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Jaci Palmer, 16, a member of the First Street Church of Christ in Lampasas, Texas, removes damaged drywall from a home in Weslaco after severe flooding.
National
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Responding to that other crisis on the border

Devastating floods in south Texas change the agenda for mission teams from Churches of Christ.

McALLEN, Texas — For weeks, the world’s attention focused on this south Texas city and others along the U.S./Mexico border.

News of mothers separated from their children as they illegally crossed the Rio Grande River sparked outrage and debate. On morning TV programs, national correspondents stood under umbrellas in front of government-run detention centers and reported on the crisis as rain poured — and poured, and poured.

In the midst of the immigration debate, as much as 18 inches of rain fell on south Texas, much of it in 72 hours. Cars and homes filled with water. Rivers overflowed. In nearby Harlingen, fish swam in the streets.

The floodwaters rose so fast that “a lot of these people woke up and they were stepping in water,” said Guillermo Perez, a member of the Church of Christ North in Pharr, Texas. He and a team of Christians spent nearly a week stripping more than a foot of soaked drywall from homes in Weslaco, a small town in Hidalgo County — one of six counties named in a state disaster declaration by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Jaci Palmer, 16, a member of the First Street Church of Christ in Lampasas, Texas, removes damaged drywall from a home in Weslaco after severe flooding.

Jaci Palmer, 16, a member of the First Street Church of Christ in Lampasas, Texas, removes damaged drywall from a home in Weslaco after severe flooding.

The mission team, from the First Street Church of Christ in Lampasas, Texas, already was scheduled to serve among the colonias — Latino neighborhoods just north of the Mexico border — before the storms hit.

The Church of Christ North houses volunteers in two mission centers and coordinates the teams’ work — from building and repairing homes for those in need to conducting Vacation Bible Schools for children. The teams partner with Spanish-speaking Churches of Christ along the border.

As cars and homes in Weslaco flooded, the church’s coordinators asked some of the mission teams if they would consider changing their agenda to relief work. The team from the First Street church, which included four teenagers, obliged.

Weslaco, TX, USA

“We gave them a choice,” said Dakota Thornton, the church’s family and youth minister, as he stood, drenched in sweat, in a small, gutted house in Weslaco. Five people lived here, including two who are disabled.

“When they saw this,” Thornton said, “they wanted to help.”


THE HELPED BECOMES A HELPER

“Bienvenidos” (welcome) reads a bulletin board in the fellowship hall of the Bridge Avenue Iglesia de Cristo. On a folding table just beneath sits an arsenal of electric screwdrivers and stacks of red T-shirts that read “Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team.”

John King

The meeting place of the bilingual congregation is a staging area for relief in Weslaco, where nearly 2,200 homes received 18 inches of water during the floods, said response coordinator John King.

“And 80 to 90 percent of the people here don’t have flood insurance,” he added. So far, 510 families have applied for assistance from church members.

King, an elder of the North Bay Church of Christ in Portland, Texas, volunteered to serve as on-site coordinator for the Ohio-based Disaster Response Team, which distributes aid — some of it provided by other nonprofits — and assists churches in relief and reconstruction projects.

Last year, as Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area, “my house in Ingleside took a hit,” King said. He worked alongside Disaster Response directors Mark and Laura Cremeans, showing Jesus’ love to his home community.

It was tough, but rewarding.

At one point, “I popped off to Mark, ‘Man, it would be nice to do this every day,’” King said.

That, he said with a chuckle, was a big mistake.


MORE HELP NEEDED

About 50 volunteers — including Bridge Avenue ministers Cary Gillis and Hugo Camacho — sweated side by side as they unloaded two tractor-trailer rigs full of food, cleaning supplies and other emergency items provided by Nashville, Tenn.-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort, or CCDRE.

“If we can affect the home and show them what it is to serve, it also allows for gospel conversations.”

Another nonprofit, Disaster Assistance CoC, set up relief centers in the buildings of the 8th and Harrison Church of Christ in Harlingen, the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in McAllen and a congregation in Mercedes.

In addition to providing meals for flood-affected residents and relief workers, the ministry has hosted several “Drive-thru Distributions.” During a recent distribution, volunteers gave out 850 personal care kits, 850 cases of water and more than 3,800 meals, said director Mike Baumgartner.

More funds and more volunteers are needed to continue the work, said disaster relief coordinators including Ken Leonard, associate director of development for CCDRE.

“Texas is tired after Hurricane Harvey, the roughest disaster in its history,” Leonard said. Moreover, “the Texas Valley is remote. It really isn’t on the way to anything, and many volunteers combine disaster relief with another destination.”


WHY HOMES MATTER

Back in Weslaco, after stripping damaged drywall and sprinking an anti-fungal agent on the house’s frame, the mission team from Lampasas prepared to return home.

Efrain Garcia

The work is difficult and dirty, but it can make a big impact on families in need, said Efrain Garcia, construction coordinator for Church of Christ Pharr.

“This is one of the (places) that we can really make a big difference … their home,” he said. “This is where these families meet, and this is where they live every day.

“If we can affect the home and show them what it is to serve, it also allows for gospel conversations.”

Filed under: National Top Stories border crisis disaster recovery disaster relief immigrants McAllen parent child separations south texas floods Texas

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