SAN ANTONIO, Texas (BP) – The issues brought by the historic cold front that enveloped Texas last month were many: bitter cold, power outages, frozen and busted pipes and lack of drinking water top the list. But the list of Southern Baptist churches responding to those needs is even longer.
Temperatures across the state have returned to normal, with highs this week into the 70s and even approaching the 80s. But a few weeks ago, members of University Baptist Church in San Antonio were offering their homes to others who were without power. It made for a few days of close-quarters living, but kept people out of the cold that had invaded their own homes.
Early on, many churches served as warming centers for those who lost power. However, University Baptist’s building went dark before the sun rose Sunday, Feb. 14, Pastor David Norman said. This prompted the cancellation of Sunday services. Most in the area experienced rolling blackouts. Some, like Norman, never lost power. So, he and other church leaders decided to go in a different direction to provide relief from the cold.
“Our church responded en masse throughout the city,” he said. “One family whose temperature in their home dropped below 50 degrees stayed with us. Our worship pastor, Terry Samplaski, took in two older couples. Church members weren’t waiting for someone else to do it, but reaching out into the church body and community for anyone who needed to be brought in.”
Minister of Education Jim Williams had no power at his home for 60 hours. But he put his handyman skills to use in helping others with minor repairs and leaks in homes as well as at the church.
In Rockwall, Pastor Josh Howerton of Lakepointe Church made the initial announcement Feb. 19 that the congregation would commit more than $200,000 to help low-income families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with repairs to burst pipes. As other churches offered to join the effort, Lakepointe announced Feb. 22 that more than $400,000 would be going toward the repairs.
The day before that announcement, Howerton thanked the church in his sermon for its work in not only giving toward the repairs, but delivering water, groceries, firewood and other items to others as well as inviting them inside their homes.
“It was an honor to be a part of this church this week as hundreds – probably thousands – stepped forward to do whatever we needed to do to meet the needs of people around us,” he said. “I believe what we celebrate as a church, we cultivate.”
The total economic impact of the storm in Texas could reach $295 billion which would make it one of the costliest in the state’s history, according to one group.
In Stephenville, Pastor Anthony Svajda of Harvey Baptist Church said temperatures inside many members’ homes approached freezing, with some families living without power for days. It didn’t take long for his church to respond.
“We rallied guys together and had about 20 cutting firewood with another five or six delivering it in their trucks,” he said. “We did that from Monday (Feb. 15) through that Saturday when temperatures started to rise back up. We also had bought a lot of bottled water and distributed that to people.”
That firewood, he added, was used not just to stay warm but also for cooking food and boiling water.
“I’m honored to be the pastor here and see God working through these people,” he said. “They answered the needs of the community and helped others see the love of Jesus. These situations give the opportunity to present the Gospel in a relevant way.
“You’re not just delivering firewood. You’re connecting to families because they saw you as the hands and feet of Jesus.”
At University Baptist in San Antonio, Norman had been preaching through 1 Peter since September (except for a break at Christmas). That preaching schedule took another hiatus earlier this year when he contracted COVID-19.
When he resumed his sermon series, the message out of 1 Peter 4:7-11 originally planned for weeks earlier instead was delivered Feb. 21. In it, verses 9 and 10 brought particular meaning:
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace …
“That Sunday, I was able to point out the hospitality and generosity of our church,” he said.