By Kevin L. Armbrust
SPRING, Texas — “Starting over. Getting back at it,” said Lawrence Waddle, as he waited to receive assistance from Trinity Klein Lutheran Church, Spring, Texas. Thinking about the effects of the flooding in Houston, Waddle noted, “Seeing the unity and how everyone is coming together is beautiful. It’s a way to get started.”
Waddle, who does not attend a church, came to Trinity with his son, Kayden, and grandmother, Mable Nash, because their homes had been ravaged by the flood. When asked about attending church, Waddle said, “It might be time for that.”
“Christians serve their neighbors’ physical needs and their spiritual needs,” said the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response. Johnson highlights the uniqueness of LCMS mercy work: “We use our congregations as a center and hub of outreach and mercy. The message shared with the mercy work invites the community into the local congregation, where God’s mercy of forgiveness and life is available in Word and Sacrament.”
Serving the community in ways large and small
“On the day the storm hit us, we gathered at the church and, by that afternoon, over 200 volunteers showed up,” recalls the Rev. Christopher Singer, senior pastor of Trinity. By Thursday, Aug. 31, the daily number of volunteers swelled to 400-plus. Singer said the number of volunteers has “averaged about 100 every day since then.”
Trinity immediately became a central location for volunteers to gather for rescue and relief efforts. Following the floods from Hurricane Harvey, the church served as a shelter for those displaced by the high water, housing more than 150 people. Now Trinity is a distribution center for donations, at the request of local government officials. The members of Trinity, alongside volunteers from the community, are working to stock and distribute food and supplies to those in need.
Trinity’s story is not unique, as many LCMS congregations throughout southeast Texas serve their communities in various ways. Pastors and laypeople join with neighbors and friends to help anyone and everyone as they are able.
The Kleins, whose family were founding members of Trinity, have all chipped in to help. Caroline, James and William, all students at Trinity Lutheran School, joined their parents to help distribute supplies to the community.
“You just feel like you should serve. Nothing really happened to us. If it was the reverse, you would want someone to help you,” said Caroline. James agreed, noting, “It’s important to be involved in church so you can grow. But it’s also important to serve as Jesus did.” William added, “We just came to help sort the food that’s been brought in.”
“We are loving our neighbor as Christ has called us to do,” said the Rev. Lee Hopf, assistant pastor of Trinity. “Our goal is simple: to make Christ known by loving our neighbor. … Our hope is that Christ’s light would shine through His church through the work being done.”
Trinity’s story is like that of many other congregations in Texas. Those spared from damage now serve as centers of aid in their communities. Some store donated goods and distribute those supplies to those in need. Others coordinate volunteer teams. Many provide food and water to workers as well as to storm victims.
Serving ‘Texas Strong’
The front lawns of houses devastated by floodwaters are filled with two things. The first is painful — discarded possessions, including heirlooms, now garbage. The second is hopeful — strangers gathered as neighbors to serve and help.
Sidewalks are impassable, owing to high and wide piles of the contents of each house. These possessions, which once filled homes, are now destined for landfills. Streets are lined with trucks and trailers to bring volunteers to help muck out and empty flooded homes and to carry any salvaged possessions to dry ground.
Yards are filled with people. For the casual observer, it may appear as a family gathering, with loved ones sharing stories and helping one another. Yet they were strangers just days ago. People from all over the United States have come to help. People from throughout Texas and Houston have come to serve in any way they can.
“I’ve been looking for any way to help. Getting involved with the community … this is my way of doing what I can for those who need it,” said Jessie Reed, echoing the sentiment among the volunteers from near and far. “The people here are beautiful.”
Reed’s friends from Dallas, like others, dropped everything to come. “Every guy I know with a boat was great. They came to help.”
The desire to help pervades the people of Houston and all of Texas. Volunteers from Trinity served church members and others needing assistance. “This is our second house we have worked at today,” said Kim Weissenborn, a member of Trinity. “I had to choke back tears. This is someone’s home.”
Hannah Weissenborn, Kim’s daughter, looking at the pile of possessions in the street, commented, “Their whole life is torn apart and on the street.” Sighing and smiling through tears, she added, “God put us here to do His work.”
“The Body of Christ has a chance to speak about Christ,” observed Pastor Singer. “Whereas many have stopped listening to the Church, we have now become central to the relief efforts, and that allows us to be the voice of Christ in the community.”
Strong in the hope of the Lord
Richard and Kathy Wiser, members of Trinity, had to empty their house of all their possessions. “I’ve lived through this before,” said Richard, who recently faced a smaller flood. “But I’m still overwhelmed.”
“They have been blessed with all the crews,” said Denise Francis, who came back to Houston to help her parents clean out their house. “It’s amazing how everyone has come together. The glory of God.”
Robert Kinard, a fellow member of Trinity, standing outside his emptied house, wore weariness on his face. “This is not the end but the beginning,” he said. Though stung by the loss, Kinard lifted his eyes and, with a smile, added, “I get my strength from the Lord.”
“Texas strong” now means service to neighbor.
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Dr. Kevin L. Armbrust (email@example.com) is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications
Posted Sept. 7, 2017