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Acts of God

18 months on, South Texas is still rebuilding from Hurricane Harvey.
After Hurricane Harvey lifted a chunk of the roof from Primera Asamblea De Dios in Corpus Christi, Texas, pastor Robert Sáenz tallied up a repair estimate at $92,000.

Meanwhile, with a tarp covering the gaping hole, he and congregants put out buckets to catch the leaks elsewhere in the building.

Fundraising letters Sáenz wrote raised about half that amount. But by November when Norman Knoodle, the U.S. Mission American Placement Service (U.S. MAPS) field missionary for the four-state region that includes Texas, visited the church, he recognized damage beyond Sáenz’s layman’s assessment.

“I didn't know half of what I needed until Knoodle got there,” says Sáenz, 65.

The entire soaked second floor needed to be razed. Mold plagued the whole building, which meant the wallboard needed to be ripped out. Even the sanctuary had to be gutted. Knoodle’s educated eye set the timeline for repairs on the uninsured structure at two years. The repair estimate: $1.5 million — more than 15 times over what Sáenz expected — an amount well beyond the financial means of the congregation of 65 in a drug-infested Corpus Christi barrio.

But immediately the Lord began to provide. Assemblies of God ministries, including U.S. MAPS (a department of U.S. Missions) and Convoy of Hope’s Day of Outreach plus parachurch ministries Samaritan's Purse and World Vision donated supplies, workers, and money to Primera Asamblea, which is part of the Texas Gulf Hispanic District.

“God has provided the funds, material, and labor!” Sáenz says.

The August 2017 storm, now tied with the cataclysmic 2005 Hurricane Katrina as costliest tropical cyclone on record, impacted 13 million people, including 6.3 million in the Houston metro area, fifth largest in the nation. Harvey also became the wettest ever in the U.S. The storm parked for nearly a week over two-thirds of the huge AG South Texas District, plunging the region into crisis mode for a full six months, according to Jordin Williams, disaster relief liaison.

“The response has been amazing,” says Williams, 32. “Not only outside sources, but our AG resources went above and beyond. They were not here just for the cleanup, but for the long haul. South Texas is on the mend and able to help others.”

Williams says three dozen churches filed reports of significant damage with the district office, six of them total losses. Harvey also destroyed some parsonages. An uncounted additional number of churches had sufficient insurance to fix their properties. But congregants also suffered severe losses, including homes damaged beyond repair. Churches impacted for months, often unable to meet in ravaged buildings, couldn't expect the same level of tithes and offerings from congregants.

Though during crisis times the tendency is to think inwardly, other AG congregations filled in gaps by adopting missionaries and missions projects from churches in need.

“Our missionaries didn't go without,” Williams says. The South Texas AG District even received a five-digit check from the Philippines to help with hurricane recovery, she says.

In addition to Convoy of Hope, which supplied materials and labor, U.S. MAPS volunteer RVers as well as non-AG Christian charities provided materials that averaged $200,000 per church.

North Texas AG has helped its South Texas counterpart set up a formal disaster relief team and train volunteers. The South Texas District purchased a trailer and stocked it with supplies, ready for the next crisis. At the upcoming district council, help will be provided to churches that want to craft such plans.

Work continues. Three churches remain to be rebuilt. The district has sponsored a dozen Days of Hope, with several more scheduled. These events typically reach from 500 to 1,500 people, helping rebuild a disaster-battered community.

Primera Asamblea has its new roof. Missions teams from AG churches across the U.S. have converged on the church to help demolish the second floor, rip out the ruined interiors, and restore and rebuild the campus. U.S. MAPS crews — including electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and painters — stayed in RVs and the gym while they gutted and restored the sanctuary and renovated the foyer, kitchen, and restrooms, providing some $750,000 in labor. Sáenz says the church needs another $30,000 to finish.

Sáenz has shared wallboard, insulation, and roofing materials with other storm-battered churches.

“God is opening doors and giving us favor with people from other denominations,” Sáenz says. “It’s overwhelming how the body of Christ is coming together because of Harvey. God put the right people, the key people on my path to help.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.