Interreligious Partners Unite for Disaster Recovery in Texas

Date Posted: 8/18/2015

As Carol Greenslate considers the thousands of people affected by flooding in the greater Houston area of Texas, she also sees a response full of blessings and what she calls “kingdom building.”
After torrential rain led to extreme river and creek flooding throughout the state at the end of May, faith leaders almost immediately realized their response would be stronger if it was unified, said Greenslate, disaster response coordinator for the Texas Annual (regional) Conference.
“One of the biggest blessings is how ecumenical the response has been,” she said. At an interreligious breakfast held at the Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, an imam joined rabbis, cantors, and pastors to talk about the needs and resources in the community.
“Every community can gather its own nations,” said Greenslate. “That’s one of those gold-star things that God reveals. There is no doctrine in disaster.”
Partners from many faith traditions as well as secular organizations have joined a long-term recovery organization, the Greater Houston Storm Recovery Network.
With more than 11,000 people in Harris County alone applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, the response is still in the phase in which people need to check on their neighbors, she said.
“It’s kind of like the silent disaster. People don’t realize there is a lot of hurt going on. The media has forgotten this disaster but we have not,” she added.
Central Texas Also Impacted
Communities in central Texas are also quietly facing a long-term recovery from flooding. In Williamson County alone, at least 376 individuals or families need help, and not everyone has come forward and asked, said Rev. Laraine Waughtal, disaster response coordinator for theCentral Texas Conference.
“Williamson County is one of those counties that’s gotten lost in the news,” she said.
Early Response Teams from the conference helped people clean up and muck out their homes, and last week United Methodist case managers began their work assisting flood survivors with their long-term recovery plans.
Some case managers who responded in West, Texas — where an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred in 2013 — volunteered their time and expertise to help set up case management in Williamson County.
In these communities, flash flooding meant that water rose so quickly that there was little warning, adding to the trauma of the disaster, said Waughtal. “Two families I talked to said they barely got out of their homes in time. The water was already up to their knees.”
Calls for Help
Monetary donations are the best response, said Eugene Hileman, disaster response coordinator for the Rio Texas Conference. In addition, volunteer teams can start planning a trip to Texas. “We have four different long-term recovery groups working in different parts of the conference,” Hileman said.
“Here, we have two areas — one west of Corpus Christi and one down near the Rio Grande Valley — where there are more than 3,000 FEMA applicants. Very few people even knew there was a flood down there. We’re going to need a lot of help,” he said.
As communities across Texas continue to recover, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has offered support with funding, training, and case management, already offering hope to hundreds of flood survivors.
“Throughout this widespread disaster, UMCOR has provided resources to each conference in Texas,” said Greg Forrester, UMCOR executive in charge of U.S. Disaster Response.
“What’s most gratifying,” he said, “is how the conferences have expanded UMCOR’s resources by connecting with each other — from sending Emergency Response Teams, to sharing resources, to exchanging prayers and expertise.”
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to where this story originated. 
Original story at