Our Nevada Presbytery Mission Team returned on Sunday from a week of volunteering with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in Beaumont, Texas. I know I speak for our whole team when we share that it was an incredible privilege to be invited into survivors homes and lives as we worked to rebuild, bring hope and share the ministry of Presence to our Brothers and Sisters in Texas.
It was a rare opportunity to respond so quickly. Beaumont was inundated with 62 inches of rain on August 31, a mere two months ago, and the raw effects of the flood were still in evidence, trash heaps piled high in front of homes, the remnants of lives so tragically visible, blurred photographs and sodden yearbooks, soggy stuffed animals and pieces of treasured antiques, all in ruin. The water was so high and came so fast that families were thankful that they got out with their lives. Our team served 15 families mucking, cleaning, painting, plumbing, building, installing insulation and wallboard and always giving ministry of presence.
Although we were given the stories of lives with permission to share, I have changed the names and some details to honor their grief and their pain.
Brenda and Don have lived their whole life in Beaumont. Don serves as a Legislator and volunteer firefighter at the local station. When they realized it was flood stage, Don rushed to the station to save the engines, the water came so fast that the firefighters had no time to get the engines out of the station. Back home, they felt secure, it had never flooded, they were on high ground. When the waters began coming into their home, they moved upstairs. They were rescued by boat out of their second story window. The house is riddled with black mold.
Sally Ann is a youthful 88 years old, and has collected mementos her whole life, especially of Elvis Presley. She and her husband lived two doors down from Elvis when they were stationed in Germany. The lawn on her gutted home is covered with sodden memorabilia, Kewpie and Cabbage Patch dolls, arrowheads, and telephone insulation spools, buttons and children’s rocking chairs. We helped carry her destroyed treasures to the trash heap, our team listening as she related story after story of each treasured piece.
Elaine’s grandfather built each of his three daughters a home next to each other. Four generations of kin have lived in the homes, a wire strung between them allowed their blind aunt a way to find her way to each of the houses. When the flood waters came, Elaine’s sisters Marcie and Marie, and her mother and aunt and uncle were trapped in the rising waters. Marcie called 911 and they waited for hours as the water crept up to their waists. Seven feet of water destroyed everything they owned; every photo, every painting, every piece of clothing, everything of four generations, gone. The houses were not salvageable and we held hands and prayed as they watched the three homes their grandfather had built, demolished. The family had built a tiny shed in the back of the property, with a shower house behind the shed. Our team built a connecting deck and installed a shower, water heater, and bathroom for the grandmother.
Ruth spent her life savings on a small house on top of a hill. The water rose 7 feet coming so fast she couldn’t wade to safety. She was saved by her Husky who swam to high ground, pulling her to safety. She lost every photo of her father who had died last year. We found his sodden Union jacket in the trash heap and power washed it for her.
We were heartbroken entering the mobile home of Mario. He lost every single photograph of his precious wife who had recently died. Black mold covered everything. A shimmering chandelier was gleaming in the destroyed home, a birthday present he had given his wife years before.
And everywhere we went, we offered the ministry of Presence, listening and offering hugs. Paul writes in Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” It was a God led and inspired week that gave us all an understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ in our world today.
Thank you for the honor of sending us forth to be the hands and heart of Jesus.
If you would like to give to our ministry of supporting those in Disasters, especially as we put a team together to help those in Santa Rosa, please see our website: www.DisasterResponseMinistry.org
Rev. Jeanie Shaw