Texas Conference Staff Brings Ministry of Presence to Communities Affected by Hurricane Ike
By Susan J. Meister*
Texas Conference Bishop Janice Riggle Huie was on renewal leave at Duke University when Hurricane Ike roared through her conference. She immediately came back to Houston "to stand with her people."
In the week after the storm, Huie, UMCOR executive Sandra Kennedy-Owes, and conference staff visited churches to assess damages, encourage clergy and laity, and offer immediate help. As assessments continue, the conference will evaluate options for expanding the Rita Recovery office in Beaumont and establishing a new presence in the greater Houston area. Most of all, Huie is adamant that the churches be in a position to serve their communities.
"We need them functioning so that they can be spiritual light in their communities," Huie said. "We need them ready to meet human needs and show leadership."
Huie is concerned that the news of the devastation of Hurricane Ike has already dropped out of the national news. "There has been tremendous loss here," she exclaimed. "Millions need help, especially the most vulnerable." Huie is anxious to continue to tell the story so that financial support and volunteers will be available to help with rebuilding and recovery.
Sunday Worship Services Bring a Message of Hope
Seabrook UMC had several feet of water in its sanctuary, offices and gym. On Sunday, September 21, the congregation met outside at the field where they had planned to break ground for a new building in late November. Nearly 200 people listened as Pastor Tony McCollum cried, "This is a great testament to the spirit of this church!"
Bishop Huie brought greetings to the assembled congregation. "God is with us," she said. ""You are part of a great connection - with people of the annual conference, the United States and around the world."
Later, at Alexander Chapel, members of Cedar Bayou UMC gathered to worship. "In the words of the old hymn, 'my eyes stayed on Jesus,'" exclaimed pastor Tommy Lyles. "God is bigger than any problem we face."
A tour of the sanctuary revealed remarkable progress in cleaning carpet and drywall. Members of Chapelwood UMC had been "paired" with the Cedar Bayou congregation to give emotional support and help clean up as quickly as possible.
Like Seabrook, Cedar Bayou UMC leadership is evaluating how to continue the business of the church without a church building. Bible study and Sunday School classes will likely move to members' homes, reported Andrea Metzger, director of lay ministries. First Baptist Church offered to host their 71 children beginning on September 29.
Later in the afternoon, Bishop Huie and District Superintendent Don Waddleton worshipped with members from Moody Memorial UMC, Galveston, at First UMC, LaMarque. The service reached out to members who were not yet allowed onto the island. Moody Memorial UMC's web site announcing the service showed a photo of the church building with slight roof damage and the caption, "still standing to serve."
"We've taken a hard hit," Bagley said, "but with the help of so many, we will rise again. We strengthen each other. Let's work together to serve God and to serve God's people."
Huie Finds Hope in Psalm 29
At all three services, Bishop Huie turned to Psalm 29 to offer a message of hope. "We are not the first people to deal with a storm," she smiled.
Quoting verses 10 and 11, Huie continued, "'The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace.'
"God, you have already brought us through the storm and this church stands strong to serve," she prayed. "Pour out your Spirit on our congregations as they reach out in love to their neighbors and the world."
How to Help
Hurricane Ike roared ashore on Galveston the morning of September 13, with 110 mile-per-hour winds, a strong storm surge and heavy rains. Many areas in southeast Texas are still without power nearly a week after the storm. Residents of Galveston will not be allowed to enter the island until Wednesday, September 24. Relief operations continue for many residents. Debris removal continues.
The recovery and rebuilding from the damage of Hurricane Ike will be a multi-year effort. To aid the work of recovery, send financial donations to UMCOR Advance No. 3019695, "Hurricanes 2008." Mail checks to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, and include the Advance number. Credit-card donations can be made online.
As assessments and long-term recovery operations are established, volunteers will be needed. Contact your jurisdictional volunteer in mission coordinator to learn of opportunities to serve.
*Meister is UMCOR's Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent