Father Luke Palumbis, priest at St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church in Houston, Texas, has been an IOCC Frontliner since 2005, when IOCC responded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Father Luke, who has called Houston home for nearly three years, is a member of IOCC’s board of directors and was extremely active in responding to Hurricane Harvey in September 2017. He related his experiences to a member of IOCC’s communications team.
“My appreciation for the first-response spiritual-care piece has definitely been heightened by serving peopled shocked and without safe homes in the Houston area after Hurricane Harvey,” said Fr. Luke Palumbis in a conversation with IOCC headquarters staff. From “inside the fishbowl,” he recalled seeing firsthand incredible acts of service and generosity while working alongside priests from out of the area, including fellow IOCC Frontliners Father Jordan Brown and Father Gary Kyriacou.
In the days following the hurricane, Frontliners visited families throughout the area, seeing up close the stress and shock of those whose homes were damaged. People expressed gratitude for the simple fact that someone was there, that they cared enough to listen and offer emotional support in an intense situation.
Asked what his strongest impression of the response experience was, Fr. Luke said this: “More than anything—even more than the destruction (which was, by the way, far worse than anything shown in the news)—I’ve come away inspired by people’s willingness to help each other no matter what they were dealing with themselves. The questions in the air were ‘What can I do for you? What do you need today? How can I help you today?’”
“This is Christianity in action,” he added. “Not that anyone was preaching with words, but they were doing it with their actions.” Jumping into a kayak or canoe because they heard someone needed help. Shaking a neighbor out of shock so they could leave as waters rose. Leaving their own flooded homes to cook meals at the church for volunteers. Walking through waist-high water to retrieve a piece of equipment someone else needed for clean-up work. Once people saw that their families were safe, Fr. Luke reported, so many people turned around and said, “Who can I help now?”
Given that in the immediate aftermath of catastrophes, the media spotlight typically falls on large-scale charities, Fr. Luke encouraged folks to consider IOCC’s efficiency and stewardship: “It’s a trustworthy ministry,” he said, “not an organization. It’s a ministry that can bring forth fruit, like the spiritual-care first responders, clean-up crews, and grants for family assistance that are being provided. These are truly ministries of the Church. When you invest in IOCC, there’s a phenomenal stewardship of those resources to make sure they go to those most affected.”
And although IOCC continues to grow, it remains committed to its mission: serving those in need without discrimination, reflecting Christ’s love for us all.