By Lindsay Peyton
Imagine losing all you have to Hurricane Harvey and seeing your home devastated by the storm. Now picture not being able to repair your house and remaining displaced, since the Category 4 hurricane hit Texas in August 2017. Teams of Mennonite and Amish volunteers are working with the Texas Annual Conference to erase the damage done by the disaster – and help finally make it possible to go back home in Houston.
Dr. Godfrey Hubert, disaster relief coordinator for the Texas Annual Conference, explained that funding to repair 35 homes, damaged by Hurricane Harvey or Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, was awarded in the fall by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The next step was finding skilled teams up to the task. Hubert already had a long-standing relationship with the Mennonite and Amish communities. Before long, the calendar for January and February was full.
Then, Hubert began searching for volunteers and donations to support the teams. They would need a place to stay and groceries, as well as building materials delivered on site. Since the Amish do not drive or use phones, additional help would be needed for transportation and communications. Support came from Texas Congregational Disaster Readiness partners and the Moody Foundation.
With resources from Hope Disaster Recovery* and the Texas Annual Conference, Hubert was ready to host the teams and get to work. Integral to the project were Sonya Meyers, who serves as operation director, and her husband who serves as the construction coordinator. The Meyers are also founding members of Cy-Fair United Methodists, a new faith community northwest of Houston.
Among the skilled teams that have come to help, was a United Methodist Mission team from Kansas, an Amish team of 24 from Wisconsin, followed by 48 Mennonites from Illinois and most recently, 51 Amish workers from Pennsylvania and Ohio, who came for two weeks. Together, these visiting volunteers have repaired 12 homes, providing 6,748 hours of volunteer hours.
The majority of the 35 homes suffered major damage. “One in particular had to be gutted down to the studs,” Hubert said. “Volunteers replaced the roof, the siding and sheetrock – and totally rebuilt the kitchen and bathroom, so two handicapped elderly ladies who live there can spend the rest of their years in dignity. If we had to pay someone to do it, it would have been well over $120,000.”
The effort continued even as Hubert contracted COVID, as did two of his five team members. Hubert called in temporary replacements. “They came in and picked up the ball,” he said. “This is what it takes to help people. You can’t quit. You just keep going.”
Hubert has been working with a group of Mennonites who specialize in recovery and rebuilding — Weaverland Conference Disaster Response – for years. He explained that the group’s coordinator Raymond Burkholder drove to Houston to help three days after Harvey.
The group would return for three years, working with the Texas Annual Conference and Hope Disaster Recovery to repair homes devastated by the hurricane. When Hurricane Laura struck East Texas in 2020, Hubert asked the Mennonite volunteers to head to Newton County to help.
Hubert explained that Mennonites share a conviction to help others, to learn and share the Word. “They have no other priority but to be a loving community, sharing with one another and those in need,” he said. “They truly are known for their service.”
The teams of volunteers are a reminder of being a witness through service, of the importance of doing God’s work and helping those in need, Hubert explained. On the schedule is a team from Westlake UMC in Austin, Texas, and two teams from among the Mennonites in Missouri and Iowa.
Hubert said that more help is needed, especially church teams with the ability to do skilled labor, and can stay for several days. Funding is also needed to support the hosting of the crews. For more information, visit txcumc.org/disaster-readiness/.
*Hubert is founder and executive director of Hope Disaster Recovery, a nonprofit serving underserved communities of Houston and East Texas. Since its creation in 2017, the organization has repaired 1,048 homes, provided disaster case management on behalf of UMCOR for 2,100 families, and advocated for $18,000,000 in direct assistance. The nonprofit has also distributed basic needs exceeding $2.5 million, provided rental assistance to 1,612 families during the pandemic and offered vaccinations to over 20,000 individuals who live in the most vulnerable communities.