Hurricane Harvey was the second costliest storm in United States History. In Houston, America’s most diverse city, thousands upon thousands of people faced flood damage, and grave uncertainty about their future. The massive downpour broke records for the most rainfall in the United States. Some areas received more than 60 inches of rainfall in mere days.
CBF Harvey disaster relief video
Links you’ll want to check out:
What we did: our task
As Butch Green, the missionary we were partnering with, explained to us, some parts of the city were operating “as normal” within two weeks. Other parts, eight or nine months later were still in a state of stark disrepair.
Late this past June, the youth ministry of Seventh and James Baptist Church went down to Houston to, in small and faithful ways, help a few whom were still trying to piece back together their lives long after the news cycle had moved on.
Under the guidance of Butch, we concentrated our efforts in Rosharon, a small town just outside of Houston. We were in a largely Cambodian neighborhood repairing Greenhouses. Another Hurricane season is getting ready to start, and fear for the future accompanies continued recovery from the past. As one woman told me as we were helping her prepare her crops of Chinese water spinach for sale, “This harvest is the first money we have made since Harvey. Now, I fear for another storm.”
Our efforts concentrated with two families, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy. Lisa was a mother who had escaped from multiple abusive relationships and made her way to Texas. Her oldest children had graduated college, and now lived elsewhere. Her youngest son was just about to leave for college, leaving her as the only one to take care of multiple greenhouses to make a living. She hardly sat down for a moment, and had already been working for hours when we arrived each day. She often woke up at three or four in the morning.
Similarly, Luke and his wife Phoebe, had one young son at home and their grown children had all grown up, gone to college, and lived elsewhere in the country. Luke told us of his resettlement process with World Vision, as a refugee years before. His father died in Cambodia, a victim of Pol Pot’s killing fields.
Luke had been conscripted into Cambodia’s war with Vietnam. And, then, he made his way to the United States. Most of his children had adults by now. And all who were adults had graduated college and were now living in California. These greenhouses were his livelihood, and he was the only one who could work them—as his wife had serious back problems. Our task was simply to make them usable for now and in the winter, so he could do his work. We were to add a new sheet of thick protective plastic.
Water spinach, Luke told us, is not a hyper-profitable crop in the summer. “Anyone can grow it.” But he was planning for the future, “In the winter, only the greenhouse can grow it. And it gets more money—much more money.” That’s easy to believe. While it was hot and humid outside, nearing 100 degrees each day, the doorways to the greenhouses felt like portals to the molten insides of the earth by comparison. Stepping inside for just a moment, and one exits looking as if they had spent an hour in a sauna. In fact, the greenhouses are so hot, and the air so humid, that the wood often rots after every three years. The Hurricane wind and flooding had exacerbated that process.
Our students worked hard. They secured huge reams of plastic. They climbed roofs. They stapled and drilled handles onto new wood for greenhouse windows, and fastened doors. They worked together, and by the end of the week serious progress had been made—there was a real sense that we left the greenhouses ready for a future group to finish the job. And the greenhouses should be ready for winter. The students’ cooperation, their dedication, their persistence, were all something to behold.
And our Pastor, Erin Conaway, shed a little blood, LOTS of sweat, and perhaps a few tears to help with the task. At one point, I gasped and froze as it appeared Erin was going to fall through the plastic-lined roof (he didn’t). Cade, one of our students, without hesitating, RAN into the 120-degree-plus heat of the greenhouse with a ladder to assist him just in case the plastic broke. It was so hot, he had to jump out of the ground-level window quickly to get out of the heat. Without quick-acting and knowledgeable craftsmen like Pastor Erin, Cade, and others we couldn’t have done this job!
Our students themselves noticed the progress:
“One of the most meaningful moments,” said Sadie, “was when we looked at what he had done on the greenhouses and we could see how we helped.”
One of my favorite moments of the trip was when a recently graduated senior asked Butch why he became a missionary. In response, he talked about growing up working construction. Once, he saw a man in a suit get out of a car at a construction site he worked at. He pointed, gave some instructions, got in a nice air-conditioned care he left. That was the architect. Soon, he was on his way to Texas A&M to study architecture. Something didn’t feel right though. His life’s direction changed after a friend invited him to go on a Baptist Student Ministry mission trip to Mexico, as they needed someone with construction experience.
Seeing poor, but praise-filled, churches there led him to ask God what he should do with his life. He perceived a voice saying, “You never asked me.” His “Yes” to go wherever God would call, did not lead him to one particular place or job. Trying to faithfully answer the call to go where God would have him go, to share Christ and the love of God with whomever he may meet, led him many places. And the direction of Butch’s life changed from wanting to call the shots, to asking God what he should do with his life.
Harvey marked another instance of his work changing. His focus shifted from refugee and international student ministry, anti-human trafficking work, and education, to disaster relief.
One of the great things about going on a mission trip is learning how God uses all of our gifts, and wildly unique backgrounds, as part of what God is already doing in the world. This is why each day, we wrote where we saw evidence of God faithfully at work in the world through those around us.
And we might even see our home-state differently by going to learn, listen, and work alongside others.
Another student, Alex, said this:
“I learned [about] a whole new side of culture in Texas, before this trip I didn’t know that people had greenhouses like that and farmed in them.”
Only a few hours from home, and the world can seem a little different!
How we worshiped and learned
Four of our nights together, after showing and eating after a long day, we gathered for a time of devotion. We went over a petition of the Lord’s prayer, reflected on our day, sang a hymn, I delivered a homily, and we prayed with one another. Each night closed with a prayer activity.
Prayer grounds our Christian life together. Worship is the purpose of the church and cannot be separated from any work we do—no matter how good. We must serve and give, as Christ has given. But we cannot give without recognizing the Giver. Worshiping God and hearing the Gospel of Christ’s free grace is indispensable. With that in mind, devotions served as an opportunity to consider how our days might center not on our frustrations, nor our triumphs, or even our great experiences, but on Jesus’ promises.
The PDF of our devotional guides can be found here.
Having an opportunity to pause and pray allowed students a time to reflect on why we were here.
Zoe remarked that her:
“… favorite thing in vespers was the prayer journals. I liked being able to write my prayers and thoughts everyday.”
Prayer journals were just one of the ways we sought to engage in different kinds of prayer. Here are a few of the others:
- Prayer journals
- Students made prayer bracelets a different topic was prayed for depending on the color.
- Students wrote prayers on craft sticks and then drew them and prayed alone or in pairs.
- Students made paper chains symbolizing how Christ frees us from bondage with passages from scripture or concerns written on them.
- A poster of prayers for each night we considered the Lord’s prayer, and where we saw God at work each day.
Fun, food, and fellowship
Each night, all the 7th and James crew gathered for a meal. We were so thankful for the hospitality of South Main Baptist Church, whom hosted us in their student facilities. We took full advantage of their kitchen and, with amazing talents of chaperone Jamie Burnett, the students ate well!
We ate the following delicious homemade meals (not necessarily in order):
- Lasagna, salad, Texas toast
- Barbecue chicken, mac & cheese, rolls, green beans
- Taco pile up!
- Pancakes Eggs, Bacon
- And then we ate out at Houston’s own Frenchy’s! (And one day for lunch at What-a-burger).
Thanks to Jamie and other cooks, we ate delicious homemade meals each night. A different pair of students helped clean up after supper.
In addition to ping pong, Foosball, and other games we also spent several lazy evenings with plenty of snacks and popcorn.
To celebrate a wonderful week, we also went out for ice cream and to the Houston Museum of natural sciences. We went to a special exhibit: “Death by natural causes” which proved playfully macabre and fascinating.
For a full collection of photos from the trip, please see the Flickr album here.
Before we knew it, we were on the road after eating some of Houston’s own delicious Frenchy’s chicken.
It is my prayer that what we did will not end there, but that students and adults’ understanding of how God is at work in the world would be enlivened. It is my hope they may continue to learn from others, no matter their background; and that they may rest in God’s finished work even as we are tireless in our own. And it is my conviction that God can embolden all of us to live out our call wherever we might be, no matter our abilities or station, to witness to Jesus’ unfailing love.
 “2017 Hurricane Harvey: Facts, FAQs, and How to Help.” World Vision. August 28, 2018. Accessed September 03, 2018. https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/hurricane-harvey-facts.
 Samenow, Jason. “60 Inches of Rain Fell from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Shattering U.S. Storm Record.” The Washington Post. September 22, 2017. Accessed September 03, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/08/29/harvey-marks-the-most-extreme-rain-event-in-u-s-history/?utm_term=.20eea385605a.
 Jamie, one of our chaperones, recalled hearing his story and said: “[His] story was very eye-opening. Before hearing his story of the death of his father and in-laws in Cambodia, and his journey to the US, it was just something I’d read in history books. It’s very different to put a face to part of that terrible history.”