Four weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey made landfall south of Houston. Three weeks ago, I was kayaking up to the doors of our flooded church building. Two weeks ago, some church members were finally seeing the waters recede from their homes. One week ago, we were preparing for our first Sunday service in our new temporary location.
Today, here are ten brief updates about our city and our church.
1. Houston is a tale of two cities.
Some neighborhoods appear apocalyptic; others seem untouched by Harvey’s rage. If you drive an unflooded neighborhood, there’s no evidence that a historic tropical storm just rolled through our city. But if you drive a flooded area, your senses are assaulted with the sights and sounds and smells of moldy, rotting, bacteria-infested piles of debris, gathered up by all kinds of workers laboring in the Houston heat to clean up a mess none of us made.
2. Everyone’s been affected.
An out-of-town friend asked me, “How many people were affected?” I said, “Some people were flooded, but everyone was affected.” Even though the city may appear divided between the flooded and unflooded, Harvey’s waters touched every Houstonian in one way or another. For example, our part-time sound technician was engaged to be married at our church building the weekend after Harvey struck; his wedding was postponed. The expensive sound equipment he uses for his ministry was stored beneath the stage in the worship center and in a closet nearby, and was destroyed. His mother was in the hospital throughout the storm, in serious condition. And he was recently licensed to do real estate, his new career, which was immediately turned upside down. So his living quarters weren’t touched by an ounce of water, but his entire life was flooded.
3. Many neighborhoods are in the trash pickup stage.
The homes around our church are mostly mucked-out and gutted, with tall piles of debris filling their front yards. Sanitation trucks and crews are doing their best to remove these piles of trash, but it’s a huge job. We have no idea where they’re taking it.
4. The recovery process is multi-faceted.
“Relief” and “recovery” and “rebuilding” are textured and trying processes. There’s mold remediation, health concerns, supply staging, donation centers, evacuee shelters, insurance claims, trash pick-up, class action lawsuits, road closures, heinous traffic, FEMA applications, town hall meetings, volunteer coordination, meal provision, school delays, financial planning, building contractors, temporary housing, fundraising, relief fund management, and much, much more.
5. Other trials still come.
Life doesn’t call time-out when a hurricane blows through. Everything from small irritants to withering trials still land on those trying to recover. There are still fender-benders and hospitalizations and fluke injuries and marriage troubles and staff transitions. And they weigh much, much heavier when people are tired, stressed, displaced, and overwhelmed.
6. BridgePoint is meeting at Houston Christian High School.
We are meeting each Sunday for one service at Houston Christian High School at 2700 West Sam Houston Parkway North, Houston, TX 77043. BridgePoint (formerly Spring Branch Community Church) was one of the school’s four founding churches, and our senior pastor has always served on the board. Dr. Steve Livingston, head of school, has been overly generous in his kindness to us as they’ve thrown the doors wide open.
7. Our flooded building is now being gutted.
Our building committee and elder board have contracted with ServPro to remediate our facility before we start rebuilding. They’re halfway through the job, and the first floor looks like a skeleton. The first day, 24 of their day laborers quit by lunchtime—it’s not easy work. Despite the heavy cost, we’re grateful for this professional company who will leave the first floor gutted, clean, and ready to rebuild. The rebuilding will also be costly, so if you’d like to help financially by giving or spreading the word, you can simply text BRIDGEPOINT to 41444 and follow the instructions, or visit our website.
8. Our weary volunteers have been heroic.
Crews of church volunteers have been working tirelessly to muck-out and gut the flooded homes of fellow church members. Not much shows up on social media, as it wouldn’t occur to most of our volunteers to publicize their efforts, but it’s been remarkable to watch. Others, like the Hovis family, organized their own neighborhood to help one another, cleaning out each others’ homes and making 200 lunches a day and hosting 25-40 people for dinner each night as the work went on.
9. Rebuilding is the next phase.
Now that most flooded homeowners in our area have gutted their homes, people are spraying for mold, waiting for dryout, and planning to rebuild (or move away). It’s a stressful time with lots of big, hard, complicated, expensive decisions, exacerbated by all the disruptions and frustrations that come with temporary housing. We’ll be holding a meeting this Sunday with BridgePoint’s flooded homeowners to talk about the process, offer advice, and identify who’s interested in skilled, non-contracted, volunteer help as they rebuild. We don’t know how much help will be available—it will depend on how many skilled workers can visit and volunteer their time and expertise—but we’ll give it our best shot.
10. Potential teams need flexibility, skills, and a plan.
In response to my call for help last week, several teams came to help this week, which was a true Godsend. Many others offered to come soon, which is equally kind. But this weekend we’re finishing off our list of church members who requested muck-out help, so we don’t yet have jobs for volunteers to do beyond this weekend. Several larger relief organizations in our part of the city are also finishing their muck-out lists. So if you’re planning to come, please be flexible with your host group, because they may need to postpone or redefine your trip. It feels wrong to have put out a call for muck-out help and now have to tell mobilizing teams that the current phase is almost complete and they may need to wait until the rebuilding phase gets organized. But this is the flexibility that’s required as we seek to respond in real-time. If you’re wanting to come or even scheduled to come, call your hosts and say this: “Be completely honest: Will we be more of a burden or a blessing right now?” They’ll let you know. Either way, whenever a clear plan, timeline, and set of tasks opens up, your fresh hands and feet and souls can provide a serious lift.
Finally, we are watching God work. He is doing remarkable things in Houston. Churches are unifying. The hands-on mercy of Christ is being displayed. Saints are serving each other relentlessly. Christians and families and friends are living together for weeks and months at a time. Invaluable leadership lessons are being learned. Christians of different stripes are loving each other first and asking questions later. New friendships are being created and sealed in the same day. Faith is being tested, and proven. People are asking for and receiving help. Out-of-town folks are paying their way and giving up vacation time to do the nastiest jobs for strangers they may never see again. Churches across the nation are giving sacrificially to their sister churches here. Little-known talents are coming out of the woodwork. Pastors are emailing each other in large groups asking how we can meet each others’ needs. Creative forms of disaster relief are popping up everywhere. Leaders are reevaluating and reenvisioning our ministry structures and priorities and plans. Clear providences are being woven together with great intricacy for those with eyes to see. And Christians are rejoicing at the incredible things God is doing in our midst. Even in the face of such weighty losses, we’re often saying to each other just how privileged we are to see God working in these ways. More and more, each day, we’re all realizing that what we’re seeing has become a stewardship, a rush of experiences meant to prune and shape and fuel us so that we never go back to who we were before.