By Tobin Perry
HOUSTON—In close to 365 days since Hurricane Harvey’s Category 4 winds began battering the Texas coast in August of 2017, Southern Baptists have served more than 75,000 volunteer days to help the region recover.
And they aren’t done yet.
According to David Melber, the president of Send Relief at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Southern Baptists will continue to engage impacted areas for at least the next two years and likely beyond.
“There are so many ongoing needs,” Melber said. “Just because it was a year ago doesn’t mean life is back to normal. There are still so many people without homes. We’ll be there to help for as long as it takes.”
In its scope and peak rainfall amounts, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Hurricane Harvey was the most significant rainfall event in recorded U.S. history. At least 197,000 homes were badly damaged, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Nearly four out of five households impacted by the hurricane did not have flood insurance, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Within days of the hurricane’s arrival on Aug. 25 of 2017, Southern Baptist volunteers in Texas and nationwide began mobilizing to serve the needs of survivors. Southern Baptists ministered to the region through two different responses that worked closely together.
Record amounts of rainfall from Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has called the storm the most significant rainfall event ever recorded in U.S. history. Nearly 200,000 homes were badly damaged, and almost four out of every five households that were impacted did not have flood insurance. Photo by Josh McKague.
Initially, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) coordinated teams of trained volunteers who cleared out flooded homes, provided meals, gave spiritual counsel and more. SBDR, which has the largest team of trained crisis response volunteers in the nation, has been serving the needs of disaster survivors for more than a half century.
Through Send Relief, Southern Baptists mobilized volunteers without specific previous training in disaster relief. Southern Baptists continue to send volunteers to the region through both mobilization channels.
“God has amazed us with his provision for Texas Southern Baptist churches over the past 12 months,” said Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). “Our sister state conventions beyond Texas, churches, SBC entities and SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers were used mightily to restore ministries, comfort families and share the gospel. God has glorified himself here in South Texas. The work continues, but we are encouraged and grateful.”
While Southern Baptists have cleared out more than 2,600 flooded properties, completed close to 30,000 loads of laundry, and prepared 2.2 million meals for Hurricane Harvey survivors, many believe the most long-lasting impact of the response has come in spiritual terms.
Through the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief, Southern Baptists mobilized volunteers who had no prior training in disaster relief. Send Relief provided another channel for mobilizing volunteers to areas of great need in the aftermath of one of the worst hurricanes in United States’ history. Southern Baptists continue sending volunteers to serve those who have yet to fully recover from the storm. Photo by Josh McKague.
“The numbers are just unbelievable,” Melber said. “But beyond just meeting those first basic needs, we’ve been able to meet spiritual needs, too. People have come to faith in Christ. Our service in the community has given us the opportunity to start new churches that will impact the community for years to come. Those effects will live on for eternity.”
NAMB says Southern Baptists shared the gospel more than 2,600 times in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Close to 550 people made professions of faith in response to those gospel presentations.
Churches in the region, including Southern Baptists, were among the first to respond and have played a critical part role throughout the recovery. Many SBC churches opened their doors to those displaced by the hurricane and then partnered together to provide ongoing support in the region.
For example, Houston’s Champion Forest Baptist Church sent out more than 2,500 volunteers in the first month alone to help clean flooded homes. They also served as a key partner for SBDR efforts.
“Harvey hit us hard,” said senior pastor David Fleming. “Hundreds of our members’ homes were flooded, and much was lost. But the people of Champion Forest Baptist Church came together to help one another, then turned the compassion and energy of thousands of volunteers towards our community to help our friends and neighbors.
“God was faithful, and turned the flood into an opportunity to learn, grow and make an eternal difference in our community. We are so grateful for the help of Southern Baptists. When we called, you came!”
Southern Baptists have cleared more than 2,600 flooded properties, completed 30,000 loads of laundry and prepared 2.2 million meals for Hurricane Harvey survivors. The North American Mission Board reported that more 2,600 gospel presentations were made during the event, with 550 people professing faith. Volunteers like Neal Allision with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention represent that faithful witness. Photo by Carmen K. Sisson.
Houston’s First Baptist Church also became a strategic staging area for several organizations that ministered in the region after Hurricane Harvey, including SBDR.
First Baptist rallied around the cry, “As the rains fall, the church rises.” According to senior pastor, Gregg Matte, they cleaned out more than 1,000 homes and raised millions of dollars to help Hurricane Harvey survivors. “Most importantly,” Matte said, “they shared their love, faith and prayers in the name of Jesus with our city.”
“Our city had never seen anything like Hurricane Harvey, and therefore we had to band together as churches to minister to our people in the city,” Matte said. “It was amazing to watch as churches mobilized together to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the streets.
“As we look back a year later, we still see the unity of churches and the love for the city being poured out. We would never want to go through it again, but God has used it for good.”
Sam Porter, the national director of SBDR, says Hurricane Harvey clarified the need for churches to prepare for future disasters before they arrive. Pointing specifically to studies that show that every dollar spent on preparedness saves $6 in relief efforts, he shared his hope that Southern Baptist churches would make every effort to prepare for the next disaster.
“The more we can prepare ourselves and our churches for a disaster the better, whether that’s preparing our churches for natural or man-made disasters,” Porter said. “The more prepared our churches are, the better we’ll respond and care for our communities. We need to create a culture of preparedness in our churches, so we can be a lighthouse in the community when the time comes.”
To help prepare your church ahead of time for a disaster, visit www.sendrelief.org/disaster-response/disaster-ready-church. On the site, you can download a free PDF guide to help in the preparation process.
Churches interested in participating in Houston Rebuild through short-term mission projects should visit www.sendrelief.org/houston-rebuild. To participate through SBDR, contact your state Baptist convention.
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.