Harvey Recovery: We have Labor, Money and Jobs
By Lindsay Peyton
When Cypress UMC was spared from the devastation of Harvey, the church became a shelter in the storm -- specifically for Mennonites who specialize in disaster recovery.
Volunteers are still coming, more than a year after the hurricane hit Houston, Cypress UMC senior pastor the Rev. Tony McCollum said.
“We’re a long way from coming to a close,” he explained.
After Harvey, Cypress UMC members waded through high waters to check on the status of the church and found it relatively unharmed. This blessing, McCollum said, allowed congregants to focus on helping neighbors.
“We believe that it was God’s grace that the church was spared, because it allowed us to get to work right away,” he said. “We figured out how to feed people. We sent teams out. The first three weeks, everyone was exhausted from not sleeping.”
At the same time, a group of Mennonites from Weaverland Disaster Recovery were looking for a place to set up shop.
“They were scrambling around, trying to find where to go,” McCollum said. “Someone suggested Cypress UMC. We didn’t know what hosting them was going to look like. By inviting them to stay, we were opening ourselves up to 20 or 30 teams.”
The church gave Weaverland Disaster Recovery members room to camp, and Debbie Parcel, a member of the church since 1996, took over the task of feeding the troops.
She and her mother Dorene Barber had been feeding a few volunteers from the area already, but when the Mennonites arrived, meal planning took on a new dimension.
“At first, it was can you feed seven or eight people during the week,” Parcel recalled. “It just kept growing. There were teams every week and weekend.”
She was not daunted, however, and insisted on preparing a hot breakfast and dinner for all of the visitors. In addition, she offered all of the fixings for a sack lunch every day for the volunteers.
Sometimes, Parcel and Barber counted 60 team members to feed. Volunteers from the church brought desserts. The congregation’s men’s group “Holy Smokers” cooked barbecue dinners a couple times a month. The church donated all of the perishables.
“My mom said that it’s given her purpose,” Parcel said. “We’ve been able to get people involved in helping the community.”
So far, they have served more than 17,000 plates of food to more than 12,000 volunteers.
Parcel added that the Mennonites offered an unsurpassed skillset to the homes in Cypress, Texas.
McCollum said they had a list of homes to work on – and would send the teams out where they were needed.
“Around the area, there was all kinds of flooding,” he said. “We wanted to be in this for the long-haul, and the Mennonites really gave us that opportunity.”
A number of Cypress residents had just finished repairing their houses from the tax-day floods of 2016, when Harvey hit.
Some lost everything that they had in the hurricane. Even now, McCollum said, area residents are living in homes that have not been repaired.
“They’re camping out in their houses, that’s what they’re doing,” he said. “And when you drive by, you can’t even tell.”
McCollum said relief efforts will take much more time. “We’re five to seven years from putting this all back together,” he added. “Harvey is just a footnote in history for most of the world. For us, it’s not. It’s current.”
Cypress UMC has teamed up with Cy-Hope Disaster Recovery to keep up with the need and the funding for the work.
The church continues to house Weaverland Disaster Recovery. The group is sending another team in May and plans to start up again even stronger in the fall.
“We’ve got the jobs to do, the money, and we’ve got the laborers,” McCollum said.
Working alongside the Mennonites has taught his congregation a number of valuable lessons, he added. “What kind of pastor wouldn’t pray for that type of example to live in their church house?” he asked.
Parcel agrees. “The more you spend time with them, the more they ground us,” she said. “We all say the same Lord’s prayer. They just live a simpler life. It’s amazing what they brought to us. It’s really been a blessing.”
By working together, McCollum said, Cypress UMC demonstrates its mission – to build bridges and create community that connects people to Jesus’ life-giving story.
“We become a much better example of what Christians are supposed to be,” he said.