Utah team seeks 'forgotten among us' in Houston
"This hurricane is not over," Brooks of First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, shared with his church the Sunday after the team returned home.
"The people there are literally exhausted," he told them. "They go to work, if they still have a job, then come home and work some more. Bedtime conversations, we heard, are just grunts and groans from people aching all over."
In addition to the Pleasant Grove group, Redemption Hill Church of Eagle Mountain, Utah, -- including disaster relief volunteers from throughout the nation -- went to the Houston area to help. The Utah teams joined up with a 23-year-old woman from Ohio who ventured to Houston by herself to serve. The work in some places has transitioned to rebuilding what previous volunteers have torn out, but the Utah team also found neighborhoods where nothing had been done.
Assisting the North American Mission Board's Send Relief efforts, Pleasant Grove pastor Mike Bagley started talking with one man who wasn't aware of Southern Baptist relief efforts. The conversation led the team to help the man with his flood-damaged house.
"You're a blessing from the Lord," said the man's wife. "I was praying just last night for the Lord to send us someone to take out our tub and strip the floors."
Working demolition, the Utah team discovered things not common in back home: cockroaches. Hundreds of them scurried about when their hiding places underneath waterlogged cabinets and sinks were removed.
"I've not been in a situation that bad [before this]," said Pleasant Grove missions pastor Steve Sidwell, who recalled at one point flicking off a cockroach crawling up his arm.
"People [are] living in this because they have nowhere else to go … living in these conditions and with the smell of mold growing in water-damaged walls, floors and furniture …," Sidwell said. "God used us to help them."
At one house, pastor's son Kerrigan Bagley whispered to his dad, "Ask them if they need food." But his dad, not wanting to insult the obviously-needy family, was hesitant to ask. Then one in the family said, "Do you have any food?"
"We all gave our lunches," pastor Bagley said. Then he and Redemption Hill pastor Steve Pierson went to a grocery store and helped the family stock up with food. "It's neat to see God move … and work through us," Bagley said.
At one house, the Utah volunteers found a home owner, Nathan, pulling bent nails out of waterlogged wood he'd been removing from the exterior, straightening the nails, and using them to nail to new wood.
"Two months he'd been working on the outside," Sidwell later told the Pleasant Grove congregation. "Two months with no job, no money, no FEMA. Southern Baptists helped." So did one Utah volunteer's gift of a hundred dollar bill to buy new nails.
The Utah team worked on the home's interior, which was, until they got there, pretty much what it was when the family returned after Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding.
"People asked me, what difference can just one person, just one team, make in Houston," Brooks said. "We accomplished in one day what Nathan hadn't been able to do in two months, because he was busy outside. That's two months sooner that he can go back to work and provide for his family."
Brooks said at one home they found an elderly woman whose husband had died a year ago. She appeared to be overwhelmed by what needed to be done to her house, and unable physically to do much of it. The woman said she hadn't talked with anyone since the hurricane and was desperate for some human interaction.
Brooks' 19-year-old daughter, Misha, spent time talking with the woman as the Utah team went to work -- tearing out cabinetry, Sheetrock, carpeting, linoleum, floors and subfloors.
After returning from Houston, pastor Bagley preached about Jesus walking on water and Peter sinking when he tried the same.
"What about the forgotten among us?" Bagley asked. "The person who is in the water needs Jesus to pull him out, and we are Jesus' hands and feet."