Jamie: There was a lot of terror in the city. And I was scared for my family personally. And I personally felt helpless.
VO: Every person has an anniversary – that one date you commemorate each year on your mental calendar when one or two or twenty years ago, everything changed, for good or bad.
Jamie: I went on the board and I wrote a hashtag—nothing is normal. And I said, “guys, we can go back to our normality eventually, but not now. The people are going to need us”.
VO: “Stories of Hope” is a podcast about people who meet needs, build relationships, and change lives.
In this episode, the events of August 25th, 2017 changed Jaime Garcia forever. This is the story of what happened on and after the worst, best day of his life.
This is “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief—“Today’s episode… Nothing is Normal”…
Jamie: Guys, you’re in Houston, Texas here at our warehouse, which used to be our gym.
VO: Jaime Garcia lives a life of organized chaos.
Jamie: We actually line up about 120 people here every other Friday…
VO: He is a traffic cop for missions volunteers…
Jamie: Let’s go ahead and line up. And if you don’t have a sign on your truck that says “the church”, let me know.
VO: And he is, most of all, the proud pastor of Bethel Baptist—the most unapologetically messy church in all of Texas.
Jamie: Here in our warehouse, you’re able to find things like Clorox, hand sanitizer, shampoo, snacks, drinks—I mean, what you’re seeing here is our faith. Our faith is now tangible. It’s literally a miracle here for this community.
VO: Squeezed between pallets stacked to the ceiling, walking on a carpet of air mattresses, sleeping bags and suitcases, Jaime Garcia and Bethel Baptist Church know a miracle when they see it.
All they have to do is look in a mirror.
August 25th, 2017. Jaime knows the date by heart. This was the worst day ever – the day of torrential rain and 130-mile-an-hour winds – when Hurricane Harvey came ashore.
Jamie: We had a lot of calls for help, it was night and day. And to hear that people were losing their lives, and people couldn’t get out, they couldn’t be rescued—for days. There were so many cars that were flooded, vehicles that were left abandoned, families that were displaced and separated—it just brought a lot of fear to so many people.
VO: To say Harvey “brought a lot of fear”… or that it sounded like a freight train… or to call it the “storm of the century” would not be hyperbole.
Hurricane Harvey lingered for an entire week in Houston. And by the time it finally left town, it’d dumped more than 27-trillion gallons of rain, damaged or destroyed almost 135-thousand homes, and killed almost a hundred people.
Jamie: I want to see you—I want to see who you are. I want to see you, because you matter—you matter to us.
VO: Now, many months later, walk with Jaime through any neighborhood around his church, and he can point out reminders of August 25th.
Jamie: Water got so high here that it literally covered entire trailer homes all the way to the roof.
There’s still people living in homes that need to be mudded out, that need to be cleaned out. And I don’t get it, I don’t understand it.
VO: And yet, at Bethel Baptist, August 25th, 2017 was the day everything changed…. For good.
Jamie: Seeing the news and the tragedy that was taking place, we realized that we had to do something about this—specifically our church, Bethel Baptist. So, I called a few of my leaders that could make it to the church and we met here at our conference room.
VO: That day, in a dark conference room with no electricity and no air conditioning, Jaime Garcia and the leaders of Bethel Baptist Church prayed and realized God was telling them it was the time to do something drastic.
Jamie: Prayer was the very first thing we had to do. And it was through all that that we knew that God was going to use the people that are willing to do something. Because we’ve been given the biggest evangelistic platform that I believe we’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I’m 52 years old. I don’t know if I’ll ever get this kind of opportunity to serve so many people.
Alright guys, let’s go ahead and line up. What we do is we go in a caravan, so make sure you put your hazard lights on…
VO: Days after the rain stopped, Jaime and Bethel Baptist converted their church gym to a warehouse for donated relief supplies. And they began advertising to churches across America—come to Houston, help us love our city, and you can cook in our kitchen and sleep in our classrooms.
Jamie: Those of you that are brand new, basically just team up—don’t go nowhere alone…
VO: And the supplies and the mission teams came – by the truck and busloads. For Jaime and his church, it was a be-careful-what-you-pray-for-response. All at once, life at Bethel Baptist became very crowded, very stressful – and very “not normal”.
Jamie: We just keep getting stuff for the people. So, let’s pray and let’s get started—Father, we thank you for the opportunity to serve the whole community…
Man, we had the whole place, the whole facility, every room that you could think of was just filled with supplies. But not just our gymnasium, but our kitchens… our Sunday School rooms. And our leadership team called a meeting after about five days of doing this and said, “Why is our church property the way it is? How are we going to get this back to normal?” And I said, “Guys, so many communities, so many people are still displaced. There’s people still living in hotels. Some people are just now getting back to their homes. So, as long as it’s not normal for the people, it cannot be normal for the church”.
Primeramente, first of all, we love you—los amamos. And I just want you to know that as long as it’s not normal with your life, it cannot be normal with the church and with the people that are with us.
VO: Jaime and Bethel Baptist began following mission teams into still-not-recovered neighborhoods. Together, they delivered relief supplies and built relationships with the people in their community. And slowly but very surely, Bethel Baptist discovered a new normal.
Jamie: It took our church some time but we had to lead them there. I think they had to trust even me and the direction we were going because we were bringing in people that we didn’t know, people all over our facilities—just strangers. But as the days went on, they began to trust even the Lord more in their faith. Because this is the greatest discipleship program opportunity that you could do, life to life with people where people can grow by meeting needs. I mean, what greater Sunday School class can you do than to walk into a home and share the Gospel with people? It has really changed our church.
VO: The classrooms in Bethel Baptist are still covered up in sleeping bags and suitcases and their gym is still stacked to the ceiling with relief supplies. But since that best worst day ever, they’ve baptized almost 20 new believers. Send Relief volunteers have helped them meet and help 8,000 people. And nothing here will probably be “old normal” ever again. And Jaime and Bethel Baptist are ok with that.
Jamie: People ask me all the time—when are you going to stop. I tell them as long as I have resources, and as long as I have help, we can’t stop. It’s not even in my vocabulary. Because when you are in the lives of people and you go behind their doors and you sit down… with people that have nothing… wow—that’s the church.
VO:This has been “Stories of Hope” from Send Relief. Today’s episode… Nothing is Normal”.
You can help Bethel Baptist and churches like them meet needs, build relationships and change the lives of people who’re still trying to recover from crises like Hurricane Harvey. Go to send relief dot org to find out how.
And join us in two weeks for another episode of “Stories of Hope.”