6,100 miles, seven days: Many hands make lighter work

Day three: On day three of a 6,000-plus-mile journey to assess damage in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, I accompanied Victoria Goff, American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ associate director of Mission Advancement and Passionary Movement, to Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

This urban congregation of 16,000 members from across the city and greater suburbs ended up in disaster-response ministry within days of Harvey’s assault on the area. Church staff launched an online platform that matched members who needed help in Harvey’s aftermath with those who could provide it. The church also established a distribution center to provide water, food, clothing, toys, diapers and other items to displaced families and individuals. When we visited, now about a month after the hurricane made landfall, people remained lined up outside the center, waiting their turns to enter.

Clearly, the needs of Houston’s hurricane victims are still great.

As we finish this third day, I am struck by the demands of disaster-response work. Victoria has been on her mobile phone in airports, restaurants, cars and meetings since we landed in Baton Rouge, La. She has connected with Church World Service to arrange delivery of personal-hygiene kits to Puerto Rico, negotiated with North Carolina Baptist Men to get a water-purification system for the island, and initiated research into the cost of generators.

Victoria connected with Dr. Samuel C. Tolbert Jr. at Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., to talk about joining together in Puerto Rico relief work. She had lunch with a handful of church leaders from Galveston, Texas, for a discussion about the needs of the people there, and met with the Rev. Eddie Hilliard, First United Methodist Church of Missouri City, Texas, to evaluate possible future partnerships.

Partnerships are the name of the game in disaster-relief work. What one partner doesn’t know, another will. And when thousands of people’s lives have been turned upside down and sideways, the job is too big for one organization alone.

Dr. Tolbert put it this way: “With this kind of devastation, you cannot make it by yourself. We just have to work together. We are all one.”

Part three of a multiple part series as American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) takes American Baptists on the road with ABHMS Disaster-response Ministries as it assesses the damage and connects with survivors and others on the ground in hurricane-ravaged areas from Louisiana and Texas to Florida and Puerto Rico. 

Susan Gottshall is American Baptist Home Mission Societies Associate Executive Director, Communications.