Presbyterian Disaster Assistance makes long-term commitment to victims of Hurricane Harvey
October 16, 2017
Weeks after Hurricane Harvey pounded the Houston area, many emergency response teams were packing up and preparing to leave the area. But Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) was setting its sights on the long haul.
In downtown Houston, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of PDA; Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice, and Jim Kirk, PDA’s national associate for disaster response, joined Valerie Young from the Synod of the Sun for several meetings with pastors, ruling elders and leaders from the Presbytery of New Covenant.
“We are having conversations with churches about becoming long-term host sites for volunteers,” Kirk said. “There will be a lot of work for people to do in the coming weeks and months. In addition to funds, the communities need thousands of cleanup kits.”
The team spoke with 50 young people taking part in the Presbyterian Youth Connection Council, which touches 29 congregations in the Houston area. The youth came to pray, worship and plan for recovery work.
“What you do after a disaster response erases the differences in race and faiths,” Kraus told the group. “We are all a part of the same human family. Disaster can help transcend those differences.”
PDA heard from some of the youth and their leaders about the struggles they’ve faced and the good that has come out of it.
“We had 4 or 5 feet of water in our church. But this is the first time I’ve felt a part of a connectional church,” said Marilee Norred, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Dickinson, Texas. “It has been phenomenal to see everyone who cares about us. Churches across the country are calling us to say they support us financially and spiritually.
Several feet of water had invaded homes and businesses in the area, including First Presbyterian Church.
“Pew cushions were everywhere, and even the pews themselves were moved across the sanctuary,” said Connie Almendarez, a nurse and church member. “A large ice machine floated across the freeway and settled by the front door of the church. When I opened the door to the church, a snake came slithering out. Later, we had found a fish in the wall that had come from the bayou, which is not close.”
Dirt and sand and the musty smell of damp wood filled the air in the church sanctuary, but that wasn’t as bad as what church members found in the food pantry, located on church property.
“The water was deep, and the raw meat from the freezers was floating in the dirty water. We got in there as soon as we could to clean it up,” pastor Kathy Sebring said. “We took the damaged canned goods and packages of crackers to the street to be removed by cleanup, yet people were still coming by and taking many of the items home because they were so desperate for food.”
“We had several members that were impacted by flood. Other members had family that had suffered loss,” Almendarez said. “One couple didn’t suffer flood damage, but a large tree in their yard fell and crashed through their bedroom. They were not there at the time.”
Because of damage to the sanctuary, Sunday services were being held in the church’s front yard.
“We had some people pass by and ask if they could take Communion,” Sebring said. “One couple had just moved here the Monday before the storm and lost everything. They were very distraught and we invited them to join us. They later said they thought it might be time to get back into church.”
As work to clean up and rebuild continues, Sebring is hopeful for a new beginning in her congregation.
“We have several older members who could not get out after the storm, and I pondered just closing the doors,” Sebring said. “But the day after the floods, we had 50 to 60 volunteers show up to help us, and I began to think God might have other plans for us.”
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is the emergency response and refugee program of the denomination, committed to the long-term journey of recovery in communities adversely affected by a crisis or catastrophic event. It is funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing and raises designated funds for responding to specific disasters.
Rick Jones, Mission Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
Let us join in prayer for:
Presbytery of New Covenant Staff
Mary Marcotte, Associate General Presbyter
Lynn Hargrove, Stated Clerk
Kristi Blankman, Coordinator for Youth Ministry
Pat Brantley, Database Coordinator/Receptionist
Sandra Lopez, Assistant for Finance and Administration
Carrie Walker, Coordinator of Conferences and Graphics
Sharon Darden, Coordinator for Committees on Ministry and Preparation for Ministry
Forbes Baker, Director of Business Affairs and Finance
Mary Currie, Volunteer in Mission
Scott Young, Web Developer
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, thank you for making us all parts of the same body, your church. Take our differences and knit them together to meet a wide variety of needs as we partner together in Christ. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.