Trying to meet the immediate needs of the millions of people affected by Hurricane Harvey was a daunting task, but three RCA churches in the immediate vicinity were up for the challenge.
By Tim Poppen
On August 25, Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast and became the costliest storm on record in the U.S. This single storm inflicted nearly $200 billion in damage to the greater Houston, Texas, area.
Churches and agencies from across the country began sending money, materials, and support to the hardest hit areas. Trying to meet the immediate needs of the millions of people affected by the storm was a daunting task, but three RCA churches in the immediate vicinity were up for the challenge.
While the world watched the devastation on television, these three churches were on the front lines of the emerging disaster: Christ the Redeemer Community Church, a new house church in Houston; Carismah Church, a church plant in the nearby suburb of Katy; and Rockhills Church in San Antonio.
In partnership with RCA Global Mission, Christ the Redeemer, Carismah, and Rockhills were able to provide for immediate needs. Children needed clothing for school. Families needed beds, sheets, and—most of all—food.
“As soon as the water retreated we began helping families gut their houses,” says Prince Couisnard, pastor of Christ the Redeemer. “This was to attack the mold situation that is so prevalent after flooding.”
Christian Sebastia, pastor of Carismah Church, had a very similar experience. “We were very fortunate that Katy was not affected as much as other areas of the city,” he says, “but every member in our congregation had family or friends who were heavily impacted by the storm.”
Because Carismah is located right next to the area of need but was not hurt by the storm, it has been able to readily supply materials and aid. RCA Global Mission has partnered with Carismah to provide funds to help many families with housing, food, and other supplies.
Similarly, Rockhills Church was not in the path of the storm but is just a few hours from the city of Rockport, which was ground zero for Harvey. Because of Rockport’s smaller population (less than 10,000) it was overlooked by most media outlets, so little has been heard about what happened there. But Adam Harris, pastor of Rockhills, and the congregation have been responding to the community’s needs.
“We’ve been sending teams to Rockport on a regular basis and we are continuing this as long as the need is there,” says Harris. “We have delivered a couple of truckloads of supplies and have helped numerous churches who wanted to make contributions in this area.”
Now, more than five months later, the news has moved on to more recent crises in other parts of the world. But the need in Houston and Rockport remains. Families are still without homes. People are still struggling to meet basic needs.
“We are particularly devastated by the fact that there are still so many people living in tents or RVs because their homes are still unlivable,” says Harris.
Couisnard says the problem is not that the supplies and tools are lacking: “We have obtained supplies to rebuild and fix homes, but now we need skilled workers. We have flooring ready to be installed and no one able to do it. And so we wait.”
And for some, the struggle is even more basic. “People still need food, too,” says Sebastia. “Many who lost homes only received $500 from FEMA and so they are still homeless.”
The congregations of Christ the Redeemer, Carismah, and Rockhills have been missionaries in their own backyards, reaching out to friends and neighbors with whatever skills and resources they have. Their proximity to the disaster thrust them onto the front lines, but it was their willingness to answer God’s call to help one another that empowered them to step up.
“Our church is 95 percent new believers,” Sebastia says. “This has been their first opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and they are loving it. It has made us grow closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ and given us a tremendous opportunity to be witnesses to those in need.”
Couisnard agrees: “As members go out to seek the needs of others, they are spurred on by the desire to help them in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“It has been awesome to see the body of Christ in action,” says Harris. “Even though there is an enormous amount of work to be done, with each trip we meet other believers from various denominations from around the country who have showed up just to lend a hand.”
Tim Poppen is a member of Sunnybrook Community Church (RCA) and media specialist for the Synod of the Heartland.