Up Close and Personal: First-hand account of Hurricane Harvey devastation prompts long-term partnership with Rio Texas
The highway was divided by a grassy median about 50 yards across. As we approached Rockport, we noticed something odd. Construction vehicles were working in the median, carrying moldy mattresses, twisted pieces of aluminum roofs and broken tree branches, slowly creating a “mountain” of debris. The temporary landfill stretched on and on — a reminder of Harvey’s devastation and the long road of recovery ahead.
Soon after the winds calmed and the waters began to recede, Bishop McKee began casting a vision for the churches of the North Texas Conference to walk alongside our neighbors in the Rio Texas Conference and be long-term partners in that area’s recovery. Accompanied by leaders from the Rio Texas Conference, Joy and I visited Corpus Christi, Rockport, Victoria and a number of smaller communities in between to get a real feel for the hurricane’s impact, meet people who are leading the way in the recovery, and listen for ways that the North Texas Conference might realize the Bishop’s vision and make a significant difference.
Rebuilding communities after a storm like Harvey is a complicated endeavor. Our friends in the Rio Texas Conference have been working diligently for the last month or more assessing the damage to churches and neighborhoods, pulling together financial support from various sources including UMCOR, and hiring staff to coordinate the work. Those new staff persons are now on the ground; soon, they will be able to tell us how we can be most helpful.
In the meantime, I can say this much: there will be a need for a host of VIM mission teams over the next couple of years. About 3,000 homes were damaged by wind and flooding in the Rio Texas area. Youth and adult mission teams will be needed to clear debris, do tape-and-bedding and drywall work, repair roofs, paint, and more. They definitely will be ready to receive mission teams beginning in 2018.
With so much need in the world around us, it would be easy for us to have missional “A.D.D.” and move from cause to cause and project to project. But, imagine what God could do through us if we focus our energy and resources on Hurricane Harvey recovery in the Rio Texas Conference for the next two years. I want to challenge the 300 churches of the North Texas Conference to do just that and send a total of 300 mission teams to Rio Texas in 2018 and 2019. Together, we can tackle rebuilding at least 10 percent of the homes affected. Together, we can offer a profound witness to the love of Christ and of the people called Methodists. Serving side by side in mission, we also can rediscover a sense of unity that transcends our differences.
In November 2017, be on the lookout for more information from the Center for Missional Outreach about this emerging partnership between North Texas and Rio Texas, including how you and your church can send a mission team to Rio Texas and be a part of this conference-wide effort.
Join the NTC Effort to Help the Gulf Coast Recover
Imagine what God could do through the 300 churches of the North Texas Conference if we focus our energy and resources on Hurricane Harvey recovery in the Rio Texas Conference and send 300 mission teams there in 2018 and 2019!
Pathways for achieving this God-sized goal are coming together. See below for the latest information about how you and your church can be a part of this conference-wide effort. Start making your plans for 2018 and beyond now!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Who can serve on a Hurricane Harvey recovery mission team?
The Rio Texas Conference is prepared to receive youth (8th grade through senior high), college students and adult mission teams. The skill level of your team will help determine the kind of recovery work you will be invited to do.
Where will our mission team work and stay?
The Rio Texas Conference has established two “volunteer villages”: one at First UMC in Victoria and the other at First UMC in Sinton. Each volunteer village provides sleeping space for about 40 volunteers as well as a commercial kitchen for food preparation, a fellowship hall for eating and recreation, and a shower trailer. Mission teams staying in Victoria will work in and around that city, which sustained significant wind and flooding damage. One low-lying and relatively impoverished section of town (sometimes referred to as “The Bottoms”) could become a focus of our ministry in Victoria. Mission teams staying in Sinton will work along the coast, probably in Rockport and Aransas Pass.
What kind of recovery work is needed?
There is work to be done for all ages and skill levels: roofing, tape-and-bedding, flooring, painting and debris cleanup.
What tools or equipment should we bring?
A precise supply list will be provided by our hosts in Rio Texas once your project is determined.
What volunteer training/preparation will be required?
All participants (youth and adult) should receive UMVIM (United Methodist Volunteer in Mission) training or at least have one trip leader who has received this training. The UMVIM training aims to ensure that mission teams do not inadvertently “help” in ways that hurt and nurtures attitudes of respect and true partnership with the people and communities who are served. The Center for Missional Outreach will be offering several UMVIM training sessions beginning in January 2018. In addition, all participants must have a Release of Liability form, Medical Emergency Information form, and all who are 18 and older must complete MinistrySafe training that includes a background check. Your church should have these resources on hand. The team leader should collect these forms and bring them on the trip.
When will the Rio Texas Conference be ready to receive Hurricane Harvey mission teams?
Beginning in January 2018, the two volunteer villages will be ready and enough case management work will be completed to equip mission teams to have a positive impact and a good experience. Certainly, Hurricane Harvey recovery in Rio Texas would be an excellent choice for mission trips during spring break and the summer of 2018.
What will a hurricane recovery mission trip cost?
The volunteer villages are expecting to charge a nominal fee (TBD) for each person to subsidize the expenses incurred by the host churches for utilities. In addition, each team should raise funds to contribute to the supplies needed for their project. Add the cost of travel and meals for your team, and you should have it covered.*
What is the minimum number of volunteers from my church that is required for us to participate?
One. The Center for Missional Outreach has formed a partnership with a wonderful, time-tested United Methodist ministry called Labors for Neighbors. Labors for Neighbors specializes in inexpensive,** weekend mission trips for adults. Over the years, they have developed a proven model for taking a diverse team of volunteers, made up of small groups of people from different churches and ideally with different cultural and racial backgrounds, and equipping them to replace the roof of a storm-damaged house over a weekend. Labors for Neighbors even provides the transportation; they have their own bus! Through this partnership, even a church with one or two interested volunteers can participate. In addition, the Center for Missional Outreach is happy to connect churches with small groups of people who feel called to be a part of a week-long mission trip and help them work together. Of course, a church with 8-10 volunteers or more is welcome to plan and lead its own mission trip.
What is the minimum ratio of youth: adults required for hurricane recovery trips?
For non-UMVIM hurricane recovery trips, the minimum ratio is 10 youth:2 MinistrySafe-trained adults. For UMVIM hurricane recovery trips, the minimum ratio is 5 youth:2 MinistrySafe-trained adults.
Who can I talk to about my remaining questions?
Feel free to contact Rev. Andy Lewis, Director of the Center for Missional Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-526-5000. He is in close communication with leaders in Rio Texas; if he doesn’t have the answer to your question, he knows where to find it.
How can our church sign up for a Hurricane Harvey recovery mission trip?
To sign up for your own mission trip, go to www.riotexas.org/vim-signup. Note that MinistrySafe training will meet Rio Texas’ “Safe Gatherings” requirement. (Soon, a new website dedicated to receiving registrations for hurricane recovery mission teams headed to Rio Texas will be up and running at www.riotexasresponse.org/volunteer) To sign up to be a part of a Labors for Neighbors weekend roofing mission trip, contact the Center for Missional Outreach office (email@example.com; 972-526-5000). To explore combining your small group with that of another church to form a mission team, contact the Center for Missional Outreach (firstname.lastname@example.org; 972-526-5000).
What is the value of the churches of the North Texas Conference focusing on recovery efforts in Rio Texas?
Over the next two years, as North Texas churches return to Victoria and Rockport over and over and over again, we will have a unique opportunity to establish real and lasting relationships with people in these communities. Through these relationships, we will be able to see things to which we might otherwise be blind: what it is really like for an entire community to recover from a devastating storm; justice issues that lie under the surface and yet have a way of influencing the impact of a storm and the pace of recovery; avenues for further and deeper partnership between people, churches and communities from our two conferences. In addition, focusing our efforts has the potential to build bridges of fellowship and unity among the people of our North Texas Conference, and what a gift that would be!
*The North Texas Conference Disaster Relief Fund has some funds available to assist churches who have a desire to send a Hurricane Harvey recovery mission team to Rio Texas but lack the financial capacity to do so. For more information about how to apply for a NTC Hurricane Harvey recovery grant, contact Christina Cavener at the Center for Missional Outreach (email@example.com).
**The cost to go on a weekend mission trip with Labors for Neighbors is $95 per person plus the cost of lunch on the way home on Sunday.