EDITOR’S NOTE: (Updated Aug. 26) Southern Baptists are calling for prayer in response to Hurricane Harvey that struck the Texas coast late Friday evening as a devastating Category 4 storm. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has declared a public health emergency in the state. Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, said in a statement, “Our prayers go out to the people of Texas in the massive flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. Our Baptist disaster relief units will be the first on the scene to minister in a variety of ways. I call on Southern Baptists to pray and be ready to assist through giving and going. God bless Texas.”
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (BP) — Hurricane Harvey is targeting Texas and appears to be doing “nothing ordinary but everything extraordinary,” said Wally Leyerle, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) disaster relief associate.
Churches in the storm surge area have encouraged their members to evacuate or take proper precautions. Most coastal churches have cancelled Sunday services, the Southern Baptist TEXAN reported.
Forecasters predict Hurricane Harvey will make landfall on the Gulf Coast near Port Lavaca and Corpus Christi, between midnight Friday and early morning Saturday bringing 125 mph winds and 12-foot storm surges. As of Friday morning, Hurricane Harvey has progressed to a Category 3 storm. Emergency officials are calling for immediate evacuation of the Texas Gulf Coast.
A “life threatening storm surge inundation” is possible, the National Weather Service stated, and a “slow drift” of the storm may result in severe flooding south of the Interstate 10 corridor.
“We are readying all of our teams for long-term response to this disaster as this part of Texas hasn’t had a hurricane like this in 47 years,” Leyerle said. “Because of how dense and how much water this storm is carrying, the damage could be extreme.”
SBTC Disaster Relief has joined emergency response teams including Texas Baptist Men, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the American Red Cross and police and fire departments.
Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi also are readying volunteers and equipment. Around 3,000 to 4,000 SBDR volunteers nationwide are poised to respond.
“SBTC Disaster Relief has pledged to help Texans recover from the aftermath of the hurricane,” Leyerle said. “Feeding units are capable of preparing up to 80,000 meals a day if needed. Recovery units stand ready to help remove fallen tree limbs, clear roadways and tarp homes. Other units are poised to provide showers for survivors and volunteers, purify water, assess needs of homeowners and provide childcare. Chaplain teams are prepared to provide spiritual counseling.”
Ralph Rogers, vice president of Texas Baptist Men’s disaster relief, reported that “all our volunteers are ready. Basically we’ve put all of our units to work coordinating feeding efforts and standing by to see where Hurricane Harvey hits before we can do anything else.”
A Category 3 hurricane, Rogers said, “means we need to be prepared for chainsaw work from trees being knocked down by the winds and to have enough hands on deck for mass feedings as well as be able to provide shower and laundry units in the aftermath. Anyone evacuating their homes off the Gulf Coast will be displaced. They will have needs we can be prepared to meet.”
Trucks carrying rolled roofing supplies and protective masks and suits left NAMB’s Atlanta-area headquarters Thursday on their way to a staging site in Mississippi where they will wait until Hurricane Harvey makes landfall. NAMB’s Disaster Relief Crisis Buckets will arrive late Friday and Saturday containing necessities to equip families impacted by disasters.
David Melber, NAMB’s vice president of Send Relief, noted that “every national disaster is an opportunity to step up and be Christ’s love in action.”
“Hurricanes don’t only affect the ones who were hit by them,” Melber said. “They influence us all. Now is our opportunity to give back in time, prayers and support — before it hits — to let our neighbors know we’re with them. We’re calling to all the states in this nation to join together and provide relief, hope and healing for families in need.”
Scott MacDonald, pastor of Corpus Christi Community Church which meets in an area school, told the TEXAN, “We talked everybody we could into leaving. A few of our families did decide to stay. We checked on some widows and others to see if we could help boarding up houses.
“We encouraged members to help their neighbors and check on those around them, making sure they had enough water and food,” MacDonald said.
David Loyola, SBTC field ministry strategist for south Texas, started calling area churches earlier in the week. Loyola said many people had evacuated Corpus Christi, including his son who is an ER doctor and was prepared to stay at the hospital but was told to leave.
“We are staying in contact with pastors and waiting to see what we can do to help,” Loyola said.
Likewise, SBTC Coastal Bend field ministry strategist Mitch Kolenovsky reported he had contacted churches in the region.
“Six churches between Corpus and Galveston are already lined up to host disaster relief units as they are deployed,” Kolenovsky said. While some of these churches are directly in the storm’s forecast path and their facilities may suffer damage, they have offered their parking lots for staging.
Inland churches also are preparing for possible flooding, Kolenovsky said. “Even those as far north as the Katy area and Seguin are making preparation to assist however possible with people moving through the area.”
Churches outside the storm surge area such as Parkway Baptist Church in Victoria and Bay Area Fellowship in League City have offered their facilities for disaster relief, Kolenovsky said.
Sportsman’s Church in Victoria has a facility prepared for feeding units and recovery teams that will be coming to the area after the storm. “We want to be available to folks who are going to be serving others,” pastor Glen Dry said.
In his church’s Facebook post, Dry urged residents to make necessary precautions. “Take time to prepare your heart and mind as well — not just the physical. Stay calm and rest knowing God has this even in the midst of the storm.”
Just over an hour southwest of Corpus Christi, First Baptist Church of Premont has opened its doors to members of the church and community who do not feel safe remaining at home.
Pastor Rick Rice said he doesn’t anticipate the storm tracking their direction but knows that rain could be a problem. “Always when a hurricane comes this way, we open up our fellowship hall,” he said.
David Fannin, pastor of Nassau Bay Baptist Church, 25 miles north of Galveston, said his church also is prepared to help.
“Our church has been used as a shelter in the past,” Fannin said. “We are in a wait and see [posture]. We are ready to help. We just don’t know in terms of what or when.” He added, “Most of the people in our church have been through this before. If people need a place to stay, we will open the doors.”