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Harvey Leaves Few Unscathed

AG churches and ministers are still feeling the wrath of Harvey, but aid is already in place and being distributed.

“Anyone that can pray, we welcome that right now.”

That was the plea of Tim Barker, the superintendent of the South Texas District, who makes his home in Houston and has witnessed the devastation first hand.

“The problem here in Houston,” observes Eleazar “J. R.” Rodriguez Jr, the superintendent for the Texas Louisiana Hispanic District, “is no matter what direction you want to go, the roads and highways are closed, flooded.”

Rodriguez, also a Houston resident, says that so far he knows of four churches in his district that have been affected by water coming into their buildings. His church, Templo Aposento Alto, has been spared to this point. However, the roads to the church are flooded and closed by the police.

“Neighbors of the church have called and let me know that the church only had water in the parking lot,” Rodriguez explains. “We wanted to open the church as a shelter, but we can’t get to it.”

Access in to and out of the city is all but impossible. According to Michelle Golovine, 17-year-veteran of the Houston Fire Department and assistant fire chief over human relations, the calls for help have dwarfed all previous records.

“Our previous record for incident responses in a 24-hour period was 1,500,” Golovine says. “From Saturday night until Sunday night, we had more than 5,000 responses. Through this morning, we were at 5,527 – though that number is no longer accurate as we’re continuing to respond.”

Even with a record-shattering response, Golovine says that they still have “a large 9-1-1 call queue we are still processing” and there were 185 pending water rescues through the Houston Police Department. She says the police and fire departments have an “all call” issued for all members to report. The problem for the fire department is, however, the same for the citizens. Some members are either at their homes and cut off from the getting in or they have been on-duty for days and have no way to get home.

Officials have reported that Houston is not alone in the suffering. So far, 50 counties have been impacted, with some regions expected to get as much as 50 inches of rain from what has now become tropical storm Harvey (due to reduced wind velocity).

So far 15 Assemblies of God churches and ministers homes have reported flooding in the South Texas District and that number is expected to rise. The district office also appears to be underwater, but at this point, no staff members have been able to reach the office to check on the extent of any damage.

The district is also currently hosting more than 150 ministers and constituents at its Hill Country Camp and Conference Center in Kerrville, including members of the Pasadena (Texas) Women’s Teen Challenge Center.

Convoy of Hope has already distributed five loads of supplies in Southeast Texas, with more than 20 additional loads being prepared. Convoy’s Disaster Services team is operating from a site in Victoria, Texas, which is being set up as a drive-through point of distribution. They are also distributing product to families in Aransas Pass and Ingleside. They will move eastward toward Houston as safety permits. Barker believes the earliest outside help will be allowed into Houston is Thursday, depending on flood levels.

Chef John Stout, who is the Dallas-area director for Mercy Chefs and an Assemblies of God missionary with U.S. Missions Church Planters and Developers, is currently en route to the hard-hit region, returning from a volunteer effort in Baltimore.

However, according the Stout’s Facebook page, Mercy Chefs is already deployed in Rockport, Texas, with plans to move assets to Houston as soon as they are permitted. Mercy Chefs specializes in providing hot comfort foods to first responders, many who are working multiple shifts with little or no sleep.

In an online meeting with other fire department officials, Golovine says that she was informed that the greater Houston area can expect as much as a foot or more of additional rain in the next 24 to 36 hours. With the bayous already out of their banks, and the reservoirs having to be released, the danger for the region is far from over.

“We’re in active rescue mode,” Golovine says. “Our goal is to complete all critical pending rescues before sundown, but we’re asking people not to call 9-1-1 unless it’s a life threatening situation.”

But Rodriguez sees God at work in midst of the disaster. “With all the recent issues, the divisions, racism, ethnicities . . . , this flood that has hit Houston — the last thing on people’s mind is what color you are. Black, white, Hispanic, Asians – they are all helping each other. The ‘lines’ that were trying to be divisions have literally been washed out.”

From a professional point of view, Golovine echoes what Rodriguez has seen. “We can’t reach everyone (the fire department has already had two stations and 12 emergency vehicles flood damaged). It will be neighbors helping neighbors within their own areas — checking on them, making sure they don’t have any needs, because right now, there is no access in or out of many of those areas.”

Although there’s no way to physically help those in Houston right now, Barker says the financial need throughout the region is going to be significant. In addition to urging people to consider financially assisting a compassion ministries (such as Convoy of Hope or Mercy Chefs), Barker says the district has set up an online giving opportunity on its website so that pastors can be personally helped as well.

“Three of our churches are open as safe places for evacuees,” Barker says. “I’m so grateful that they’re opening their doors and reaching out. And so far, there have been no reports of fatalities among our ministers or constituents. However, there are homes and vehicles that are total losses.”

While Texas and Southwest Louisiana are still in for days of rain, as reports have Harvey heading back out into the Gulf and then returning with even more rain, residents of the Carolinas’ coast lines are preparing for the potential of tropical storm Irma to bring flooding to their coastal counties.

. . . which makes Barker’s plea worth repeating: “Anyone that can pray, we welcome that right now.”

 Two giving links have been established by the Assemblies of God national office: click here to give AG Relief (benefits Convoy of Hope and other relief efforts) or click here to give to AG Church Relief (for churches affected by the disaster).

Image by urban.houstonian from Houston, TX, USA - Hurricane Harvey, CC BY 2.0

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.