The UBA Mission Centers of Houston served the neighborhood in the days following Hurricane Harvey, by far the worst disaster to ever hit Houston. It has left hundreds of thousands in need of disaster relief, recovery and rebuilding. From the moment Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017 until it quit raining four days later, four feet of rain (equivalent to an average yearly rainfall) fell in Houston. During that time our staff began its response by continually checking in on individuals in the communities we serve. Two of our staff members rode it out in the apartments we have in our building at the Gano Mission Center location.
Once the rain stopped we were relieved to learn that none of our centers, or the communities surrounding them, were flooded. So we began to pray to seek direction from the Lord regarding what we should do since we were not affected. Because most of the roads leading into the city were impassible, and because we were simply not set up with the means to host temporary shelters we took food, toiletries, clothing and baby supplies from our on-hand stock and delivered them to the George R Brown Convention Center. We were able to navigate along inner city roads to get there with these welcome supplies. But what would the Lord have us do now? What next for MCH? Would it be to open our centers as temporary shelters, change the way we do ministry in the future, or something else?
Within four days after the rain stopped the inbound roads to Houston were opened and our remaining staff members were able to get to their centers. The answer to our prayers became clear once we were able to assess our communities further. The Lord made it very clear that He would have us continue the mission we’ve been performing over the past five decades. People that we minister to began coming to our centers to ask when we would be open again. The communities we serve needed help in finding food that was hard to get, and they needed to get back to a sense of normalcy as soon as possible.
Soon after the ‘mucking out’ of homes across the city began, and there was a growing need for housing volunteer teams from across the United States who would come to Houston to help with the process. Since we have ample room in our facilities and the ability to house teams of people (this is what we do every summer) we began offering our facilities to any teams that needed a place to lodge while helping with the clean up in Houston. We teamed up with Union Baptist Association who were getting requests to find temporary lodging for volunteers, and they directed teams to us. At the same time we set up a restricted Disaster Relief Fund to receive donations to help people who were affected by Harvey.
Once word was out that we had the ability to store both perishable and non-perishable items, and had the ability and willingness to distribute food to displaced families, many churches and organizations, both in Houston and as far away as Wisconsin, began sending us food, toiletries and cleaning supplies to distribute to anyone in need. We used those donations to serve at least 1,000 people during September at both the Joy and Gano Mission Centers. Additionally, we loaded our van and box truck several times to take and distribute these supplies to the Fondren area in SW Houston, East Houston and Aldine area. Houston area churches also began coming to us directly to house teams of volunteers so we provided lodging from September through December at both centers.
Through a set of circumstances that we deem as providential we believe God set us on a path in September to prepare us for what He intends for us to do in the future. As a result of my DR involvement in our home church, Woodlands First Baptist, we began a partnership in October with Henderson Hills Baptist Church from Edmond, Oklahoma. We had opened our doors for their teams to stay in our missionary dorms while they performed relief and recovery work. Several teams came and did ‘mucking out’ work. Once most of that was finished I met with their DR leader, Tom Shively, to offer the use of our facilities for lodging and material storage should his church want to continue coming to Houston to help with the rebuilding efforts that would next take place. So Tom and I prayed about where they would focus and the Lord directed us to ride through some of the areas that were devastated in an area the Kashmere Gardens, Trinity Gardens and East Houston areas. After learning that there were thousands of uninsured homeowners in these areas who were not receiving any help from FEMA or others, plus the fact that the whole area was impoverished, we sensed that this was the area the Lord wanted us to focus on.
The overarching concern at this point was that we had already determined the Lord wanted us to continue our work as in the past, so any further recovery and rebuilding work would have to be done in a way that would not disrupt our current ministries. We already operate with a small staff and they simply could not take on additional work to embark on this much-needed ministry in a new area for MCH. Tom agreed to go back to Oklahoma and present the need to his church. Subsequently they recruited a first ‘rebuilding’ team to come. We would provide a place for them to stay and I would help Tom locate individuals in NE Houston to help. Easier said than done! Since there was very little infrastructure in place to assess homes and identify recovery and rebuilding candidates it was difficult to locate specific homes that needed help.
Two days before the Oklahoma team’s arrival we still didn’t know where the Lord wanted us to work. Then at 4:00 pm we received a call from a 75 year old widow’s distraught daughter who had ‘called everywhere and no one could help her’. She was desperately trying to find help for her mother Tanner who had been flooded and already mucked out, but because she didn’t have flood insurance and no way for her to do the repairs herself, there was no way for her to get back in her home. When I asked her where her mother lived it was in the Trinity Gardens/East Houston area. I told her about Tom and I riding through there recently and sensing the Lord’s leading to help people in that area. Through a sigh of relief and plenty of tears from both of us we set a time for Tom and I to meet them at her mom’s house. When we arrived the next morning we assessed Tanner’s house, then Johnny, a retired bivocational pastor who lived next door, asked us if we could provide any help to him. That morning we all got in a circle and prayed, thanking the Lord for His direction and for answering the prayers of Tanner and Johnny. That day, we made arrangements for the team to come and finish the preparation work in both homes to get them ready for new insulation and sheetrock. We also met several other neighbors and agreed to help them with the same type of work.
The team from Oklahoma arrived and immediately got to work. They finished mudding out the homes and spraying to make sure mold wouldn’t form. Johnny was blessed by the team who removed his flooded flooring and drywall in several rooms. At Tanner’s house we noticed several leaks in the plumbing so we asked our plumbing company to donate money and labor along with us to help replace the plumbing before putting the walls back. Tanner’s children raised $2,000, MCH gave $1,000, and the plumbing company gave $1,000. The owner of the owner of the plumbing company did the work personally and provided the labor for free. All of the plumbing in her home was replaced. When the next team came we purchased insulation and drywall for another neighbor, Doris, and the team installed it. By the end of November most all of the homes had new insulation and drywall.
Soon after we learned that Kenny, a brother of one of our senior adults that we minister to at Gano Mission Center, needed help in his home. It still needed to be mucked out and all the kitchen cabinets torn out, as well as the flooring. Tom recruited a college group from Oklahoma and he and his wife completed that work in November.
One of our senior adults at Gano, Alice, needed someone to help replace some drywall in her home so the college team helped with that. They also were able to remove a large tree leaning against her house that had been uprooted by Harvey.
After Thanksgiving the Oklahoma teams would not be back until after the first of the year, but there was still much work to do. We didn’t have volunteer teams to oversee the work needed. There was no network to call on and no one coordinating the work in NE Houston. So we jointly decided to hire on a contract basis a part time Disaster Relief Coordinator, Cheyenne Solis, who had experience doing this kind of work as a ministry. Another providential occurrence here: Cheyenne was on a ‘muck out’ team with Tom and I on Labor Day. We believe the Lord put us together that day to make this most important connection. It turns out that Tom also worked with Cheyenne in the past doing flood recovery work in the Rio Grande Valley. After assessing the homes we were working with at that time Cheyenne subsequently a contractor to float, texture and paint the walls and replace and paint the molding at Tanner’s house (Tanner paid for half and we paid the other half) and bought the material to replace the sub-flooring at Kenny’s home.
Cheyenne also helped another neighbor, Pierre, to get back into his home. With the help of another contractor we replaced Pierre’s kitchen that had been ruined: plumbing, cabinets, window installment, tape and float with texture, counter tops, ceiling light fixtures and paint. Pierre then asked our help for his neighbor Jessie. We replaced all of her carpeting for her. It’s a good thing we took this job on because when Cheyenne went to assess her home he and Pierre found Jessie (a diabetic elderly lady) lying on the floor bleeding in her home. They called 911 and the EMT team rushed her to the hospital. She had to subsequently have her leg amputated. Had Cheyenne and Pierre not arrived when they did Jessie may have died in her home. Yet another time God intervened providentially! Work continues to finish the 6 homes that we have committed to helping and get everyone living back in them. We will continue working as long as we have funds to do it.
One other significant thing that we have done throughout the past 4 months is to help people coming out of shelters and going into apartments. We are providing them with clothing, household goods, food, personal items, a hug and a prayer. This has given us a wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with a number of people we would have never met. We have done this for at least a dozen individuals so far.
We now sense God’s calling on MCH to lead the formation of the ‘NE Houston Disaster Recovery’ Network to mobilize churches and church-supported organizations to work together as a Christ-centered coalition to help people recover and rebuild. We will be working in partnership with Houston Responds, a movement started by the National Christian Foundation, to get it off the ground during the first half of 2018. Beyond the more immediate need for recovery and rebuilding over the next 2-3 years we see a long-term plan that God is setting in motion. Through the relationships we will build within the community and with partner churches and organizations during the recovery process it will result in the establishment of new community-based mission centers. They will be similar to the existing mission centers we already have at Gano (Near Northside) and Joy (Greater East End) to bring about personal and community transformation throughout NE Houston. We can’t wait to see what happens next!
To God be the glory, great things He has done ... and continues to do!