Grace and Redemption Mingle in Harvey’s Floodwaters
By: Sherri Gragg
The Rev. Keith Tilley, pastor of Faith UMC Orange, has witnessed God’s grace and redemption in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
“We Weren’t Supposed to Flood”
“Our neighborhood had never flooded before. I guess I was in denial,” said the Rev. Keith Tilley, pastor of Faith UMC Orange. But this was no typical rainstorm, no ordinary hurricane- this was Harvey, and Harvey specialized in the unimaginable.
All day, the water fell in Orange, TX. Eventually, it filled the road in front of Tilley’s home and then began to spill over into the front yard. That night, Tilley, his wife Deb, and their two teenage sons fell asleep to the sound of the relentless deluge as it beat against the windows and gushed from the downspouts. At 2:00 a.m., Tilley walked softly through darkened house to peer out the front door.
And found the water at his threshold of his one-level home.
Waiting for Rescue
Soon afterward, as the family rushed to move as many belongings as possible into the attic, water began to pour into the home through the weep holes. The flooring came up, and still the waters rose. Eventually, Tilley, standing at over six feet tall, found that the sewage tainted water inside his home reached the middle of his thigh. The family lifted their dogs up onto sofas, and then the countertops. All night long they sat in the water waiting for daylight. “It smelled so bad that we had to keep the back door open during the storm,” Tilley said.
When morning finally dawned, Tilley waded out to stand in the back of his truck and attempted to flag down passing rescue boats.
“We have to go get an elderly woman…”
“We are headed to a home with small children…”
The needs were simply too many. Tilley climbed down from his truck and waded back into his flooded home. The family packed Ziploc bags with their phones, chargers, and a change of clothes. Then they attached leashes to their three dogs and waded out into the flood. The water came up to Tilley’s neck.
Eventually, the Tilley family made it to a nearby church where family friends met them to take them to their home in the country. For the next 36 hours, the family agonized over their inability to update friends and family on their rescue due to lack of phone service. The first call Tilley received once phone service was restored was from friend and fellow pastor, the Rev. Keefe Cropper, at Quitman UMC.
The Storehouse of God’s Provision
Cropper told Tilley he had been awake all night praying for him and his family, and that God had given him a clear message for him. “He said God was not taken by surprise by the flooding,” Tilley said, “but was storing up for us everything we would need and would release it at the right time.” Cropper’s words restored Tilley’s peace.
The days have been long ones over the past year for Tilley, his family, church, and community but God has been faithful to his promise of provision. As each need has arisen, provision has poured forth from heaven. More often than not, his abundance has flowed from the selfless service and generosity of other United Methodist churches. Marvin UMC Tyler has been an especially faithful partner in ministry.
“After the flood, I received a call from their Missions Director, Melissa Brigman. When I answered the phone she said, “This is your new best friend.” Brigman sent the Marvin Menders, a ministry that typically provides small-project repair work for the elderly, to the rescue. Marvin Menders completed restorations to the parsonage in record time, allowing the Tilley family to return home three short days before Christmas. Additionally, the ministry presented each of the 40 families from Faith UMC Orange who had flooded with Christmas gifts.
Faith UMC Orange was so inspired by the profound grace they received from Marvin UMC, that they formed their own ministry, Faith Fixers, this past February. “We have been working feverishly to get people back into their homes,” Tilley said. “So far we have 44 of our members participating as volunteers and have completed 17 of the 26 requests we have received for assistance.”
Perhaps the most stunning development for Tilley has been the clear and abundant redemption God has worked in the midst of heartbreaking loss. “It was the hardest thing I have ever gone through,” Tilley said, “but in a way, it was one of the best things. My wife and I know that our family is stronger because of Harvey and that we are closer to God and others as well. I wouldn’t want to do it over, but I wouldn’t want to have missed it either.”