Readying for the Long Haul
More than four months after Hurricane Harvey decimated Texas property along the Gulf coast, only 400 of 1,300 businesses in Aransas County have reopened. The epicenter of the storm hit Rockport, the county seat.
“There wasn’t a single block in our city that didn’t have something destroyed,” says Bruce L. Frazier, pastor of Rockport First Assembly of God. The storm damaged a 6,500-square-foot building that contained the church’s youth and children meeting areas, Sunday School rooms, kitchen, and office area beyond repair. The structure has been demolished with assistance from Christ in Action, a ministry founded by endorsed Assemblies of God Chaplain Denny L. Nissley.
A second church structure where the sanctuary is located sustained water and roof damage, but tiles and insulation have been replaced, plus the building has a new ceiling and lights, thanks to volunteers who came from around the country and donated their time and skills. In the meantime, the repaired property now also houses a kitchen, nursery, and office space.
The natural disaster convinced Rockport First AG leaders to accelerate a relocation that had been planned three to five years from now. Instead, Frazier hopes land will be cleared this summer and construction can begin in the fall.
That’s when U.S. Mission America Placement Service (MAPS) RV Volunteers enter the picture. So far, 20 RVers have been involved in U.S. MAPS disaster relief related to Hurricane Harvey. But another 60 are poised to assist in the long haul — rebuilding some of the 35 damaged AG churches — and 18 parsonages — in the next year and a half. So far, 10 projects are in the works and six more are awaiting approval. The vast majority of the damaged churches have fewer than 175 attendees.
“We need teams to come, and they need to be flexible because the area of damage is so widespread,” says U.S. missionary Norman Knoodle, U.S. MAPS regional missionary for a four-state region that includes Texas.
U.S. MAPS workers pay for their own housing and meals, while churches typically cover the costs for recreational vehicle hookups. Many of the damaged churches didn’t have insurance coverage because flooding hadn’t occurred in the area in decades. Some other congregations that did have coverage have learned that their policies didn’t include provisions for “wind-driven rain,” the factor insurance companies are citing in the record 55 inches that soaked the region. Wind storm insurance premiums can cost even a small church along the Gulf Coast tens of thousands of dollars annually, so few have it.
Al and Pat Reynolds of Waco, Texas, have been working on U.S. MAPS construction teams for 11 years, but the past three months marks the first time the couple have engaged in repairs due to a disaster. Primarily, Al has been cutting out water-damaged plasterboard and taping and floating the new material, while Pat sweeps up and installs insulation. They have helped to renovate ravaged churches in Liberty and Cleveland, Texas, and are headed to Aransas Pass, Port Lavaca, and Victoria this year.
Both retired at 55 as school district employees, Pat as an administrative assistant and Al as an air conditioning technician.
“We wanted to work full time for the Lord and also travel,” Pat says. “When we found MAPS, we knew this is what God wanted us to do. We don’t want to sit in rocking chairs and watch TV when there’s so much Kingdom work to do.”
Cornerstone Assembly of God in Winnie, Texas, quickly fixed its sanctuary, nurseries, and church offices, missing only one Sunday service. Lead Pastor Kevin Griffin says free insulation provided by World Vision and plasterboard donated by Convoy of Hope greatly aided the renovation of the church, as well as numerous residential properties in the area. U.S. MAPS also will be helping to refurbish a Cornerstone parsonage in January.
Nearly 100 volunteers from Cornerstone, a church of 300 attendees, have been assisting 20 local residents, especially widows and single mothers, to rebuild their homes, according to Griffin. He says such sacrificial service has facilitated changing preconceived notions that some non-Christians have about the Church.
Mauriceville Assembly of God didn’t have flood insurance because the property never had flooded before, according to Pastor Chad Kibodeaux. The hurricane severely damaged three of the church’s four buildings, forcing the congregation to meet in its gymnasium for services.
Kibodeaux says Mauriceville AG’s sanctuary and fellowship hall will be torn down by February by MAPS volunteers. Church leaders have decided to erect a new, larger sanctuary, and they already are working with U.S. MAPS architect Frank Hawk to use the space efficiently. Kibodeaux hopes MAPS workers will be able to lend a hand finishing construction of the building in the fall. In the meantime, Kibodeaux is grateful for contributions that have come in to assist in repairing the church’s educational edifice.
“Every time we turn around God has been faithful in sending us funds,” Kibodeaux says. “Every penny of the $20,000 we’ve spent has been donated.”
Meanwhile, Frazier of Rockport First Assembly says the church will sell its existing property once the nearby new building is completed. He says the whole experience has bolstered his faith, and changed his outlook.
“As a pastor who is accustomed to helping people, it’s been humbling to accept help that comes to the doorstep,” Frazier says. “I’ve learned how to graciously receive from people who want to help. It’s refreshed my respect for humanity.”IMAGE - Rockport First Assembly of God Pastor Bruce Frazier had to contend with a pile of rubble in the aftermath of the hurricane.