Amid Harvey devastation, BGCT seeks to 'bring healing'
"We've seen hundreds of our neighbors lose everything they owned, and the idea of the work ahead is overwhelming. The thing that sustains us, however, is the incredible way this disaster has brought together the Body of Christ as we seek to share the love of Jesus with our community," said Rush, pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Texas Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, causing unprecedented destruction. Damage in Texas stretches from Corpus Christi to Beaumont, with an estimated 185,149 homes damaged or destroyed. About one-quarter of the congregations that cooperate with the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- more than 1,200 -- are located in the Gulf Coast and East Texas areas impacted by the storm.
Churches that cooperate with the BGCT, state convention staff and the BGCT's partner ministry Texas Baptist Men are among the Texas Baptists ministries settling in for months of disaster relief.
"There is no way that any one church can accomplish the task by themselves, but with the help of Texas Baptists and the power of our God, I'm convinced we can bring healing to this region," Rush said.
Kingsland is one of the Gulf Coast sites to be named a Texas Baptist Men Volunteer Village, where volunteer teams can gather, receive training and go serve communities in need of relief work.
"We are diligently raising funds for Texas Baptist Men disaster relief, and working through our Texas Baptists staff in the affected parts of the state," said BGCT executive director David Hardage. "I am pleased with the response we've seen so far. Our Texas Baptists staff and larger family are praying and responding to provide additional assistance as it becomes available."
BGCT field personnel -- including area representatives, church starters and Baptist Student Ministry directors -- are on the ground meeting with churches and ministering alongside them. Fred Ater, area representative for the region stretching from San Antonio to Galveston, walked alongside churches over the past week and witnessed God at work.
Ater recalled just a few of the images he has witnessed in the days since the storm hit: a pastor crying in his arms; two church members, covered in perspiration, ripping up soaked worship center carpet; church leaders on their knees praying for church members; a Texas Baptist Men chaplain conducting interviews, sharing about Jesus and providing New Testaments; and hearing a young man's testimony as well as his desire to be baptized.
As area representatives and other BGCT staff discover specific needs of Harvey-affected churches, they are adding the names and locations of those churches to a list and encouraging congregations outside the affected area -- even beyond the state -- to partner with and meet the needs of those churches.
"Direct church-to-church partnership is one way to focus resources and maximize impact during times like these," Hardage said. "We are grateful to the churches and associations already employing this model, and we urge all of our congregations to prayerfully consider partnering with one of these churches to support long-term recovery."
The convention plans to make public a list of churches who have expressed specific needs in the days to come.
Texas Baptist Men disaster relief and volunteer villages
As of Aug. 31, Texas Baptist Men (TBM) had 19 reporting sites in Texas where teams were located or will be located, with three more sites in progress and 175 active volunteers. Deployed teams included shower/laundry, feeding, child care, chaplains, assessors, asset protection, chainsaw, heavy equipment, flood recovery and a box unit, which provides residents with boxes and helps them pack belongings.
Through six feeding units around the affected areas, 18,657 meals were prepared Aug. 31. The number was expected to continue to rise daily. TBM disaster relief has additional resources on alert, which will be deployed as conditions allow.
TBM partners providing resources include Baptists in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana.
TBM is making arrangements to set up four Volunteer Villages in and around Houston at Texas Baptists churches. Churches can bring volunteer groups to these locations, which include lodging and meals, while they participate in disaster relief projects such as moving debris, cleaning yards, assisting homeowners retrieve personal property and cleaning out and gutting homes.
The four locations will be Kingsland Baptist Church, Sugar Land Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Pasadena and First Baptist Church of Nederland. The volunteer village at Kingsland is operational and the additional three sites will be available soon.
"We are absolutely blessed to host as many teams as the state of Texas can produce," said Jason Burden, pastor of First Baptist Church of Nederland. "We are thankful for the Texas Baptist Men, for their work in our community right now. We look forward to being a touchpoint for the spiritual resources of Texas in order to affect change in our community."
Burden added, "This is an opportunity for us to get into homes and present the Gospel in a way we would have never had, had Hurricane Harvey not come to our neighborhood. I hope Texas Baptists and Texas Baptist Men can seize this moment and help as many people as possible."
Student disaster & church building recovery efforts
BOUNCE, the student disaster recovery ministry of Texas Baptists, has revised its 2018 schedule for spring break and summer mission trips to exclusively serve Harvey-affected areas along the Gulf Coast. Registration for student groups to participate in these trips is now open.
"We have revised our BOUNCE schedule to mobilize student youth groups to Harvey-affected areas for long-term recovery efforts," said David Scott, director of BOUNCE. "Our BOUNCE Advisory Group agreed this is reason BOUNCE was created."
The BGCT's church architecture team is working in an advisory role to help churches with assessment and remedy options for their facilities. Church building recovery is a long-term effort to support congregations.
The BGCT, which references itself as Texas Baptists, is one of two state Baptist conventions in Texas that relate to the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is the other.