Christian Reformed congregations and ministries are preparing to give aid to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. On August 25, the storm hit Houston, Tex., and much of the Gulf Coast with huge volumes of rain and devastating winds.
Mark Hilbelink, pastor of Sunrise Community CRC in Austin, Tex., and stated clerk for Classis Rocky Mountain, the regional group of churches that encompasses the Houston area and includes six churches in the flood zone, wrote to his fellow congregations Tuesday evening, addressing the situation.
Hilbelink asked for prayer for the churches in Houston and the neighboring community of Spring: Casa de Oracion, Hope CRC, Fil-Am CRC, Mision de Fe Internacional, New Life CRC, Nueva Vida and Peace Community Church, and for several pastors and leaders that call the city home. He also reported, “No church buildings have yet been damaged and only one pastor family—Pablo & Diana Gaggero—have been displaced.”
Another report shared by South Kendall CRC in Miami, Fla., on its Facebook page, gave an update from Hope CRC indicating that the church’s music director, Anita Hughes, and her husband, Jonathan, had lost their home. Later Rev. Dave Hornor, pastor of Peace Community Church, and his family were displaced from their home.
“Some of you or your churches may be asking how our sister churches are doing and how [you] can help quickly,” Hilbelink wrote. He mentioned World Renew, an agency of the CRC experienced in disaster relief, as “a great place to start” and also shared stories from two pastors and a call from an organization called Volunteers in Action.
“The flooding and destruction have been enormous," said the message from Peace Community Church pastor Hornor. "The rebuilding process will doubtless take years. Many of our neighbors in the neighborhood adjoining Peace Community CRC have only recently recovered physically from the effects of the ‘Tax Day Flood’ of 2016. Now they and many others will be facing the long process to rebuild and repair their homes.” He added, “We are very thankful that the storm and flooding has (so far) not affected the CRC church facilities in the Houston metroplex. And also that the loss of human life has been remarkably low for a disaster of this scale. Thanks be to God!”
Rev. Andy Sytsma, pastor at New Life CRC in Spring, Texas, wrote that social media was providing an important tool for communicating. The New Life Facebook page is filled with updates of member families. He said he was encouraged by support from World Renew and leadership of the CRC. “It's really encouraging to see the church rally together to be Jesus to folks,” Sytsma said.
Donn Hansum, diaconal ministry coordinator for Classis Rocky Mountain and director of Denver, Col.,-based Volunteers in Action, wrote: “The areas around our sister churches of Classis Rocky Mountain in the Houston area are experiencing enormous flooding. . . . As deacons, we would like to support these deacons, their churches, and these church plants in a direct way. Since the deacons and churches there are the boots on the ground (or in the water) for their neighbors and church members, we want to support the benevolence funds of these churches.”
“Volunteers in Action has historically functioned in a role to bring together churches to support each other where the need is greater than one church can handle,” Hansum continued, asking that each church present the need to its deacons to make a “significant donation” from their benevolence funds.
The Weather Channel’s statistics on Hurricane Harvey report an estimated 50 inches (1270 mm) of rainfall for the duration of the storm and its aftermath—greater than the average yearly rainfall (49.76 inches) typically recorded at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Sunrise Community CRC was able to work with evacuees early in the wake of the storm’s damage. Hilbelink said the church’s connection to the county through its significant ministry to the homeless population put it in a position to serve in this way.