While we watch Hurricane Irma leave a devastating wake in its trail as it heads towards the Southeastern United States, relief efforts in Texas will continue for months to come in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. With the onslaught of tragedy occurring recently, it can be hard to keep up. But in the midst of it all, we don’t want to lose sight of how God’s people are working in these times of crisis. We are running a series of interviews with church leaders and pastors on the ground helping with relief efforts in Texas. Today, my team interviewed Justin Kellough, Student Pastor at Crosspoint Church, a campus of West University Church in Houston.
As I wrote in USAToday last week, faith based groups are leading the way in Harvey recovery and relief. We want to help tell their stories, so let’s jump in.
Ed: While many of us have been watching and praying from a distance, you are on the ground with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. What’s happening in your town right now in terms of the damage and the work that needs to be done?
Justin Kellough: People in Houston are either flooded or helping someone who flooded. There are blocks and blocks of homes all around town that have everything they own on the street for garbage pickup because nothing is salvageable. People are still getting water out of their homes, packing up the few possessions that are salvageable, and tearing out drywall, studs, and floors in preparation for the next step. But most don’t know what that is as they are just now meeting with insurance adjusters and FEMA representatives.
People need help with all of these things. It is easy enough to buy basics here now, but people who have lost everything don’t have the financial resources to do that. Many are out of jobs as their businesses were flooded. Many are in temporary housing with friends and family, but are looking for long-term solutions. This includes those living in multifamily apartment units where the entire first floor units were flooded and the complexes have no additional units on higher floors.
On the west side of town, homes are still flooded or inaccessible while the reservoirs continue to drain. They likely won’t be able to get back into their neighborhoods for weeks. To top it all off, the traffic is far worse than usual as so many major roads are still closed and the local streets are clogged with debris, contractor trucks, garbage trucks, etc.
Ed: How has your church gotten involved in the relief efforts?
Justin: On the night of the storm, our Crosspoint campus served as a temporary shelter for the local fire department to evacuate people. They were then taken from Crosspoint to other overnight shelters that had been set up. Our members were at the church as soon as their streets drained to bring water, food, clothing, etc. to those who had escaped their homes with what they had on and could carry through flood water.
Once the rain stopped and roads were clearing, we began to send out teams to the homes we were hearing had flooded. We have had over 1,000 volunteers help over 300 families ‘muck out’ their homes in the past week, packing up belongings, throwing out debris, taking out sheetrock and floors, and setting up fans and dehumidifiers. We have received numerous donations to aid in this process, and quickly learned that we had to be very specific about the types of donations needed, as people were bringing items that were of no use to our specific cause.
While stores were still closed, we opened for people to get basics like water, food, diapers, and formula because people had brought those items to us without prompting. As we have focused in on our specific purpose of clearing out homes, we have been directing any items unrelated to demolition and clean up to other organizations. To aid our continued work of clearing out homes and making them safe from mold, we have tried in every way to make the public aware of our specific needs in relation to clean up.
Things like bleach, N95 breathing masks, wheel barrows, packing boxes and supplies, trash bags, etc. have been most helpful as we aid our community in the clean-up efforts. We will continue the work of cleaning out homes for the foreseeable future as we host mission teams from out of town, and facilitate the continued weekend efforts of our community members as many are heading back to work.
Ed: How have you seen the Church in action over the past week?
Justin: During the storm, we were praying without ceasing for the rain to just stop. It was difficult having the knowledge that God could stop the rain with a word, but for some reason, allowed it to persist. In the aftermath, we are truly seeing the good God is doing through the chaos brought by this storm.
We are living out Romans 8:28, seeing the good that God is doing through this natural disaster. We’ve seen our members, dealing with their own flooding, take time to help their neighbors understand next steps, and jump in to help as soon as their own homes are taken care of. We’ve seen teenagers and college students dragging out wet carpets from homes with a smile.
We’ve welcomed volunteers that heard about our efforts in the line at the grocery store. We’ve accepted donations from community members who took our donation request list as their own personal scavenger hunt mission around Houston, bringing in load after load of supplies needed. We’ve seen the Church be the hands and feet of Christ, which sounds cliché, but is truly what is needed. The more hands and feet, the quicker the clean-up process goes.
This past Sunday, we welcomed in community volunteers and recipients of our help to worship Christ with us simply because they saw the Holy Spirit work through us to meet the needs of anyone impacted by the flood. This storm gave us the opportunity to be the aroma of Christ among the stench of mildew and decay piling up in front of people’s homes, and we are humbled by the opportunity to serve in this way.
Ed: How can people be praying for you during this time, and are there ways people can partner with you tangibly?
Justin: Pray for wisdom for all the homeowners during the next phase of dealing with insurance (or no insurance) and figuring out what to do next. Pray that as the Church across Houston meets physical needs that we are able to introduce people to Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and our hope.
We so appreciate all the physical goods we have received from our community and from places around the U.S, like two big trucks from Gillette Wyoming Rotary less than a week after the storm had left! They came at a time when stores were still reopening and there were many shortages.
Now, however, it is fairly easy to find almost all items. What people need is money to begin to rebuild their lives. Sure, if a big truck of diapers comes, we can find people who need those. But that means they don’t buy them at the store locally, which impacts an economy already reeling from this disaster. If all the money spent on the items being shipped here and the money to ship them is given instead to local organizations who are helping people, the money will go a lot further.
So find a local Houston charity that is providing financial resources to those in need. Do your research on their process and overhead and then give generously. You can find our giving link here: http://www.cpointchurch.org/flood-relief/greaterlove/. Because we are a church, our staff overseeing this process is paid through the general church budget, so any donations go directly to flood recovery now, and in the long run.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.