Lessons from the Cajun Navy September 15 2018

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Hurricane Florence has brought into focus a group we have heard about in several recent flood disasters: “The Cajun Navy.” According to information in Wikipedia, “the  Cajun Navy  are informal ad-hoc volunteer groups of private boat owners who assist in search and rescue efforts in Louisiana and adjacent areas. These groups were formed in the aftermath of  Hurricane Katrina and reactivated in the aftermaths of the  2016 Louisiana floods, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Florence. They are credited with rescuing thousands of citizens during those disasters.”

Many of us remember Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the third strongest hurricane to make landfall in the United States. Although New Orleans escaped the strongest of the winds, Katrina's storm surge caused 53 breaches to various flood protection structures in and around the greater New Orleans area, submerging 80% of the city. The water did not recede in some areas for weeks. A few years after Katrina, I listened to an audio book on my commute titled “The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” It was a heart-wrenching description of the aftermath of the hurricane and the suffering that ensued. Over 1200 people died in the hurricane and subsequent floods.

Because of the overwhelming nature of Katrina, it is reported that former Louisiana state senator Nick Gautreaux put out a plea across local TV and radio for "Anybody who wants to go help the people of New Orleans, please come to the Acadiana Mall." Between 350 and 400 boats and people showed up. This makeshift flotilla that became known as the Cajun Navy is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 people from flooded homes and rooftops.

Then in 2016, major flooding struck south-central Louisiana, resulting in even more attention for the informal rescue organization.  The Baton Rouge  Advocate  summed up the views of many when it wrote: "The heroes hailed from the Cajun Navy, the nickname for an impromptu flotilla of volunteers who had no admiral, no uniforms, no military medals awaiting them for acts of valor. It was conscience, not a commanding officer, that summoned them into treacherous currents to carry endangered citizens to higher ground."

In August 2017, the Cajun Navy deployed to Southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey, ready to help search and rescue efforts alongside first responders who were inundated with thousands of calls across the region. This even prompted President Trump to mention them in his 2018 State of the Union address as an example of heroism and sacrifice.

Even as I write this, their volunteers have now assembled again in North and South Carolina to assist with Hurricane Florence. Local emergency responders seem to be better prepared now than in past hurricanes, but there is always the possibility of the agencies being overwhelmed with the scale of a disaster. Time will tell how this plays out. But in each event, these volunteers have noticed a need, taken the time, spent their own money, and taken great risks for those who were helpless and sometimes in hopeless situations.

We see this virtually every time a disaster occurs: neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger. The Cajun Navy has received an unusual amount of notice but heroism and sacrifice also occurs many times in places obscure and unseen.

As I was reminded about the Cajun Navy by its mobilizing for Hurricane Florence, it brought me back to the powerful illustration of love that Jesus provided in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We forget sometimes that this parable was prompted by a lawyer challenging Jesus with a question about eternal life in Luke 10:25:

And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Characteristically, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question with a question: “And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’” To which the lawyer answered with the two great commandments: ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus commended his answer, but the lawyer, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?

I’m very glad the lawyer asked that question, because Jesus’ response gave us an extraordinarily powerful illustration of what it means to truly love your neighbor (Luke 10:30-37).  The parable is well-known, but it is worth pointing out a few things:

  • The “neighbor” was actually a stranger to the Good Samaritan. In other words, the Samaritan didn’t help the man because he was a friend. We don’t know exactly who the man was in the parable, but he actually could have been more like an enemy, given that Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the example of love.
  • The man who was robbed and beaten along the road was completely helpless - Verse 30 says the robbers “went away leaving him half dead.”
  • Helping him was messy – This had to be part of why the priest and Levite passed him by. The man must have been difficult even to look at, if he was described as “half dead.”
  • Helping him would take time and be inconvenient – The Samaritan set aside his schedule, brought the man to an inn, and stayed there overnight himself (verse 34).
  • Helping him could cost money – The Samaritan paid the innkeeper to take care of the man until he returned, including a commitment to reimburse him for “whatever you spend” (verse 35)

The parable describes quite well what it must be like to take time out of one’s own schedule, and commit one’s resources as a Cajun Navy volunteer. The same is true for many other types of volunteers. Obviously, not everyone can be in the Cajun Navy. All of us face dilemmas and possible limitations in who we can help and what we can do. But if Jesus chose to use this parable to illustrate an example of true, godly love, it must be pretty important.

At the end of the parable, Jesus left the lawyer, and He leaves us, with the simple, memorable command “Go and do the same” (verse 37). May God help us, motivated by compassion (verse 33) and mercy (verse 37) to carry out this command in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Compassion and mercy should naturally flow out of a Christian because of the compassion and mercy we have been shown by Christ. It helps to remember that EACH OF US was the man left half dead along the road (actually fully dead from a spiritual standpoint), as in Romans 5:6 – “For while WE were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” WE were the ones in the flood clinging to a tree or in an attic watching the water rise when the Lord, through His mercy, sent His Son to rescue us. “Saved” is a word that it is much maligned in the world today, but it is very descriptive of what Jesus, “the Savior” did for us.

Thankfully, there are many of examples of merciful, sacrificial love within the Christian community. There are many organizations with millions of volunteers who, like the Cajun Navy, get organized to bring help to those who are helpless. Samaritan’s Purse and others have emerged straight out of Jesus’ parable. But we don’t need a disaster to be so motivated. There are people in need all around us, within our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities. May God use us in the coming days to become aware of and, as He enables, respond to these needs.

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Steve Smith