Wherever they are stationed, believers have been called to extend a hand of welcome to people they encounter to make them feel at home. Members of Houston’s First featured here are using their gifts of hospitality both at home and while on the road.
Retired Houston firefighters Tom and Lisa Slagle, who’s also a paramedic, left full-time jobs as first responders for the City of Houston a couple of years ago, but long before they left the fire department, they began employing their gifts of service regularly at Houston’s First.
“When we married in 2007, we began thinking about our path, what walking together with the Lord would look like,” said Tom. “Though we began tithing when we were married, we feel the biggest contribution we have to make is our time. There are so many opportunities to help, but we found our main place of service on the Houston’s First Welcome Center team.”
Tom and Lisa met in 1994 after graduating from the Fire Academy, where she was one of 12 female fire cadets in her class, joining only eight other women firefighters in all of HFD. When Lisa joined Houston Fire Department as a Firefighter/Paramedic at Station 1, Tom was District Chief at Station 6 on Washington Avenue. He was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief in 1998, and they crossed paths often responding to highrise fire calls downtown. The year she became a cadet, Lisa joined Houston’s First, and the following year began attending a Singles Life Bible Study.
Lisa began driving an ambulance for Station 11 on T.C. Jester Boulevard a decade after joining HFD. She earned the seniority to drive Engine 11, which she did until 2010. After the Houston Fire Chief left the department, Tom resumed his post as District Chief. Lisa became Tom’s driver at Station 6 until they retired in 2014.
Tom and Lisa began dating in 2006, and he began attending the church on his own, initially. Both had been married previously, and Tom had custody of his son, Jake, who was 14 when his parents divorced.
“Malcolm Marshall (now pastor at the Sienna Campus) baptized us together right after we were married,” said Tom, of his and Lisa’s start together at Houston’s First. They became part of a Life Bible Study, and Jake began attending church with them.
“We’ve made more friends and lasting relationships as part of the Welcome Team,” said Lisa. They also heard the testimony of David and Kaye Trickett, founders of C.H.A.R.M. Prison Ministry, and how their incarceration led them to start a ministry for those leaving prison to rebuild their lives.
“Little more than a year ago, a guy walks into the church looking for a class,” said Tom. “I tried to engage him in conversation, but he seemed really reluctant to talk to me. He had just moved into the C.H.A.R.M. House, and even though he was a former member, he wasn’t sure how he would be received at the church.” In a short time, the man became a dear friend of Tom and Lisa’s. After a year of ministry in the church, he was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in July this year. “As a believer,” said Tom, “our friend’s ministry to inmates during his short incarceration was enormous. Meeting him and getting to know him validated our own ministry on the Welcome Center team. God has changed our lives while serving.”
Making others feel welcome is not Lisa and Tom’s only ministry. They volunteered for their third year at Rush Week, giving time to The HUB Student Ministry by making food during the weeklong camp/mission trip to Panama City Beach in July.
Unknown to the Slagles, and to the students and adult leaders who attended Rush Week, a Houston’s First welcome mat had been laid out a couple of years ago for Eleanor “Ellie” Spivey, principal of Patronis Elementary in Panama City Beach, where a group of HUB students were painting, landscaping and performing other beautification projects this summer.
The visit from students wasn’t the only blessing Ellie had received from Houston’s First. Her 29-year-old son, Russ, was diagnosed in 2013 with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and was to be treated at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The Hope House, a ministry of Houston’s First, provided lodging and other assistance so Ellie and Russ could receive emotional support and experience “a home away from home” while he received medical treatment in Houston.
“Peggy and Rick Jones (Pastoral Care Ministry) at Hope House welcomed and treated us so well,” said Ellie. “Access to housing is so important for families receiving medical treatment in a different city. Coincidentally, the condo had been decorated in a beach theme, so being from Panama City Beach, we walked in and felt right at home.”
Russ and Ellie spent some of his last months in the Hope House condo. “It was truly a godsend,” said Ellie.
In God’s unique and blessed sense of timing, HUB students not only showed up to work at Ellie’s school on the same week as the first anniversary of Russ’s death, but their outreach plan to Panama City Beach first responders inadvertently included Russ’s brother, Robb, a firefighter/EMT at Panama City Beach Fire-Rescue. Ellie had already told Robb about students from Houston’s First and their tireless work at Patronis Elementary, so when he saw them show up at the station, he immediately knew they must be the same students. He shared with them about his brother Russ and his family’s connection with Houston’s First.
After telling the story, one of the students asked Robb if they could pray with him. “We circled up and they prayed over me,” said Robb. “I really needed that. God works in mysterious ways. My mom — we were both — so blown away and grateful for everything the church has done for our family.”