As citizens in Puerto Rico and Turks and Caicos prepared for Hurricane Maria, citizens of Texas were just beginning to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Harvey. AU’s former Dean of the School of Theology, Dr. James Lewis, and his congregation are among those working to rebuild their community in Houston.
Lewis became the head pastor at South Park Church of God (SPCoG) in Houston in April 2017. SPCoG is located in southeast Houston near the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. There was not much residual damage in Lewis’ immediate area, but in the greater Houston area, you can still see piles of molded drywall, carpet and other trash lining the curb of every house in the community.
In West Houston, many homes were flooded and lost due to the overflow of dams in the area.
“Overall, our church building and, fortunately, most of our members escaped the most serious effects of Hurricane Harvey,” said Lewis. “Our church building did sustain some damage in the foyer area and in parts of our fellowship hall. We have been able to get in contact with our entire congregation, and a couple sustained flood damage, but thankfully, there wasn’t more serious damage done.”
After the hurricane hit, Church of God pastors in Houston began participating in weekly phone conferences. These conferences were intended to get status reports from each church on the flood’s impact on buildings, pastors, the members of their congregations and people in each community.
“Everyone seems to know somebody who did not fare well in this Hurricane,” said Lewis.
The group of pastors pray for one another and for their communities’ ministries during the period of rebuilding. Dr. Lewis’ congregation took a step further by partnering with another congregation in their relief efforts.
SPCoG is receiving funds and contributing funds to assist where they are able. They are also working with various parts of the Church of God who are doing work in disaster relief. AU’s Student Government Association reached out to Lewis with a desire to assist in the Houston relief effort through sponsoring opportunities for faculty, staff and students to give. Lewis and his congregation are ensuring that the funds will be used strictly for disaster relief and other flood-related expenditures.
AU’s Tri-S program is also taking action. They have added a spring break trip to Houston in which they will be partnering with Praying Pelican Missions to help aid with this hurricane relief work project. On this trip, students will be assisting with cleanup, clearing out debris and repairing water damage.
Even with all of the relief efforts, the city of Houston faces a long road to recovery. The city is looking to clean up toxic floodwater and each individual has their own story of how the storm has affected them. Thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes and are seeking aid in shelters.
“When so many people have lost so much, for some all they possessed, there is psychological harm that comes with this type of trauma,” said Lewis. “Pictures and mementos they once treasured are all gone. While it is laborious and time-consuming, people can rebuild homes, but it is more difficult to rebuild lives and memories.”
Although this disaster was devastating, Lewis and his congregation, along with many of their affiliate churches, are using this experience as spiritual fuel. They believe that in order to positively impact their community after this tragedy, they need to reevaluate how they have gone about doing the “churchy stuff.”
They do not wish to simply be present in their community, they want to have “presence.” Lewis said that no one congregation has all the resources necessary to serve in the name of Jesus at this time. They need to join with others as, together, they attempt to do the work Jesus Christ has called them to do.
As far as what people who were not directly affected by the hurricane can do to help, Lewis suggests connecting locally with ministries who are already planning to a trip to Houston or who are providing opportunities to give.
“I encourage our young people to involve themselves locally with The Christian Center, Dove Harbor and other ministries like those,” said Lewis. “Seek to volunteer and to offer your monetary resources. There are always people living on the ragged edge every day, in every community.”