Many Texas Conference Churches Give back to Louisiana after Hurricane Laura
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Louisiana sent countless volunteers and donations to help. After all, Houston had been there for New Orleans residents after Katrina. Now it’s Texas’s turn to help Louisiana. Hurricane Laura made landfall on the Louisiana coastline on the three-year anniversary of Harvey. Churches in the Texas Annual Conference quickly convened to let their neighbors to the east know that help was on the way.
“They were generous to us after Harvey. We want to return the favor to them,” TAC’s Disaster Response Coordinator Godfrey Hubert.
The weekend after Hurricane Laura hit, Hubert oversaw a collaboration of 19 Houston area congregations to collect and deliver donations for Louisiana. While the TAC coordinated the drive, many other denominations joined the effort.
The following Monday, Aug. 31, supplies were assembled at Asbury UMC in Lafayette, the regional collection site, and loaded onto 18-wheelers, which embarked on the relief mission in the morning. Donations included much needed tarping materials, tools, food, water, baby products, hygiene and cleaning supplies.
Senior Pastor John Cannon at Asbury said his congregation joined with other volunteers to collect, gather, sort and store supplies.
“Everyone was unloading trucks and sorting out pallet loads and pallet loads and palette loads of diapers, water, building supplies, you name it,” he said.
"When people are in need, we step up,” he said. “The spirit of Louisiana is to help anyone who has need. To me that’s how you live, grow and share the love of Jesus Christ.
“We’re able to bring people together to work together,” he said. “We need more of that, especially in this time that seems so divided. We came together to do the highest good we possibly could, and that’s just simply to help people who are hurting and who are suffering.”
Kingwood UMC also spent the weekend collecting donations. Associate Pastor Chris Harrison said that the day after Laura, he received a phone call from Praying Pelican Missions, a global, interdenominational ministry.
“They said they were mobilizing and coming through Houston,” Harrison recalled. “Then they asked, ‘Is there any way you can do a supply drive for us?’”
By Friday, the church ironed out the details and spread the word around town. Donations piled up, and the congregation collected $7,000 in gift cards.
“In almost every car, someone would tell us, ‘Thank y’all for giving us the opportunity to help,’” Harrison said. “We just created a space where people could generously respond.”
The pastor was particularly touched by a family with three daughters – who made $160 at their lemonade stand for Laura relief. They purchased water with the funds and brought it to the church.
By Monday night, the items were loaded and on their way to Louisiana -- with a 20-foot U-Haul full of donations. Kingwood UMC also purchased 150 plastic bins from Home Depot for those affected by floods who needed storage containers.
“We don’t live in a community anymore that says, ‘Phew that missed us,’” Harrison explained. “It goes beyond reciprocity.”
Recently, when a tornado tore through Onalaska, Kingwood UMC sent work teams to help.
“Now we have this to our east,” Harrison said. “This is still in our neighborhood, and we know what it’s like to be in the middle of this. If not us, then who?”
Hurricane Laura also caused severe damage in the eastern part of Texas, especially the area surrounding Orange and Newton counties.
Orange resident Pastor Amy Walker, Director of the Wesley Foundation at Lamar University, serves as Coordinator of Disaster Relief for the Southeast District. She evacuated during the hurricane.
“I watched as it slowly grew and became a bigger storm than we ever expected,” she said. “The eye of the storm was going right over Orange. We told our kids, ‘It’s just stuff.’ We thought that we were going to lose our home.”
Then, Walker noticed that the storm was shifting to the east. She worried about the safety of her students at Lamar and her friends and family in Louisiana.
The Sabine River Flood of 2016 prompted Walker to get involved in disaster relief. She started training with Scott Moore, who was then executive director of the Mission Center. “I learned so much in a short amount of time,” she said.
Walker also discovered that she had a passion for disaster relief – and her training came in handy during Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda.
After Laura, she was ready for duty – even though she was in a travel trailer outside of town. She still had her laptop and immediately began building a database of homes damaged by the storm.
Members of United Methodist churches began calling her soon after the hurricane. Other residents also dialed her number, even some in need of relief in Louisiana.
Walker entered their names into the database, as well. Now, she can begin dispatching teams as they come to help.
Still, she typically goes to homes and talks to people in need of help. “I miss being boots on the ground, going to talk and pray with them,” she said. “Sometimes, that’s what they need.”
Faith UMC Orange also opened its doors to United Methodist Churches, who wanted to provide meals for the community. Already, Trinity UMC Beaumont arrived with fried chicken dinners, Vidor UMC brought non-perishable sack lunches and Moody UMC Galveston offered pulled pork sandwiches, in addition to donating water, flood buckets, diapers, formula, tarps, nails, masks and gloves.
Walker served as youth pastor at Faith UMC before her current post -- and was impressed with the Faith Fixers, a work team at the congregation. They will be among the teams from churches that are deployed to help in Laura’s aftermath.
Walker said there are a number of ways to help – whether donating funds or time to this cause.
She pointed to University UMC in Lake Charles, a congregation that helped her family after Harvey.
“They welcomed us and provided for us,” she said. “They aren’t the only church hurting. Lift these families and churches and communities up in prayer. They’re in desperate need of so much right now.”
Texas Annual Conference congregations can help the relief effort by contributing to the conference through UMCOR or directly to the Texas Annual Conference at txcumc.org/texasrecovers.