Hurricane Harvey one year later: ABHMS addresses spiritual, psychological needs in Texas
After natural disaster strikes, American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) consistently responds, partnering with volunteers from across the mainland United States and Puerto Rico to repair and rebuild homes, churches and other facilities. But survivors’ spiritual, emotional and psychological needs are just as important. That’s the reason that ABHMS’ Rev. Dr. Patricia Murphy and Rev. Florence Li visited Texas one year post-Hurricane Harvey.
The purpose of the trip was to listen to, pray with and simply “be present” for clergy and other residents who have continued to feel abandoned since Aug. 25, 2017, when the Category 4 storm made landfall along the Lone Star State’s coast.
Murphy represented her role as ABHMS interim director of Chaplaincy and Specialized Ministries. Li brought to bear her experience in working with displaced people from her ABHMS Intercultural Ministries role with immigrants and refugees. Both used skills in healing trauma.
At New St. John Missionary Baptist Church, Port Arthur, and at Borden Chapel, Beaumont, the pair engaged pastoral leaders who have been struggling themselves while striving to minister to suffering parishioners. Those experiencing depression were uplifted with prayers and reminded of the need for spiritual self-care.
“These pastors felt like nobody came and asked how they were doing,” Murphy says. “They are going through this journey right alongside their congregations. My intention was to allow them a safe space to share their concerns.”
Murphy stressed the importance of practicing self-care, urging clergy to resist the idealism of being available 24-7 to meet everyone else’s needs at a moment’s notice. She introduced them to the “Thursday 30” concept of powering down their mobile phones for 30 minutes each Thursday.
“If you miss a call or a text within that window of 30 minutes, I promise you, if it’s a life-or- death emergency, 30 minutes is a reasonable response time,” she says. “Remember that Jesus never walked into anyone’s storm or became one with a storm. Jesus was so calm that he walked and spoke into the storm, and then the disciples received his peace.”
Later the same day, Murphy and Li returned to New St. John Missionary Baptist to facilitate a meeting of neighborhood residents, many of whom had been displaced by the destruction and power outages of Hurricane Harvey’s 130-mph winds, torrential rainfall and flooding. Already reeling from the storm and its consequences, some homeowners were repeatedly wounded when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rejected their claims and when they fell prey to the scams of contractors who took their money but failed to complete promised repairs.
“Most families talked about how they felt when FEMA denied them, and the frustration of the process,” Li said. “Patricia consoled them and prayed with them. It was a powerful prayer moment.”
Li met with the children and youth, who expressed feelings and swapped stories about being displaced by the hurricane.
Perhaps, most importantly, the community meeting offered hope. Those in attendance were buoyed by the stories of others whose situations were beginning to change for the better. Several reported, for example, that they were happily moving back to their homes. A mobile phone that rang during the meeting brought joyful news of the Red Cross providing one family with a bedroom set.
“People left the meeting saying they were going to give up, but now they have hope,” Murphy says. “It was good to bring people together to encourage them to navigate like the first-century church, where everything was done in community.”
In addition, Murphy and Li visited homes and purchased supplies for children beginning the new school year.
The ABHMS staff members were undergirded by professionals from nearby Houston: Sherlock Brown, mental health chaplain at Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Mang Tiak, an American Baptist-endorsed chaplain at CHI St. Luke’s Health; and Tiak’s husband, the Rev. Thong Kho Lun, a full-time American Baptist pastor at Greater Houston Burmese Christian Fellowship and part-time hospice chaplain.