League City, Texas experienced some of the worst flooding in Houston following Hurricane Harvey. Although it’s been nearly six weeks since the category 3 hurricane made landfall—and a handful of tragedies have beset the world since—one Houston-area pastor estimates the city will need another six months to a year to rebuild houses and two to three years to recover from the emotional and spiritual trauma inflicted.
“I don’t think God hates Houston, so he sent a hurricane….but I do think the earth is groaning because of our brokenness,” Pastor Brian Haynes said in an interview with ChurchLeaders.
Haynes has been the lead pastor of Bay Area Church in League City for seven years. The 130-year-old church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and is composed of a mixture of scientists who work for NASA and folks with more average job descriptions. Haynes affectionately describes his congregation as something along the lines of “NASA meets Duck Dynasty.”
After Harvey, an estimated 11,000 homes flooded in a 7-mile radius of Bay Area Church. While 20 percent of the congregation flooded, by “somewhat of a miracle” none of the church staff’s houses were flooded. Haynes says the fact that the 36 or so people who compose the church staff and support staff had “free hands” made a huge difference in the amount of aid the church was able to offer the neighborhood.
The church’s response immediately following the disaster has been segmented in three phases: First they sheltered people displaced by the flooding for about five days, then they rolled up their sleeves to help the neighborhood—starting with their congregants and congregants’ neighbors’ houses first—muck out houses, and finally set up a distribution center. The church has been serving about 150 people a day with food, water, and supplies. As of September 30, they transitioned into “rebuild mode” where they are raising money and organizing skilled labor to help people rebuild their houses.
As far as the church building itself, Haynes estimates they sustained about half a million dollars of damage, but they are able to continue services because only one building on their campus was significantly damaged.
After working over the course of weeks now to help his congregation and the neighborhood recover from this disaster, Haynes shared his thoughts on church-organized disaster relief with us in a phone interview.
ChurchLeaders: How is church uniquely equipped to deal with a disaster?
Haynes: A church already has a rescue-mission mindset because our whole mission is to help people understand the gospel and come to Christ and be saved…And then, it’s empowered by the Holy Spirit. So it has this supernatural ability to get things done.
The way this whole thing started for us was one of our guys was in a boat rescuing people from the neighborhood down the street from our church. He called me and said “I’ve pulled 30 people out of houses and I don’t know where to take them.” So we opened the church for a shelter in like 45 minutes. We had no supplies, no support staff, no anything. Within two hours, we had a full medical team, we had a security team, we had 150 air mattresses, we had water, we had food.
We had a restaurant owner who brought all of her food and cooked for five days for everyone. We had police that designated their time off in the midst of that storm to work at the shelter and help us with security. The medical team [started with] a guy in our church that’s an astronaut, he’s a flight surgeon. I called him and he mobilized four astronaut doctors to rotate. And they just ran it as if they were on the International Space Station and dealing with the worse case scenario. They were super trained—in fact, those guys, logistically, really made it effective…Three of them go to our church, and one of them goes to another church nearby: Clear Creek Community Church. But they’re all believers…so they had this rescue-mission mindset and then they had the Holy Spirit leading them to do things.
There was no plan, but it all worked. Amazing. And over the long-haul, the church is unique because the church is the only group that’s not going anywhere. FEMA won’t be here forever, Samaritan’s Purse won’t be here forever, but the church of Jesus Christ—the local embodiment of that—is going to be here for the long haul. And it’s going to be a two-to-three-year process. Not just to rebuild but for people to rebuild their lives and deal with the financial crunch of the whole thing, spiritual and emotional impact. It’s going to be a long haul, and the church is uniquely designed to be there for people for the community for the long haul.
God had something really special in store for our church but also many churches…There’s all kinds of articles down here about the church outpacing FEMA and the Red Cross because…we care about the people. It’s our city; it’s our community; it’s our people.
We’re uniquely equipped to help emotionally because we already have lay-counselors that have extensive training and we can just plug them right into shelter-mode, relief-mode for the spiritual and relational care of the people. We’re uniquely qualified to really meet physical, spiritual, and emotional needs—quickly and for the long haul. I think Jesus had a really great plan with the institute of the local church.