When Walls Break

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A front door that is flooded

This story was written by International Worker, Katie.

I was just sending a message to a friend to check on plans for the next day when I heard my housemate, Chelsey’s, voice: “The water is in the house!” What?! I dashed over to look. Murky water was lapping over the step from our courtyard into our house; within a few minutes it would be over the next step at the end of our entryway and into the rest of our house. I called my teammate, Gary, jumping quickly to the point: “We have water coming into our house. Any ideas of what we should do?” Silence. Then his response, “Not really, but I will think about it. Maybe I can come over with some blocks of wood to put under your fridge to get it off the ground.” I warned him it would be tricky getting to our place with the river that was now coursing down our street.

We sprang into action moving things. Well Chelsey did, it took me a minute of my usual verbal-processing going into over-drive before I could join her: Message people to pray. Put on real clothes (though it wasn’t late I had already showered and put on pajamas after having gotten soaked earlier). Move the most important things first. We maybe had 5 minutes. Dash dash dash. Upstairs (thank you, God, that we have an upstairs), downstairs, upstairs, downstairs. Bang bang bang. Gary and our friend Eric were at the door, having waded through our river to mount a rescue operation.

The water was now flowing into our living room, welling up in the lowest areas. Wires propped up with a pole above the water. Chairs flipped up on table and counter like a diner closed for the night. And the mop that we acquired last week put to good use, pushing the water out the door in our dining room. After everything was lifted, stacked, and moved, Gary and Eric said good-bye, saying to call if it got worse, and venturing out again into the wet dark. We set alarms to check on things during the night.

The reason for the flood? An absent neighbour recently bulldozed his house to re-construct it. After some convincing by concerned community members thinking of rainy season, he agreed to put up a wall. But it wasn’t a very strong wall. In the heavy downpour, water streamed off the highway and piled up against it. When the wall broke like a dam, all the water came rushing into our neighbourhood and into the houses.

The next day I saw footage of the flooding throughout the city, cows being carried down the streets, people’s livelihoods being washed away. And then it was my heart that broke like a dam, and I found myself on the floor with the water flowing down my cheeks. I wept for the loss, not just here, but in other parts of Africa and Asia too, where flooding has cost homes and lives. I wept for the fear and instability that COVID-19 has brought into many already frightened and uncertain lives in the poorest communities of the world. And as these thoughts come to mind now, I am keenly aware: I have it so good. If I lost furniture, there would be money to replace it. If I needed help, there would be friends who would come. If I needed somewhere to stay, I would have several offers. And so those moments of insecurity of not knowing what would happen and if would flood again, where I felt… a bit shaken… only increase my awareness of the internal trembling that some feel constantly.

I recently watched the movie Instant Family, about a couple who adopt three children out of foster care, and one line in the midst of the hard realities really stood out to me: “And this has you feeling what? Frustrated? Scared? Lost? Is that it?… That’s how your children feel every day of their lives.” Lord, thank you that you care for us in our brokenness; help us also to see beyond our broken walls and show us how to be with others in their brokenness too.

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