By Jeni Miller
After severe flooding devastated the Houston area beginning on April 18, local LCMS congregations teamed up to assist with recovery efforts at two Bethesda Lutheran Communities group homes in Cypress, Texas.
Volunteers from St. John Lutheran Church in Cypress, along with its satellite mission start, Cypress Chapel, and parishioners from St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Houston worked tirelessly to clean up debris and rip out drywall to help those served by Bethesda, a nonprofit LCMS Recognized Service Organization that assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“During the storm, the health and safety of the people we support and the staff was our top priority,” said Melisa May, ministry consultant at Bethesda. “Ten people we support were evacuated from two of our homes on Monday, April 18.”
Bethesda sent out a request to local churches, asking if they would be willing to help its staff clean out homes, pack residents’ belongings and gut walls damaged by floodwaters. May said she contacted the congregations on the evening of Wednesday, April 21, and “they responded immediately by recruiting for volunteers and collecting food for Thursday and Friday.”
“On Thursday, 60 volunteers” — including fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and entire families — “came from six local congregations to help Bethesda,” she said.
The flooding “puts you in a place where you are not just theorizing about the love of God but showing it in tangible ways, which opens the door for conversation about God and Jesus and life and salvation,” said the Rev. David Bahn, senior pastor at St. John, Cypress. “When we’re out in the trenches with the people, we discover what God has already prepared in advance for us to do. It’s Jesus’ mission; we’re joining Him on this mission. He has called us to share the Gospel, winsomely and energetically, so we do that in different ways, for the praise and glory of God.”
Several Bethesda group home residents worship at St. John and at St. Timothy, Houston; attend Bible study and Sunday school classes; and are involved in other events hosted at or by the churches.
LCMS Disaster Response also visited the flood site and provided equipment and supplies as well as a grant to help with recovery efforts while the local congregations provided the manpower to assist Bethesda and neighboring communities. Thankfully, the Rev. Stephen DeMik, pastor at Cypress Chapel, had prior flood-relief experience from several visits to Biloxi, Miss., following Hurricane Katrina and so he was able to help organize and lead disaster-response efforts in Cypress.
“If the church is not active in times like this … we focus on serving our own needs while ignoring the challenges of our neighbor,” explained DeMik. “We become a silo/country club of people who don’t want to engage in the dirty work of the community, but we’ll be sure to keep our operations running for our own programs and events.”
In this case, engaging in works of mercy on behalf of the Bethesda community paid off as, according to DeMik, these efforts “saved Bethesda around $21,000 in relief costs through two days of work with volunteers.”
“It’s very important for the church to be active and present in the midst of crisis,” said Deaconess Kimberly Trombley, vice-president of religious life at Bethesda. “It’s an opportunity for the church … to bring the love of Jesus Christ to each other and to our neighbors. When moments of crisis happen, our instinct is to look to our natural supports — our family and friends. The people we support in Cypress, Texas, have found those supports in the church and we thank God for all their help during this time of difficulty. God has blessed the people we support at Bethesda with wonderful relationships in local congregations, especially in Cypress.”
For more information, including how to help, see “Weathering the storm.”
Deaconess Jeni Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and member of Lutheran Church of the Ascension in Atlanta.
Posted June 2, 2016