Not long after Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction in southeast Texas and southwest Lousiana, my colleague Rev. Joanna Dietz, an ordained deacon in the Virginia Conference, organized an Early Response Team to travel to Texas to engage in the clean-up efforts in Texas. After following her post on Facebook, I invited Joanna to write a guest post. She and her son, Andrew, blog together at Mother, Son, and … Where’s the Holy Spirit?!
It started out like any other day, watching the news and moving through my work routine. But as Harvey hit and people began calling from around the Winchester District to see what we were doing in response, I felt that tug. You know, the one that says, “You need to do something radically different here and step out in faith.” Things quickly took shape and I found myself with four other people in two cars headed down to Texas with our ERT (Early Response Team) badges, which allow us into locations that have experienced disasters.
Our first impressions were of piles of possessions on the road, hay bales that had floated across roads, and business signs ripped from their posts and scattered across parking lots and sidewalks. Some areas had remained virtually untouched beyond the occasional blue tarp on the roof, but down by the river in the poorer section of town, flooding had done severe damage to many of the homes. This is where we spent our time in Victoria, TX.
As we approached our first neighborhood, a man came running out to our vehicle begging for our help. He was living in a small home with six others, including several children. Their roof had been peeled back from the home and rain had poured into the front section, creating terrible black mold. His need was compelling and one of the assessors spent all day working to remove them from their home as work began. This first impression was a lasting one and I’m happy to report that with the help of a nephew, we removed the mold and sprayed it down to stop the growth. We bought them a tent so they could stay outside until the work was done, and we made some new friends.
By the afternoon of the first day, we had joined forces with seven from Austin, TX. God truly brought this team together to do amazing work. In five days, we tarped five roofs, removed debris from nine homes, worked to remove black mold from three homes, and removed a tree from the roof of a home. In all, we cared for ten homes.
But the blessings came in the interactions with not just those living in the homes, but their neighbors, as well. Many of them had been working tirelessly for a week or two to remove the damage.
Their spirits were determined, but beginning to feel hopeless.
Fresh hands and renewed energy gave them a boost to keep moving forward. We worked side by side with these individuals, learning about them, growing in faith, lending support with words, gestures, and prayers. Kathy Kraiza, the former Executive Director at UMCOR’s Sager Brown, used to say about the flood buckets we send, “a flood bucket can’t fix what’s wrong with these homes. But they are a bucket full of hope when life seems hopeless.” I never fully understood that until this trip to Texas. We were a moment of hope to renew spirits. And I am grateful for that opportunity to participate.
All of this was only possible because of the United Methodist Churches in Victoria, TX, who stepped up and out in faith to become the hub of support in their community. First United Methodist Church opened their doors for the community to come receive flood buckets and personal hygiene items. They closed down their youth rooms to provide space for volunteers to stay. Their United Methodist Women (UMW) made casseroles and their preschool children made notes of encouragement for the volunteers. The wear and tear on this building with two showers and a large gym are going to be overwhelming. But this is what United Methodist Churches do. They open up their doors when others remain closed to be a place of transformation in their communities and beyond.
This crisis is far from over.
The rebuild will continue for years to come in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and all the islands of the Atlantic and Gulf. I implore you to not forget. Send money to UMCOR, or, if you feel moved, talk to your local church or District or the Conference about putting together a team for next spring to begin the rebuilding. I am so proud to be United Methodist because we truly are the very first ones in and the very last ones out. That only happens because we get trained to respond early and we don’t forget in the years ahead.