flow away from the coast. Lines at gasoline service stations in the low country are up to a quarter of a mile long.
The national guard has been mobilized. They will be monitoring traffic, providing comfort stations along the roads, and dealing with managing the flow of people away from the low country. If necessary, they will do emergency evacuations of people who cannot or will not evacuate.
Pictures on the Internet and television of traffic flowing from the low country already show a bumper-to-bumper travel situation. This is just the beginning of crowded road conditions for the next three days in preparation for the arrival of Matthew by Saturday.
Television, radio, web sites, social media, telephone traffic and emergency alerts, calls and texting between family and friends, and other communication channels are keeping the storm refugees from the coast up-to-date hour-by-hour. The South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s web site offers a comprehensive guide to how to respond during a hurricane situation. It keeps citizens informed as to when their zone of the coast needs to take action.
This is an overwhelming amount of preventative response to a hurricane whose route of travel could change by the time you are reading this.
The first of up to six family refugees from the coast has already settled into our home in Columbia. Two more are expected by Thursday. Three more are likely here by Friday from the place where they initially fled. These six refugees who are family members will be with us until they can return to their homes.
Since mid-afternoon Tuesday our household has been preparing for their coming. Bathrooms are clean. Beds are made. The pantry and refrigerator are stocked. No hesitation. They are family. They are welcome.
We have not asked for their passports. We have not required background checks. We have not requested health screening — although, I kind of wish we had asked about health. The first one arrived with a cold and I immediately thought, “Why have I not gotten my flu shot yet?” But they are family and none of this was necessary.
Welcome to the first world!
A first-world response was not the case when Matthew the Hurricane hit Haiti earlier this week. It is not the response when Syrian refugees flee. It is not the response to numerous worldwide situations that symbolize the gulf between the first world and the rest of the world.
Are these global refugees family members? Are these refugees persons of worth created in the image of God to live and to love? Do we welcome them without hesitation? Do we welcome them even though there are many unknowns? Do we realize all of us are refugees from unsafe physical, emotional and spiritual places in life?
Do we have the same urgency regarding the refugee who is unseen as we do for the refugee who is seen? Or for the refugee who is unknown as we do for the refugee who is known? May we see events such as the coming of Matthew the Hurricane as an opportunity to renew our commitment to seeing all refugees as family members.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2 NASB).