The people of southeast Texas’ Golden Triangle – Beaumont, Vidor, Nederland, Groves, and Port Arthur – were not supposed to be flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Many did not even live in a floodplain, where insurance protection for this kind of natural disaster is mandated. Meanwhile, the storm approached and thousands of their neighbors to the west evacuated. Golden Triangle residents watched and waited. Day after day the winds blew. Day after day, the rains pounded their roofs. Then, unexpectedly, a knock came at the door and life changed.
The decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to open the floodgates from overflowing reservoirs was unprecedented. And, by the time residents were notified their homes were in the path of the impending flood, it was too late to leave. There was no place to go. Soon after, their homes were under water and rescue boats were on the way.
But, before the streets were dry, churches from the Collin Baptist Association (CBA) Church Network sprang into action. With buckets of supplies in-hand, volunteer teams responded to the call from churches in the unexpectedly flooded area. Larry Perkins, acting Director of Missions for the Golden Triangle Baptist Network said recently that more than 30 church buildings were damaged by the flood. And many churches, such as First Baptist Church of Vidor, saw nearly 80-percent of their members suffer from some extent of water damage to their homes. FBC Vidor opened their doors and is now the command center, main kitchen, and bunk-house for volunteers who come to assist.
First Baptist Church of McKinney partnered with North End Baptist Church in Beaumont by sending three different teams who each worked for three to four days. Volunteers helped empty houses of their waterlogged possessions, pulled saturated drywall and insulation, and ripped cabinets from the walls as they prepared them to be sprayed with chemicals to prevent mold and mildew from developing. North End Pastor Eric House said from their church, more than 50 church families have homes with flood damage. House, who is grateful so many have come to assist their congregation and community, said that while the greatest need for volunteer teams is from now until Christmas, he is already booking teams to come in the Spring and Summer. “We are going to be working on houses for at least a year,” he added. “And the people here are so overwhelmed. They just could not do this on their own.”
Other churches from the CBA Church Network joined FBC McKinney in partnering with North End Baptist. Pastor Nitin Christopher of the Asian-Indian church plant, Church of The Way in Plano, made several trips with different teams, and through their work saw SEVERAL salvations, and the birth of a new Bible study group called Beaumont Faith Fellowship that has a potential to become a church plant.
In Orange, volunteers from Murphy Road Baptist returned to minister to some of the people they had helped for the past two summers as part of their student ministry’s mission projects. Student Pastor John Fletcher and his wife, Trish, said some of the people they helped recover from an earlier flood were the same ones they were ministering to on this trip. “A couple of the ladies we had previously helped were so concerned about our students being discouraged because all of their hard work was destroyed again,” said Trish. “People really gathered together to encourage one another.” While they were only there for three days, Trish says she was encouraged by the people – those they came to help, and by others who had come from far away to be a help to others. “The happiest thing I experienced was while we were helping a lady remove all the things from her home so the mudout team could begin their work,” said Trish. “While we were working, occasionally she would go to the front door and recite scripture about God meeting her needs and praising Him for being her provider.”
Hunters Glen Baptist Church in Plano’s pastor previously served in Houston, so the connection there was natural. Missions & Evangelism Pastor Stuart Sumrall led a team diverse team comprised of men and women, ages 14 to 70. “At first, we were discouraged as person after person told us they didn’t need any help or simply refused the help we were there to offer,” Sumrall said. “One homeowner had done very little work, but because she had limited English skills, she wasn’t sure if she trusted us. A neighbor saw us speaking with her and came over to explain to her that she could trust us, and a church group had gutted his own house. Then another neighbor saw us and sent a friend to ask us to come to his house.” A father and son went to survey his situation and pray with him. Sumrall said that as they worked in those two homes, more homeowners began showing up and asked to help them in their homes. “Because one neighbor came over to help us build trust, we ended up having two days’ worth of work in that neighborhood where we previously were discouraged,” he said.
At home, Parkway Hills Baptist Church and Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church became collection centers for the community to drop-off hurricane relief supplies. Both churches sent semi-trailers full of supplies. In addition, the Chainsaw and Mudout Units of Collin Baptist Men (CBM) deployed to the opposite end of the coast in Victoria.
CBM director Duane Bechtold said their volunteers have recently returned from their work there, and that Victoria, which suffered mostly wind damage, was no longer an active disaster site. Bechtold said nearly 20 volunteers from the local unit responded in Victoria where they cleared downed limbs, and helped do flood recovery for homes who sustained roof damage and were flooded from above, rather than below as in the Golden Triangle.
Pastor Shawn Kemp and Crossroads Community Church in Anna/Van Alstyne partnered with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) Disaster Relief and sent a team to Houston for a week where they cleaned out five different homes. Kemp said the thing that stood out the most to him was the scope of the devastation where flooding had occurred. “There were piles of debris in front of every home for as far as you could see down the street,” he said. But Kemp was surprised by how quickly much of the city seemed to be getting back to life as usual. He noted that a week after the storm there were businesses already back up and running.
Kemp said the saddest thing he saw was how people who did not know Christ responded. “They did not have hope in Christ,” he said. “They were devastated and did not know what they were going to do next.” Kemp was encouraged as he watched believers from around the country came to help. “They were responding to the hurt and need while at the same time keeping top priority of sharing the hope of Jesus with people,” said Kemp.
But, sharing the Gospel, even in times of trouble, does not always bring belief. “We worked on the home of a guy named Jerry who was not a believer,” Kemp recalls. “We prayed with him and shared Christ with him multiple times. God kept bringing us into his path even after we finished his home. We saw him in Lowe’s. We worked on the house across the street from him, and he kept coming to talk to us.
“Finally, I talked with him some more and asked him if there was anything that would keep him from giving his life to Christ right then. He looked around and said, ‘Yes, all of this. I just feel like I need to get all of this sorted out first.’ It was just sad to see that, even though he could see God’s had at work around him, he still was not ready to give his life to Christ,” Kemp said. However, there are others who are responding to the Gospel. Perkins said in the Beaumont area he is aware of at least nine professions of faith, three of which have already been baptized.
Experts say relief efforts will probably continue into the new year; rebuilding will take years after that. Said Perkins, “You can fake caring, but you can’t fake showing up.” The CBA Church Network is committed to helping facilitate the sending of volunteer teams to the Golden Triangle.
If you or your church is interested in partnering with a church in the Golden Triangle area to provide hurricane relief, please call or email the CBA Church Network’s hurricane relief volunteer coordinator, Brent Sorrels, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 214.973.9404.