Words can fail us when trying to convey how grateful we are for others’ acts of kindness. Thousands of people flooded by Hurricane Harvey found themselves in that situation when wanting to thank volunteers who helped them in the aftermath of the storm. Since actions can speak louder than words, “paying it forward” by helping Hurricane Florence victims in North Carolina is one way several Houston’s First family members flooded by Harvey expressed their gratitude for all that had been done for them.
Before Hurricane Florence even made landfall, Eric Reed, Minister to Men at The Loop Campus, began mobilizing forces to respond with assistance to North Carolinians in the path of certain catastrophic flooding. With experience gathered in Hurricane Harvey, a command station was created to begin identifying a local church in Wilmington and deploying help as soon as the airports reopened.
Pastor Gregg Matte called on members to “GO” to aid flood victims. More than 100 Houston’s First members signed up to volunteer for relief and recovery efforts in Wilmington. More than two dozen of these volunteers had flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Three families had yet to return to their own Harvey-flooded homes, but volunteered to go and serve victims of Florence.
Their home sits empty along with blocks of abandoned homes with “For Sale” signs lining the streets. Keith, Annie, and their dog have no plans to return to Meyerland, but retreated last year to higher ground in an apartment they now call home.
Though Annie says it’s not an expertise they wanted to develop, experiencing three floods in three years has nevertheless given them insight into the recovery process. “Keith developed a list on how to handle the aftermath of a flood – what to do, who to talk to, and how to get the ball rolling for recovery,” she said.
Even as Florence was barreling toward the coast, Pastor Gregg put out the call for volunteers to go to North Carolina for clean-up after the storm. “Our Life Bible Study and other members of the community had extended such kindness to us after our flooding,” Annie said. “We heard God saying, ‘Comfort others with the same comfort you have received.’”
When the team arrived in Wilmington, Annie saw a beautiful picture of churches organizing in unity to bless the hurting. They even found a few new friends while working alongside members of College Acres Baptist, the host church, removing mud and debris, packing up belongings, and even baking cookies at the church to hand out to volunteers.
Though the time was filled with long, hard days of remediation, Keith and Annie had a couple of opportunities to encourage and comfort homeowners.
“We told them what they could expect and do next after the clean up,” Annie said. “Though we’ve been down that road three times, we know that God has something good in store for us, and for them, too.”
Kyle and Robin Preston and their three children have a home in Houston’s Energy Corridor, not far from Addicks and Barker dams. The neighborhood was flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because rainfall with Hurricane Harvey threatened to flood much of the West Houston metro area otherwise.
“Marshall Law was imposed to prevent looting in our neighborhood,” said Kyle. “Though we only had 18 inches of water in the house, by the time we got back, mold was growing from the ceiling.”
Living the past year in a townhouse near the kids’ schools, Kyle recalls making it a point to avoid watching weather coverage as Florence was approaching land. “We had been hit with really weird stuff with Harvey,” he said. “My car survived the flood, but in the repair lot the car next to it blew up and took out my car, too.” Kyle didn’t want to watch another hurricane wreak havoc.
But he felt God tugging at him to get involved. Kyle reasoned that they weren’t even back in their own house; why should he go muck out someone else’s?
“God kept working on my heart," he said, "so when I brought it up to Robin, she said 'Go!'”
The night before the team from Houston’s First was scheduled to leave, Kyle bought a ticket to Wilmington. He beat them there by 10 minutes.
Kyle, team members from Houston’s First, and College Acres Baptist Church mucked out houses, talked to residents, helped them fill out FEMA forms and prayed with neighbors affected by the floods.
“It was good for me to deal with my own feelings by helping others,” said Kyle. “I left there with a better relationship with the Lord.”
Adrienne Lee and her parents lived together in Dickinson when the floods began rising at one in the morning of August 27. Close friends who were running from high water showed up at Adrienne’s door for safe harbor. When they awoke the next morning, a foot and a half of water stood in the house.
“The flood was horrible,” Adrienne said. “But a church came from California to Houston and helped muck out our house.”
The family has since moved to Alvin where they are living in a fifth-wheel camper parked inside a warehouse they own until their home repair is complete.
Adrienne learned about the Houston’s First teams going to Wilmington to help flood victims and she prayed about her response. “I’m an introvert,” said Adrienne, “But I felt prompted to step out of my comfort zone. I needed to return the favor for the help we received.”
While in Wilmington, Adrienne also had an opportunity to cook with Mercy Chefs, an organization that serves victims of natural disasters and national emergencies with meal preparation. She also emptied the house of a family in Wilmington who had taken in nearly five feet of water. There was nothing salvageable except the renters’ ultrasound pictures that volunteers found on the refrigerator.
Adrienne says she doesn’t often hear God speaking directly to her, but He convinced her she should go by using a song played at just the right moment that encouraged her to get involved: ‘Take this heart, Lord. I’ll be Your vessel.’ It was confirmation that gave her the courage to go.