REFUGIO, Texas (BP) — In the town of Refugio — with a population just under 3,000, located 55 miles north of Corpus Christi — few structures emerged unscathed from Hurricane Harvey, whose winds ravaged homes and businesses in an already economically disadvantaged area.
Yet hope appears to be alive and well in Refugio.
High school football coach Jason Herring, contractor Brian Miller and a network of Southern Baptist churches and disaster relief (DR) volunteers want to keep it that way.
“It’s about God,” Miller proclaimed from atop a pickup truck Dec. 2, as Herring negotiated the crowd of 150 in front of the Refugio Independent School District building, awaiting the reveal of the restored home belonging to Charlie and Nichole Henderson.
Much in Refugio is about football: 84 of the high school’s 95 boys play. Townspeople watch the 2A Division 1 Bobcats, under long-time head coach and athletic director Herring, trounce opponents from larger schools and perennially make playoff runs.
In this season’s second game, wide receiver Casey Henderson suffered a paralyzing injury to his C4 and C5 vertebrae and was care-flighted to San Antonio where doctors cautioned he might never walk again.
“He could only move his finger,” Casey’s aunt, Rhonda Scott, told the TEXAN.
“I normally am not on the field, but I saw that it was a grave injury and so I did go out,” said team chaplain T. Wayne Price, pastor of First Baptist Church in Refugio where Herring teaches Sunday school. “It was bad.”
Even before Casey’s injury, Herring started helping the Hendersons repair their small, hurricane-damaged home across the street from the high school. He first arranged for a new roof.
“We were already downtrodden and the hurricane multiplied that,” Herring said. “I was going to slowly rebuild the house for them. Then Casey breaks his neck the very next Friday.”
After visiting Casey in a San Antonio hospital the day after the injury, Herring realized the situation’s urgency. The parents needed to stay with their son and could not work on the home. The FEMA trailer housing the other children would soon become unavailable.
Driving home later that Saturday, Herring phoned the pastor, Price, who spoke with Mike Northen, a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention DR task force member and associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Pflugerville, on Monday.
Herring also started fundraising, initially putting up $1,000 himself, then “calling and texting and tweeting,” raising money online and in the community.
“God multiplied that thousand to $52,000,” Herring said of the amount eventually raised.
Meanwhile, in Pflugerville, Brian Miller was packing for a trip to Houston to assist Harvey victims. For 30 years, Miller had felt called to missions and ministry and had recently discussed options with Steve Washburn, his pastor at FBC Pflugerville. DR volunteering seemed an ideal start for a building contractor.
Northen rerouted Miller to Refugio. Expecting just to replace siding, Miller arrived that Tuesday with his son and one of his employees, plus trailers of supplies and a skid steer. He was stunned by what he saw. The Henderson residence was almost beyond repair: mold- and roach-infested with a faulty sewage system, the ground beneath soggy from water that would not drain to the street, the foundation unstable and the floors uneven.
“We had to tear it down to the studs,” Northen said.
Repair and rebuild took 10 weeks, including the installation of new water and gas lines, air conditioning and a rebuilt kitchen. Sod was laid, the yard regraded. Crews reconfigured the interior, creating five bedrooms plus living and kitchen areas, per Miller’s design.
God met needs in unexpected ways, starting with workers.
Northen contacted First Baptist Church of Wimberley, a church active in SBTC DR. The two congregations share a unit that they jointly maintain. Volunteers from California’s Saddleback Church — part of the PEACE relief plan in which FBC Wimberley also participates — were already in Refugio, with others expected.
PEACE teams from California, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Maine and Ohio had been laboring throughout South Texas, said Scott Tidwell, FBC Wimberley’s pastor for community impact.
Tidwell estimated that 20-25 FBC Wimberley members worked on the Henderson home, in addition to 50-60 from PEACE-affiliated churches nationally and several dozen from FBC Pflugerville, Trinity Baptist in San Antonio and FBC Refugio, which lost much of its own roof during Harvey.
When a contractor couldn’t finish installing the donated air-conditioning unit, a California man phoned to say he would fly in to finish the job. When sheetrock crews proved unavailable, a Maryland church team arrived with two contractors who completed sheetrock and exterior work.
As for the home’s interior, Herring approached a friend of a friend, Ben Steiff, owner of Ashley Homestores in Victoria and Corpus, hoping that Steiff might “cut a deal” for furniture.
Steiff instead offered to furnish the entire home, without charge, the first of seven his stores pledged to furnish — an unexpected $20,000 donation.
Miller, who supervised the project, saw it as more than a repair job.
“As we were pulling siding off the house, we were peeling back layers and layers of stuff that God needed us to peel back,” Miller told the crowd before the Saturday reveal. “We’ve been praying for [the Hendersons],” he said. “We hope this house will [be] a community for Christ.”
Miller expressed hope that kids would gather in the home, turning to Casey: “You can bring your friends in. And keep going to church, please, because that’s what this is all about. It was all God’s hand that did this. And I just give glory to Him.”
Crews wrote verses of Scripture on the studs of the Henderson home; Joshua 24:15 adorns the entryway, where two crosses salvaged by Nichole from the hurricane wreckage hang.
“The family has made some decisions to become more Christ-following. They have been impacted spiritually,” Northen said.
Washburn prayed before the reveal, closing by asking God, “Bless Casey and his family. Do great things in their family. Do great things in the community through this house. We thank you,” his prayer followed by loud “Amens” from the crowd.
Casey, now walking but still undergoing physical and occupational therapy, exclaimed of his home rebuilt by believers from across the nation, “I love it. It’s awesome!”
The house has become, Herring said, “a tremendous symbol of hope.”