Cinco Ranch church focuses on long recovery after Harvey

October 10, 2017 GMT

Members of Grace Fellowship United Methodist Church have a history of reaching out to help those impacted by disaster from hurricanes in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas to tornadoes in Oklahoma, but Hurricane Harvey is different.

“We’re in the middle of it and will be for a long time,” said Mitchell F. Peairson, executive pastor. “I hope we can continue to put enough stories out there and continue to remind people that we’re years away from full recovery at this point.”

Peairson said that he heard it took 12 years for New Orleans to recover from Katrina. Taking note that he’s a native Texan, he said, “We’re going to move faster than that.”

The church, which draws 3,200 people to Sunday services, has 87 families who are suffering as a result of Hurricane Harvey flooding. “Most lost their homes or the use of their home. Most have no flood insurance,” he said.

Attendance always spikes after a tragedy, he observed. “People are looking for someone and something bigger than themselves.

“People discover a faith they didn’t know they had and a God they didn’t know exists. Neighbors truly become neighbors.”

The church offers supplies to help those in need and guidance to navigate resources for help, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The need in the community is unbelievable. Eighty percent of the flooded homes have no flood insurance. FEMA dollars will only go so far.”

The church’s website www.whatisgrace.org, gives Hurricane Harvey its own link just like a more traditional category of ministries, sermon resources and events.

“We’re sending people out nonstop,” said Peairson, as they help families clean out their homes from Simonton to Bear Creek and others areas that need assistance. Crews of volunteers have replaced the National Guardsmen who lodged at the church during the early stages of post-Harvey recovery. No hotels for these volunteers who have showers, kitchen and a place to sleep at the church, which can accommodate up to 80 volunteers at one time.

On Oct. 2, Johnny Wood, the church’s chief engineer, hammered and drilled with others at the church campus.

“We’re building bunk beds to house people coming from all over the country,” said Wood.

Peairson said 22 sets of bunk beds have been built. He thanked Mattress Mack for donating 40 mattresses last month and said another 40 are needed to accommodate the volunteers. The bunk beds allow the church to accommodate twice as many people as it might ordinarily be able to house, he added.

Wood’s responsibilities include making sure the volunteers have hot meals, air conditioning and separate showers for the men and women.

“I pray for them a lot,” added Wood, who wants them to feel welcomed.

He can relate because he’s gone on mission trips. “You think you’re going to be a blessing to them and you gain more than you give,” he said. “It’s great to see someone back in their home.”

Volunteers have come from throughout the country, including California and Kentucky.

After tornadoes hit Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013, Grace Fellowship sent volunteers to help, said Peairson. “Now Moore has sent a team to us,” he added.

Helping others is part of the congregation’s culture at the church which Peairson called “missional.” Examples include the Church Left the Building Sundays where the church building closes and between 1,500 and 1,800 people donate time to service projects in the community. Monthly Church in Action projects also are planned within the community.

More recently, the church has added Flood Relief Saturdays where those 14 and older have an opportunity to clean up and tear out houses. Visit whatisgrace.org/harvey to register online.

The church also plans an Oct. 14 training to help people who don’t have flood insurance learn how to make some of the home repairs themselves, such as installing Sheetrock. The church, too, has opened its special-needs classrooms to accommodate students of Smartie Pants Academy, whose center at 4512 Texas 6 was flooded.

“That is what we are and what we believe,” he said. “We’ve been through this before. That’s our calling.”

Peairson said he’s heard that Hurricane Harvey floods damaged 4,000 homes in the Katy area and adds that Grace Fellowship works in collaboration with other churches. “We’re all working together. It’s our new normal for the foreseeable future.

“Many families are probably reaching the point where they’re realizing how difficult and long-term this is going to be - it is setting in after the initial adrenaline rush. This is a marathon not a sprint. It’s a very long race for a very long time.”

He refers to the two greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“We’re simply being obedient to our calling,” said Peairson.