Lewis: Seeing Harvey’s Devastation Reveals Enormity of Job Ahead

Island in the Sun UMC damaged

Trip lays the groundwork as NTC teams up with Rio Texas for cleanup

Rev. Joy Anderson, associate pastor at First UMC Richardson, and I were traveling northeast on Interstate 35 from Corpus Christi to Rockport. It was a clear, sunny day, much different from a month earlier when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast.

The highway was divided by a grassy median about 50 yards across. As we approached Rockport, we noticed something odd. Construction vehicles were working in the median, carrying moldy mattresses, twisted pieces of aluminum roofs and broken tree branches, slowly creating a mountain of debris. The temporary landfill stretched on and on – a reminder of Harvey’s devastation and the long road of recovery ahead.

Brick wall damageSoon after the storm winds calmed and the waters began to recede, Bishop Michael McKee began casting a vision for the churches of the North Texas Conference to walk alongside our neighbors in the Rio Texas Conference to be long-term partners in that area’s recovery.

Accompanied by leaders from the Rio Texas Conference, Joy and I visited Corpus Christi, Rockport, Victoria and a number of smaller communities in between. We got a feel for the hurricane’s impact, met people who are leading the recovery effort and listened for ways that the North Texas Conference might realize the bishop’s vision and make a difference.

Rebuilding communities after a storm like Harvey is a complicated endeavor. Our friends in the Rio Texas Conference have been working diligently for the last month or more assessing the damage to churches and neighborhoods, pulling together financial support from various sources including UMCOR and hiring staff to coordinate the work. Those new staffers are now on the ground; soon, they will be able to tell us how we can be the most helpful.

In the meantime, I can say this much: There will be a need for a host of Volunteers in Mission (VIM) teams over the next couple of years. About 3,000 homes were damaged by wind and flooding in the Rio Texas area. Youth and adult mission teams will be needed to clear debris, do tape-and-bedding and drywall work, repair roofs, paint and more. They will be ready to receive mission teams beginning in 2018.

Hurricane debrisWith so much need in the world around us, it would be easy for us to have missional ADD, moving from cause to cause and project to project. But imagine what God could do through us if we focus our energy and resources on Hurricane Harvey recovery in the Rio Texas Conference for the next two years?

I want to challenge the 300 churches of the North Texas Conference to do just that and send a total of 300 mission teams to Rio Texas in 2018 and 2019. Together, we can tackle rebuilding at least 10 percent of the homes affected. Together, we can offer a profound witness to the love of Christ and of the people called Methodists. Serving side by side in mission, we can rediscover a sense of unity that transcends our differences.

In November, be on the lookout for more information from the Center for Missional Outreach about this emerging partnership between North Texas and Rio Texas, including how you and your church can send a mission team to Rio Texas and be a part of this conference-wide effort.

Rev. Andy Lewis is the director of the North Texas Conference’s Center for Missional Outreach.

Published: Tuesday, October 24, 2017