6,100 miles, seven days: Pieces of debris, pieces of lives

Day 2: At first glance, Houston appeared much like most other U.S. cities today. The expressways hummed with traffic; stores were filled with busy shoppers; restaurants boasted their neon lights, tempting hungry Houstonians to succumb to barbecue, gumbo and other Cajun fare.

A very different city, however, revealed itself as the day wore on.

Hotel rooms are hard to come by here, I learned, because they are filled not with tourists but with residents whose homes were rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Harvey. At First United Methodist Church of Missouri City, a Houston suburb, hallways are filled with the makings of clean-up buckets (5-gallon buckets, laundry detergent, liquid dish soap, sponges and more); personal-hygiene kits (soap, washcloth, toothbrush, comb, Band-Aids and more); and teacher-recovery buckets.

At the New Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, a distribution center dispenses clothes, water and food. Today a food truck cooked up 1,000 chicken-and-waffle plates free of charge to those who came to the center for help and relief.

Then there’s the debris. Piles and piles of trash stretch for miles. Pieces of houses—wet sheetrock, furniture with water lines, broken countertops and soaked insulation—have been transformed into heaps of trash filling front yards. It’s the pieces of lives in these piles, though, that speak so poignantly to the devastation: A shiny Christmas wreath topping one pile spoke of happier times.

Nowhere, though, is the dichotomy of appearances versus reality as powerful as in Houstonians’ personal stories. We met the Rev. Eddie Hilliard, executive pastor of First United Methodist Church of Missouri City, in the church office to discuss how American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) could help Hilliard’s church minister to the displaced. As it turns out, Hilliard, the picture of pastoral calm and presence, was displaced when the waters of Hurricane Harvey invaded his home.

Yet this city soldiers on, a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit, the determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the courage and faith to face rebuilding for the future.

That’s where ABHMS comes in. Today, my colleague Victoria Goff, associate director, Mission Advancement and Passionary Movement, met with religious leaders already involved in rebuilding efforts here to discuss what they’re doing and how ABHMS can fit as a partner, ensuring that Houstonians get the help they need to rebuild, restore and renew their lives. I am fortunate to witness this important and life-changing work first hand.

Part two 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.