HOUSTON (BP)–Through the floods and the raging waters, two southwest Houston churches found opportunities to relay God’s love by standing at the forefront of the disaster.
The rains from Tropical Storm Allison seemed to come by surprise in early June. The storm hit and then returned a few days later with little or no warning. People watched as the waters rose, almost in disbelief that it was happening to them in early June.
Before long, television stations and newspapers were referring to Allison as “the Flood of a Lifetime.” Shelters popped up all over Houston, churches went outside their walls to help and to lead people to dryer land. Among Baptists, 37 churches were hit with flooding.
Partnered with the Red Cross, Park Place Baptist Church, an inner-city church, was one of those that set up a shelter, providing people with food, clothing and a place to sleep — and a resource for communities to meet emotional needs, find encouragement and have a shoulder for prayer.
For four to five days, church members and Red Cross volunteers came and helped meet the needs at the makeshift shelter.
Park Place’s senior pastor of nine years, James Clark, saw the grief and pain on the faces of the community. “People came in and there was almost a shock of the realization of the loss — people losing all of their possessions.”
The shelter stayed open for almost a week and then had to close because it too became flooded. While shelter efforts have moved to higher ground at Madison High School, the church continues to find ways to help put lives back together.
“Our first priority is helping them with the different agencies, such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the federal, state and county agencies,” Clark said. “We’ve also been doing a lot of counseling. Members brought in clothes, financial gifts and groups have gone out to help clean up.”
Parkway Baptist, meanwhile, a church just outside the inner-city, has found that even after nearly $50,000 in damage the congregation can still be an effective center for reaching out into the community. Parkway took in about six inches to a foot of water itself, lost most of its children ministry building and will have to rebuild walls in nearly every room in the ground floor.
Yet Parkway found the flood to be a blessing. “Because of the need, the community awareness of where we are and who we are, we’re before the eyes of the community,” Harold Morrison, music minister of Parkway Baptist, said. “We’ve raised the presence of the church and how vital we are to the community, and God is gonna bless that.”
Two ways the church has been brought to the forefront include Channel 13’s visit to cover the damage and show that even without complete walls, and the water marks still on the pews, the church could sing praise songs. Channel 11 covered a few Parkway teenage boys conducting an all-day boat rescue.
Parkway recruited members from Ashford Baptist, Baybrook Baptist, First Baptist Huffman and St. Paul’s Episcopal churches to assist with community efforts. Youth groups picked up hammers or whatever tools they could find and came with willing hearts to help get the flood mess cleared up in a number of homes.
By putting the community first, before the church’s needs, there is a bond that has been created, especially within the church staff, Morrison said. “It quickly bonded us because we shoveled, hammered and sweated together, our church staff had quickly bonded. We are ready to better lead our church forward. We’ve done about two years of bonding in two weeks and that’s a blessing.”
Throughout the flood and the experience of tearing down walls and pulling up church pews, Parkway pastor Elbert White said the Lord is at work. Various church programs and Vacation Bible School have all been rescheduled, but White noted, “[The Lord] is in charge of the schedule”.
As the communities all over Houston put their lives together one brick, one square inch of carpet at a time, Clark said the flooding disaster has just validated the role of the church.
“I see how important it is for the church to be at the forefront for providing help. We’ve come to be so dependent on agencies, not anything against that, the firemen and everyone have done a great job, but at times like this one, it is an opportunity for the church to show compassion and a greater commitment on the front line.”
O’Hare is a writer with the Union Baptist Association in Houston.