“In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit

WHARTON COUNTY, Tex. — Jeff Klimple, head bowed and eyes clinched, had locked his meaty mechanic’s hand into the trembly, creased fingers of his 80-year-old mother, Angie. She, in turn, held the right hand of her 24-year-old granddaughter, Natalie. Natalie was clutching a box of Hefty Ultra Strong garbage bags with her left hand, so the Lutheran pastor standing next to her, Lee Kuhns, wrapped one arm around her and draped the other over the shoulder of the gray-haired woman on his left, Rosalie Beard.

In all, there were 17 Texans linked in a ring on Angie Klimple’s front yard last Saturday afternoon, a circle of prayer broken only by the hay wagon that would soon carry away the putrid, sodden remnants of 50 years of her life.

“Father, we come to you and thank you for all of these people you sent us, Mr. Klimple continued.

The group gathered in what had been a tidy yard on Blanche Street, one house away from a cotton field, an hour’s drive southwest of Houston. Wharton County, bounded on the northeast by the San Bernard River and bisected by the Colorado, has some of the state’s most productive farm and ranch land. But by Aug. 30, the deluge brought by Hurricane Harvey had lifted water levels by five to 10 times their norm and both rivers had breached their banks.

Recently harvested cornfields and pastures became vast lakes, traversable only by boat, and Peach Creek and Boughman’s Slough, each less than a mile from Mrs. Klimple’s house, sent water coursing into her neighborhood with destructive abandon. Mrs. Klimple managed to drive out just in time with Natalie, who lived with her. When she returned on Saturday, shortly after the water receded, she found its telltale calling card, a black horizontal line, some 20 inches up the whitewashed garage wall.

Across the flood zone, the water’s victims have endured the first two weeks of dislocation with the help of Samaritans of all cloths — family members, friends, co-workers, volunteers from near and far, and an array of faith-based groups. With homeowners racing against time to limit the advance of rot and mold, the availability of free manual labor can make all the difference.

Those who appeared within hours outside Mrs. Klimple’s house, as if by spontaneous generation, ranged in age from 6 to 77. Rancher Robert Spitzmiller and his daughter, Sarah, put aside cleanup efforts on their 8,000 acres and headed over in his pickup. Gary and Bonnie Pflughaupt came in from nearby El Campo, and brought along their son, Travis, 27, and his wife, Kassandra, 23, newlyweds who lived near San Antonio.

Many were evangelical Christians, and so it made sense that the circle included Mr. Kuhns, the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in El Campo. Less predictable was the presence of Michael Vowell, the bearded, yarmulke-wearing senior rabbi of a messianic synagogue in Houston, along with his wife, Lauren, and their three children.

Some did not know one another, or for that matter the Klimples. It mattered little. Each felt called by faith to lend their hands — and legs and backs, which would soon ache with soreness — to an elderly woman in distress.

For Mr. Klimple, 59, a solid, sideburned engine mechanic with grease under his nails, the outpouring of support for his mother was too much to absorb. As he prayed aloud, his eyes reddened. Tears fell onto a white T-shirt already stained with sweat and grime. He paused to compose himself, without success.

“I thank you, Lord, for the things that you’ve given us, the grace and mercy that we take for granted.”

Since the days of the Bible, all manner of natural disasters — floods and earthquakes, pestilence and famine — have tested the devotion of the faithful and provoked the most fundamental theological questions. Is God benevolent or retributive or both? Why is there so much human suffering and why does it afflict the righteous as well as the unrighteous? Does everything in fact happen for a reason, and if so what divine purpose could there possibly be in leaving an old widow like Mrs. Klimple homeless?

Many of those in the prayer circle allowed themselves to wonder, but not for long. There was too much to do. And nothing that had happened, not the deaths or destruction of homes or loss of crops and livestock, had shaken their faith. In fact, to a person, they said the flood and its aftermath had strengthened it.

At least part of God’s plan, each said in subsequent interviews, could be detected in the formation of the prayer circle itself. Here were strangers and friends, aged and innocent, rural and urban, coming together to humble themselves before God and put their faith into practice.

It was a scene repeated time and again in the aftermath of the storm, from Bay City to Beaumont, as cleaning crews hauled mountains of possessions to the curb. It was just stuff, they told themselves, the accumulations of this earthly life, not an eternal one. Everyone was safe. God was still good.

“Lord, I want to thank you that we’re not in worse shape than we are, because we know that others have suffered even more.”

And yet, it was bad enough. After soaking for four days in calf-deep water, the single-story house reeked like a high school bathroom. Floors and carpets were sludgy with mud. It took hours of sweeping to force the remaining water out the door.

The four bedrooms were wrecked, along with most of the furniture. Some of Mrs. Klimple’s most cherished photographs, like those of her late husband, Jesse, in uniform during the Korean War, were beyond salvaging.

There had been flooding in Wharton County (population 42,000) twice in the previous 16 months, but never like this. It arrived late, a full four days after Harvey inundated Houston, and it caught the Klimples and many others off guard. Remarkably, no one in the county perished. But much of a bumper crop of cotton sat moldering in the fields, and livestock losses were substantial.

Mrs. Klimple, who built the blond brick ranch with her husband in 1968, oversaw the emptying of her house from the kitchen. She gripped a soaked brown towel as if it were a security blanket, first wiping her face, then burying it, as her belongings paraded past: the box springs and bed frames, the rocking chair, the lamps, the bedroom drawers still stuffed with clothes.

Some of the helpers wore blue surgical gloves but no one had brought masks. Four hardworking children, Sarah Spitzmiller, 11, and Hazel, 6; Seth, 9; and Orah Vowell, 11, took out the picture frames and vases and the coffee pot. Hazel sang Cinderella songs to herself as she mopped.

They came across the triangular case holding the flag presented to Mrs. Klimple by the Army after her husband died, and the intricate models of covered wagons that he built from scratch as a hobby. It felt like a privilege, like they were honor guards.

“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” Seth Vowell told Mrs. Klimple. “Thanks for letting me do this,” he added. “I really needed to get out of the house.”

She had to fight back the tears. “We’ll be all right with the help of the Lord,” she told him.

Michael Beard, a family friend who had recruited the volunteers from among kinfolk and friends, designated one trailer for refuse and another for items worth saving. Mrs. Klimple’s sentimentality ebbed into resignation as the afternoon wore on.

“How about this chair, Angie?” someone asked.

She gave it a glance. “Junk it,” she said.

“We pray for all the animals and things that we need in our world, our cattle, our people that work on the farms.”

At Robert Spitzmiller’s ranch, passed down from his great-great grandfather, the water stopped about 75 yards shy of the old plantation house. But the high ground in his pastures and pens was not very high, and some of his dazed livestock — 650 head of cattle and 11 horses — confronted water up to their bellies.

During the worst of the flooding, Mr. Klimple, his friend, brought his boat to the ranch and they skimmed in the dark above fields and fence posts to search for his animals. He cut wire and herded horses and cows through the gaps, sometimes lowering himself into the gut-high water and guiding the stubborn beasts on foot. Floating clusters of fire ants feasted on his legs.

He and Sarah could not, however, find her prized mare, Holly, a champion cutting and roping horse. After they searched frantically for two days, the horse wandered up a watery path to the corral, sporting a gash on her right hock and other cuts and punctures.

Elsewhere in the county, Mr. Beard, 50, struggled to get feed to his 50 cows stranded in water 100 yards from his barn. Fortunately, he had a canoe, and could paddle out with hay — four bales at a time, five round trips per feeding, twice a day — until the water receded.

Yet there was no hesitation when Mr. Klimple, a shirt-off-his-back kind of friend, asked the two men to pitch in at his mother’s house. In the prayer circle, when Mr. Klimple became too emotional to proceed, Mr. Beard stepped in. He spoke of his conviction that God must have a reason, even for the most horrific of tragedies, citing a 3-year-old girl found clinging to her dead mother in swirling floodwaters.

“Father, somehow, some way, you can turn it out for good. I don’t understand it. I can’t wrap my mind around it. I cried out for you, Lord, why did you let that happen? Why?”

The two clergymen in the circle approached that question from different angles. For Mr. Kuhns, the Lutheran pastor, the answer concerned man’s original sin. “We broke the world, and so we see the ramifications with earthquakes and floods and wars,” he said. “We’re the ones that brought it about.”

That interpretation of Scripture, he acknowledged, was not an easy one for those already suffering. “It doesn’t come off sounding very loving,” he said. “And yet the truth is we all deserve death and destruction. That’s what we deserve. But by the grace and love of God, he has blessed us with not total suffering.” Harvey’s devastation, he said, served to remind believers that heaven and not earth was their true home, the place where all would be perfect.

Rabbi Vowell had brought his family to the Klimple house at the request of Mr. Beard, who attends Congregation Beth Messiah in Houston with his wife, Kim. Ms. Beard had learned she had Jewish ancestry and became interested in messianic Judaism, which recognizes Christ as a spiritual savior within a context of traditional Jewish practice.

Raised Jewish in Houston, Rabbi Vowell, 41, had himself come to Christ as a young man as part of his escape from drug abuse and dealing. These days, he bears a resemblance to the popular iconography of the prophet he calls Yeshua (if, that is, Yeshua had worn snakeskin boots and a Texas star belt buckle).

“My theology is that if I can see God moving through people, neighbors helping neighbors, I can shelve the bigger question of why is this happening,” he said. “That there are still people caring for each other is evidence enough that God is in this world.”

Rabbi Vowell spoke of tikkun olam, the Jewish imperative placed on “repairing the world.” Perhaps, he said, the kindnesses shown to the Klimples would create new memories to replace those in Angie’s discarded photo albums.

“The purpose of this may be as simple as future generations looking back and seeing how caring and giving and sacrificial people were,” he said.

For many in the prayer circle, the testing of faith was the whole point. “It’s easy when something bad happens to shake your fist at God,” said Kassandra Plfughaupt, 23. “But how often in everyday life do you see a miracle, the miracle of a baby born, of love between people, or the way that people unite and come together in tragedy.”

“Father, we know that you have all of our angels looking down upon us, all of our ones that have left us, all of our family.”

For Jeff Klimple, the deepest emotions welled when he remembered his father, and all the meaningful moments in that house, now in ruins. But his tears also flowed from the unexpected arrival of so much help.

“To me, it was a gift from the Lord,” he said. “You know, bad things happen to good people and we don’t know why. But this is what the Lord wants, for you to love your brother like yourself.”

Angie Klimple, who gets by mostly on Social Security benefits, is now living with relatives nearly two hours away. It makes for long days when she drives to Blanche Street to work on the house.

She misses her gardening, and even mowing the yard, which she still does at 80 despite pain in her joints. She did not have flood insurance. And while she filled out forms this week for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, she does not know whether it will be enough to make the house habitable.

In 2008, when Hurricane Ike blew through Galveston, she went there with a church group and spent three days clearing out houses. “I felt so blessed to do it,” she said. She never imagined, of course, that the tables might turn.

By midweek, some of Mrs. Klimple’s despair had lifted, and her sense of humor had returned. “When I first saw it all, it upset me,” she said in her barbed-wire twang. “But then I thought, you know, I needed to clean the house anyway. Too bad I’d just dusted everything.”

She nodded at a new set of volunteers who were prying out drywall and disinfecting the house with bleach. They were what mattered. “When I saw the crew that came in, all those wonderful people and friends, I was just so thankful,” she said. “I feel like the Lord’s trying to bring people together. He wants us to be nicer to each other.”