Samaritan's Purse volunteers make an impact in Houston, Texas after Hurricane Harvey
By Mark Kihn
The villain wasn’t the hard work or the long days of grim toil. It wasn’t the tough boss man. Neither was it the mould, nor the damp smell of it. The villains weren’t scurrying cockroaches, or skulking Bayou rats. The culprit was 35 C heat: relentless, oppressive, humid. It ground us down. It pervaded our thoughts. We melted.
Yet the week-long stint of cleaning up Houston houses in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is something I would repeat. And I wouldn’t be the naïve rookie I was in early November.
Samaritan’s Purse (SP) had been on the scene since late August when Harvey devastated the Gulf Coastal Lowlands. SP recruited volunteers from across Canada and the United States.
Samaritan’s Purse usually placed one Canadian crew in Pearland, Texas, the location of Crosspoint Church, SP’s disaster relief headquarters. Our 12-person crew included goodhearted souls from Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and from Alberta.
SP organizers equipped us well for the tasks with safety items such as masks and protective eye-wear. Their trailer-load of tools kept us efficient. They also offered us top-notch meals at their 24-hour cafeteria.
The true calling of a Christian is not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way. — A. P. Stanley
Our military setup meant wake-up at 5:30 with breakfast at 6:30. After morning announcements and a short devotional, our orange-shirted hordes would pack a lunch and scramble into vehicles to travel to our prescreened jobsites.
Once there, our team leader would go through the work assignments with the homeowner and crew. We’d usually begin ripping out rotten drywall and mould ridden insulation, usually loading a handy dumpster.
Sometimes we’d tear out entire bathrooms and kitchens. After clean-up, we’d spray a mould disinfectant/retardant onto the wooden house frame. Then the dwelling would be ready for the re-build phase.
The end of the working day meant a dash along Houston freeways to HQ, a quick shower, supper at 6:30, quiet time at 9 in the dormitory (temporary buildings with sleeping bags and air mattresses on the floor), and lights-out at 10. Sleep came easily.
Our rewards were few, but lasting. Rarely have I encountered heart-felt gratitude as on this effort. The despairing homeowners gained new hope after our work – and they expressed it. We were God’s love in action. A few had seemingly given up on clean-up, and perhaps didn’t even know where to get help – or what the “next step” should be. And some had no (or little) insurance to pay flood clean-up bills.
Truly it was an experience of a lifetime as we worked to fulfill the SP motto of “Helping in Jesus’ name.” I found new friends and lost seven pounds along the way. When our crew split up for home, one wag mumbled parting words, “See you at the next disaster.”
Editor’s Note: Mark Kihn attends Foothills Lutheran Church, Calgary.