The Ongoing Impact of Loving Houston
by Reagan O'Hare, UBA Writers Team (06/28/2013)
While the numbers are impressive, the relationships developed and good will spread within communities may well be the greatest impact of Loving Houston.
During the Loving Houston Initiative, June 1-8, 2013, hundreds of volunteers collectively said a spark was ignited inside their hearts as they served a city of grateful Houstonians. Loving Houston projects included home repairs, a community center restoration, clearing of two historically significant cemeteries, landscaping, prayer and distribution of city service flyers.
Love in action made an impact at the Historic Evergreen Negro Cemetery. Evergreen Caretaker Woody Jones II explained that HENC holds markers for African American soldiers from every U.S. conflict beginning with World War I and other legendary local heroes. More than 125 volunteers arrived to remove damaged trees and within an hour and a half, seven acres of land had an instant facelift.
“These guys worked as a team,” Jones continued, “It was amazing, and it was an opportunity not only to work together, but to actually establish a social working relationship- -a fellowship.”
Another historical landmark honored was Olivewood Cemetery. Some of the city’s first African American doctors, ministers and educators from the 1870s are buried there. Larry Crutsinger helped clear 40 trees from Olivewood. Humbled, Crutsinger said, “We felt like we had really helped with an important cultural and historical restoration project and the caretakers told us that what we accomplished in one week would have taken them years.”
Dr. Ernest Dagohoy, First Philippine Baptist Church pastor, said he was blessed to see members volunteer at Olivewood. First Philippine volunteer Amor Ballestero called the experience, “inspiring” and overwhelming. “It was so big, and it looked like we were not making any improvements at all, but eventually we were able to fill up the whole container.” Charles Cook, Olivewood caretaker for 20 years, has descendents buried there. “What they did was astronomical,” Cook continued, “They advanced us probably ten years, and the stress is out of there because there was such a threat to monuments and general safety.”
Love led to another facelift at High School Ahead Academy. Fifty plus volunteers painted and landscaped the school. Marsha S. Dunn, a social worker at the school, said, “We now have more people stopping by to find out more about our program and they say ‘Oh, what a nice school!’ ” Dunn said the love came “in at a time we really needed it.”
A community center within Independence Heights was refurbished when volunteers sanded stairs and laid tile reported Dayne Laas, Loving Houston volunteer and a member of Lazybrook Baptist Church. And, a puppy was rescued. Laas added, “It was good day.”
Nyesha Scott of Lighthouse Church, helped round up 178 volunteers. Her goal was to volunteer in each of the six neighborhoods. “To drive to every area to see the people working . . . It just ministers to your heart . . . “I noticed that at some of the places we went, we were able to talk to people who seemed to have not had a loving, caring conversation in a long time, and they seemed to just enjoy a friendly smile and conversation, ” Scott said.
Loving Houston volunteers also spent time distributing flyers in each of the neighborhoods, alerting residents to important city services. Carol Homan, interim associate pastor of missions for University Baptist Church, said University’s team distributed brochures to a grateful Denver Harbor area. “We prayed for them . . . It was a great opportunity to work together on something completely different.”
Campo Londoño, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Horeb, who also distributed flyers and volunteered in some reconstruction, said, “Loving Houston gave me the opportunity to speak love to our neighbors and also to move Christians to express their love.”
Andre Whiting, a volunteer with Lighthouse Church, agreed. "I felt that it knocked down the walls of our churches and focused on spreading the gospel not only through word, but also by actions like when I John 3:18 says, ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.’ ”
Actions made an impact when Roger Daniel, of Clear Lake Baptist, joined volunteers to reroof a house. Daniel said, “It’s really a blessing to see people willing to spend that much time and that much effort helping people,” Daniel continued, “After seeing the number of folks we had both days and the amount of work that had to be done, they could not have done it themselves.”
Many elderly benefited from the Loving Houston initiative. One was an 87-year-old widow in the Third Ward. Rev. Alvin Payne, minister of missions of Holman Street Baptist Church worked with volunteers to clear six-foot-tall weeds that were obscuring the house from view. The widow regained the ability to trust, honored the young men volunteering and “God got all of the glory”, Payne said.
In Acres Homes, Ed Wandling, pastor of Cypress Oaks Church, helped lead a team to refurbish a home and clean up a yard. “We worked hard, and they had a good time and I think it was worthwhile for them personally,” Wandling said.
For many Loving Houston was simply family service. Gisela Cinta, outreach coordinator of Lakewood Church, said, “It was a unique opportunity for our ministries to come together with resources and volunteers to join forces and serve with one cause.” Scott said serving meant caring for Houston. “ . . . We were able to share that Loving Houston is an organization of servants that came together to show the love of Christ in action by meeting the needs of the community.
Baptists, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, and more came together to demonstrate the love of Christ in word and deed.