Volunteers Bring Hope to Survivors of Hurricane Harvey

By: Don Felice

Hope is an amazing thing. It can take a person by the hand and lead them out of the depths of despair. It can raise up a community out of unthinkable disaster. And it can bless us with immeasurable spiritual riches in the midst of desperate times.

When Hurricane Harvey hit the tiny coastal town of Port Lavaca, Texas, many people found themselves dazed and confused. In the aftermath of the storm, their little community was left for a time with no power, tainted water, and scarce, if any, word as to how bad the situation was in their little corner of Texas. Uncertainty prevailed.

But imagine facing the storm when you cannot hear or communicate with anyone to express your fear or how much you need help. There is no loneliness like silence in a raging storm. No more feeling of hopelessness than not being able to make yourself understood in a life-threatening situation.

“What do you want?” The Salvation Army canteen volunteers asked. “How many meals?” A little louder, they asked the woman energetically motioning to them, “Are you O.K.?”

With increased worry and frantic expressions, the woman signed to the volunteers that she was deaf, but to no avail. The volunteers did not understand what she was communicating to them in sign language – I AM DEAF.

Peering through the canteen window, a new soldier and recent Baylor University graduate, Laura Stevenson, saw the commotion just below her. She quickly stepped out of the canteen and approached the deaf woman signing “It’s O.K., I’ve been signing for five years! What do you want?”

Worry and tension faded into joy and laughter as the woman signed back to Stevenson, “I did not know you would have people who signed – this is amazing!”

The following signing conversations were filled with more joy and laughter as the woman signs to Stevenson of her desperate situation. “My house is completely destroyed. If you did not have food, I would not have been able to eat today,” she signed. As Stevenson signed back to her that The Salvation Army will be here for as long as the community needs and that she can come as many times as she wants, her hope was restored.

According to Stevenson, signing is a very conceptual language, and much of it is beyond words. Laura says she never got the deaf woman’s name. Maybe names are not that important when hope and joy transcend uncertainty and despair.

Laura and her husband Tyler, a Salvation Army mission specialist at the Waco, Texas, Corps, plan to become Salvation Army officers and look forward to entering Evangeline Booth College next year. “We love helping people and being a part of what The Salvation Army stands for,” Stevenson said, “because we are known for being the hands and feet of Christ.”