Ahead of fast-moving Hurricane Harvey, Robert Sáenz, 64, pastor of La Primera Asamblea de Dios in Corpus Christi, Texas, and his wife, Liz, evacuated well out of harm’s way. As soon as the storm passed, Sáenz made a beeline to the church.
To his amazement, he saw no visible exterior damage to the structure, part of the Texas Gulf Hispanic District. He entered the sanctuary, likewise unharmed.
Then he went upstairs.
“I saw a light on,” recollects Sáenz, pastor of the church for 23 years. “Turns out it was daylight.”
The storm opened a hole in the church’s roof, which allowed water to destroy five classrooms on the second floor. Winds that gusted to 80 mph lifted the flat roof.
Because roofers had not removed an old roof before installing a new one following a wind storm prior to Sáenz becoming pastor, no company would insure the structure.
La Primera Asamblea de Dios sustained the heaviest damage in all the Texas Hispanic Gulf District, according to Rick Reyes, the district’s assistant superintendent.
The Sunday after the storm, Sáenz took photos of the damage, which he posted on Facebook. That Tuesday, his phone rang. Melody Cisneros Milstead, Urban Strategies’ regional director of Rio Grande Valley of Texas and national liaison with the Assemblies of God, knew of Primera Asamblea’s need and arranged for $20,000 worth of roofing materials to be delivered.
“I said wow, that was fast, Lord,” Sáenz says. “Who's going to overnight $20,000 in roofing materials? Only God does that.”
The lion’s share of the work remains, however. Subsequent and equally potent hurricanes hit Florida and Puerto Rico. Volunteer hands and dollars are spread thin.
Sáenz wrote letters about Primera Asamblea’s plight. The congregation prayed over the letters before congregants mailed them to friends, churches where they had connections, and to other potential partners possibly interested in helping rebuild if only they knew about the church’s crisis.
More than $6,000 in checks came in from three churches and some individuals. A friend in Houston is sharing 80 sheets of plasterboard.
“God is supplying our need,” Sáenz says.
Now that the church has the roofing material, it needs certified roofers and an engineer’s certification, which will make the church property insurable once again. Sáenz sent out more letters, this time to five roofing companies.
“Somebody's going to respond,” he says, citing Romans 8:28: “I couldn't afford to fix the roof.”
So far, $16,000 has come in, but to repair all the damage, the church needs
$76,000 more. In the meantime, a tarp covers the opening over the second floor.
“Anybody I talk to, if they want to help, I give them a letter,” Sáenz says. “The more that word and pictures of the damage get out, people are going to help us.”
As Jesus says in Matthew Chapter 7, Sáenz is asking, seeking, knocking.
“I'm not ashamed to ask for the church,” he says. “God is providing, but we still need more.”
Many churches have fled the impoverished, drug-infested west side of Corpus Christi for the economically prosperous south side. Sáenz over the years has been tempted to move the church, with its 75 mostly low-income congregants, elsewhere.
“But these people need the Lord,” says Sáenz, who attended the church during his childhood and youth. “Somebody's got to stay behind.”