REBUILDING PEARLAND: A Day in the Life of a Samaritan’s Purse Volunteer

REBUILDING PEARLAND: A Day in the Life of a Samaritan’s Purse Volunteer

$125 Billion dollars. It’s hard to wrap your head around that number, especially when the city you are in seems to be functioning normally. But that’s the what Hurricane Harvey cost Houston, Texas when it dumped sixty-plus inches of rain on the utterly flat city over four days in August of 2017. That ties it with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record.

Houston metro has about 6.6 million residents and Harvey damaged roughly 204,000 homes, seventy-five percent of which were outside of the 100-year flood plain.[1] Most were not covered by flood insurance. Only when you drive through the neighborhoods and see some new looking houses next to obvious rebuild sites with FEMA trailers in the driveways, others with swollen siding and water stains half way up the walls, and empty lots with camper trailers, do you begin to comprehend the scope of the damage. It’s everywhere.

That’s why Samaritan’s Purse has made a two-year, twenty-five-million-dollar commitment to the Houston area: to help homeowners rebuild. Our team of thirteen joined eleven others from Idaho, Oregon, Texas, and Georgia at SP’s Pearland, Texas base. From there we split up into four teams and traveled from ten to twenty miles to help rebuild flood-damaged homes. The base can host a total of about thirty volunteers per week and SP schedules crews at least two months out. Another indicator of the size of the disaster: SP has a similar base in Rockport, Texas three hours west of Pearland.

The day begins with lights on at 6:30 AM. Pack your lunch in the kitchen between 6:45 and 7:00, followed by a big breakfast—the food was great!— and devotions at 7:30 usually led by one of the volunteers. Crew assignments are issued at 8:00 and teams work together to load up the specially equipped construction trailers with supplies. The trailers, essentially customized fifth-wheel horse haulers, were a marvel of efficiency. SP engineers designed them one winter when work was slow and each one has a slot or shelf equipped with every tool a builder would need.

By 9:00 AM crews are on site and ready—after a brief prayer—to work. Local building codes do not allow unlicensed workers to do the technical stuff like plumbing and electrical installation, but there is plenty to do. Our crews painted, installed soffit and siding, did light carpentry, and installed flooring. SP has already helped rebuild over forty homes and helped other agencies pay for over 500 in Houston. Permitting has proved difficult with the city, but they expect to be building many new homes in the future.

Crews work until 4:00 PM before beginning clean-up and loading to head back to base. Meeting the homeowners is the highlight for most of the crews. Ours had prayer with Mrs. Williams each day before leaving. Watching the smile grow on her face as fresh paint brightened up her walls and the new flooring went down was a highlight of our trip.

Then it’s back to base for showers, supper—did I mention the food was great?—and sharing time which concludes by 7:00 PM. Crews entertain themselves (ours played a lot of Rook) till quiet time at 9:00 PM and lights out at 10:00.

If you’d like to volunteer, visit https://www.samaritanspurse.org/ and click “get involved” at the top of the page.

[1] https://www.thebalance.com/hurricane-harvey-facts-damage-costs-4150087

IT WASN’T ALWAYS THIS WAY: Why We Do Disaster Relief and Other Good Things

IT WASN’T ALWAYS THIS WAY: Why We Do Disaster Relief and Other Good Things

“If it hadn’t been for the Christians—all the churches that showed up—we’d still be mucking out,” said the man, a Casino worker in Biloxi, Mississippi. This was October 2006, a little over a year after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and much of Biloxi. A crew of about ten men from our church, partnering with Samaritan’s Purse, were in Mississippi to help a family rebuild. I had taken a break to do some man-on-the street interviews with my new video camera.

“My house didn’t get destroyed like some of my neighbors,” he said, “but it was full of mud and water up to waist high. I’m not a churchgoer, but as soon as the storm stopped this group of kids from a church showed up and asked if they could help me clean it out. I was ready to start the rebuild within a week. No way it would have happened without their help.”

That, in a nutshell, is why we’re taking a team of 13 people to Pearland, Texas, next week, to partner again with Samaritan’s Purse and help another family rebuild after Hurricane Harvey. And the thing is, no one is surprised that a small church group from Virginia is traveling on its own dime to help people in Texas. Americans just assume that is what people do, but it wasn’t always this way. That ethos came from Christianity.

Followers of Christ have, since the beginning of the church, shown up to serve when the rest of the world was headed for the hills. When a pandemic broke out in ancient Rome, Christians, including key leaders, stayed to help the sick and dying. When the plague took hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe in the middle ages, Christians stayed to serve while others fled. When the tsunami destroyed Banda Aceh, Indonesia in 2004, Christian missionaries already in country rushed to help the Muslim population there. When the Ebola epidemic hit Africa, Christian missionary doctors and nurses stayed to fight it. That service ethic, based on the individual’s value as an image-bearer of the living God and Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan, changed the world. Now, American’s just expect it.

Some people are wondering out loud these days what it would be like if we could just get rid of Christianity, or somehow limit its cultural impact. Nikolas Kristof, of the New York Times, reported in 2015 that, “In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.”[1]

This is especially true when Christians, who are called by God to love their neighbor as themselves and to stand for truth in all things, speak and act on their convictions regarding human sexuality, gender, marriage, abortion, and religious freedom.

But, historian and theologian Jeremiah Johnston, who along with his wife and five kids had to evacuate his home near Houston during Harvey, says, “It was the Christians, the people of faith, who immediately mobilized and invaded this city to help saying, ‘I love Jesus. I believe people are made in the image of God. We’re not going to sit here and let you suffer alone.’ I live in the most diverse county in America … but I never saw an Atheist tent anywhere, or an agnostic society tent, I never saw the ‘Free Thinkers’ helping people whose lives were destroyed. There’s a real world-view reason that is behind that.”[2]

Kristof concurs, it’s “true that there are plenty of secular doctors doing heroic work for Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health. But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.”[3]

The faith that causes Christians to serve disaster-stricken people is the same faith that causes us to provide free marriage counseling, speak up for the unborn, encourage adoption, help women with unplanned pregnancies, advocate for traditional marriage, fight porn and sex-trafficking, provide free meals, tell the truth about transgenderism, advocate for prison reform, and stand up for freedom of conscience and religion in the market place. The same Lord that calls us to serve tells us to speak truth in love to all who will hear. It’s why we do what we do

[1] nytimes.com/2015/03/29/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-a-little-respect-for-dr-foster

[2] Warren Cole Smith interview of Johnston on the Listening In podcast, December 21, 2018. See also Johnston’s book, UNIMAGINABLE: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity.

[3] ibid

TO MAKE A GROWN MAN CRY

Bob Hughes stood on the porch on a sunlit November Saturday morning, looking out over the gathering of about fifty people who had come to celebrate, and choked up as he tried to finish the ceremony. The longtime director, and sole (part-time) employee of Tri-River Habitat for Humanity was reading off the names and organizations that helped build Tri-River’s fifteenth home in twenty years.

It wasn’t the names that brought the tears, just the gratitude. Bob knows better than most what a struggle, what a team effort it takes, and how many hurdles have to be crossed every time our small local chapter of this global ministry cuts the ribbon and hands over the keys to another harassed family. Permits, weather, coordinating volunteers, smoothing over misunderstandings, securing materials donations, following up endless details, and making sure that everyone gets properly recognized in the end is a process programmed to stretch the patience of Job. And though he will no doubt deflect this praise, Ole Bob, as he often calls himself, is better at it than most.

Bob’s aw-shucks, self-deprecating style and twinkle-eyed grin, combined with his white goatee, and somewhat Santa-Clause shape, make him easy to like. But underneath that cheerful, ever-encouraging demeanor is a truckload of smarts and quiet determination. The only thing Bob loves more than fishing the Outer Banks is seeing the words of Jesus fulfilled: “When you’ve done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.”  When it all comes together and a family of six can move in before Thanksgiving, well, that’s better than the icing on the celebratory sheet-cake. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

I served with Bob and a half-dozen others of Halifax’s finest in his first few years with Habitat. We are blessed to have citizens like him and all the others who serve the boards of our volunteer organizations. As we enter the Thanksgiving season, let’s take a few moments not only to give thanks for their leadership, but to consider how we might follow in their footsteps.

HEAL ORLANDO: Helping the Hurting Without Losing the Gospel

Islamofacism marches on and carries the headlines with it as Istanbul reels from yet another Muslim massacre, yet the wounds of Orlando are still fresh.

Many churches have stepped up to help heal those wounds. One is less than a mile away in fact, DISCOVERY CHURCH’S (DC) Central campus. Website: http://www.discoverychurch.org/.

I spoke with DC Central’s pastor, Ralph Howe, this week to learn what they were doing and how we could help. As of Tuesday, he explained, ONE ORLANDO, the public fund established to help the victims had raised $8M. That money, according to Orlando’s WESH News (NBC affiliate), will be distributed through area non-profits after the groups convene with the Central Florida Foundation to assess the needs, how each group plans to meet the needs, and where they have gaps in funding.

Equality Florida, the LGBT advocacy group which has raised over $4M to date, will also be distributing funds to survivors and victim’s families via The National Center for the Victims of Crime Compassion Fund.

All of that takes time and will no doubt be linked to more LGBT advocacy, which is understandable. But those of us who follow Christ and want to help can do so immediately with the confidence that our gifts will be distributed quickly, with integrity to the gospel, by giving to support HEAL ORLANDO, DISCOVERY CHURCH’S fund.

Pastor Howe reports that HEAL ORLANDO has raised $14,000 to date, and some of that money has already been used to provide rental cars and hotel accommodations for victim’s families, many of whom are from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. One such family, unable to access aid from anywhere, was camping out in order to be near their loved one. DISCOVERY CHURCH members located them and got them into a hotel. Also, because of the way terrorism riders are written in insurance policies, many will find that their health insurance won’t pay and some of the survivors can expect to spend six months in the hospital. HEAL ORLANDO hopes to help with some of those bills.

Finally, DISCOVERY CHURCH recognized something that had gone unnoticed in the news. Area businesses within a three quarter mile radius of PULSE were stifled for a week as law enforcement officials cordoned the area off for their investigation. Many of these are small businesses with limited cash reserves and employees who lost wages due to the investigation. DISCOVERY CHURCH sent teams out to visit the businesses and, in some cases, helped to pay these employees so that they wouldn’t be victims as well.

WELL DONE DISCOVERY CHURCH!

If you would like to participate in this ministry DISCOVERY CHURCH’S HEAL ORLANDO FUND is located here:  http://www.discoverychurch.org/give.

What THE BUTLER Did For Me

Not long ago my neighbor, Ralph, an African American man for whom I have deep respect, and I were chatting in our back yard. We usually talk about our kids or joke with each other about our geriatric joints and other ailments with him always having the last laugh. “Just wait till you’re seventy. You ain’t seen nuthin yet!” But that day I had more on my mind. Something in the news, or in my reading, made me want to understand more about his life as a black man in America. At seventy-odd, his is a longer experience than mine.

“Ralph, one day I want you to tell me what it was like for you as a black man in the American south in the twentieth century,” I said.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Atlanta.”

Ralph’s face clouded a bit, something I’d never seen before, and he said, “Well then, you know … you know.” And that’s all he would say.

But I didn’t know, not from the inside, the way I wanted to know.

I was four years old when the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which desegregated the schools, passed. I grew up in the turmoil it precipitated among the races; especially in the schools I attended in the Atlanta suburbs. I’m sure my family would have been considered racist by the standards of today, but we didn’t consider ourselves so. We didn’t march with Dr. King or anything like that. But my father had stood up for the right of a black man to join his Southern Baptist Church in 1957, and my mother was always kind to the black people we met.

Desegregation didn’t affect me until I reached middle-school age, in 1973. From then until I graduated high school my experience of desegregation was one of upheaval, disorder, disruption, and danger. Knowing what I do now, I can’t say I blame the black kids of that generation for the anger and aggression they displayed toward us white kids, but it wasn’t conducive to the development of a sympathetic attitude either.

Time moved on and so did I. I became a follower of Christ and became committed to racial reconciliation. But I still couldn’t say that I understood the African-American experience with any depth. I knew my story, but I didn’t know theirs, not with empathy.

Then, via Netflix, I watched the bio-picture LEE DANIEL’S THE BUTLER (2013), starring Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, a man who rose from the cotton fields of Georgia to become butler to eight presidents in the White House. THE BUTLER is loosely based on real-life White House butler, Eugene Allen, who retired in 1986 after thirty-four years of service. It is to the racial turmoil of the time what FOREST GUMP was to the Viet Nam War, a comprehensive narrative of one powerless man’s journey through a world fraught with legalized oppression, naked cruelty, and blind hypocrisy. I saw through Cecil’s eyes, the bitter brutality of racist southern farmers and the lordly arrogance of hypocritical politicians and business men. I’ve known men like that, I thought. I winced too at the quiet carnage of condescension, remembering women with saccharine smiles, as dismissive of black personhood as they would be a soiled napkin.

I’ve also known men and women like Gaines, servants with such self-mastery that they could be “invisible in the room,” even when the people they were serving tossed off thoughtless insults that would have enraged me. That was the films greatest impact, Gaines’ ability to rise above the bigotry of his employers with a dignity that revealed his inner nobility, and their shabbiness. His commitment, even his joy, in performing with excellence the most menial tasks brought honor to everything he did. (1 Peter 2:12).

Through his relationship with his oldest son, who became a freedom rider and later a congressman, I also learned the inner conflict many older black men and women had with the civil rights movement. They knew in their bones that the cause was just, but they hated the disorder it brought and feared the predictable backlash.

Finally, the film helped me understand on a visceral level, why the majority of African-American men and women felt obligated, if not compelled, to vote for Barak Obama to serve as president. It just makes me wish Ben Carson had been running against him instead of McCain or Romney.

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER, is not a bio-pic in the strict definition of the word. “While the movie The Butler is set against historical events, the title character and his family are fictionalized,” states director Lee Daniels. “We were able to borrow some extraordinary moments from Eugene’s real life to weave into the movie.” I hope everyone, black and white, who did not live in that era, will watch the film and share what they learned. It will go a long way toward building reconciliation.

If you want to know the real history of Eugene’s life, visit http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/the-butler.php.