How a Small Church Is Responding to America’s Biggest Storm

Like millions of Americans, Providence Christian Church looked at the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and asked, “What can we actually do?”

Tucked away in Sugar Land, a city on the outskirts of Houston, the 200-member church was largely spared from the flooding. Only two of the church’s families lost their homes.

“If you survived the storm,” Pastor John Davis told his church, “it’s so you can serve.”

“If you survived the storm,” Pastor John Davis told his church, “it’s so you can serve.”

But the congregation didn’t need John’s commission to get out and help people.

“Without waiting for permission, they were out helping with the Red Cross, the National Guard, shelters; they were praying with people, inviting them into their homes,” John said. “It was pretty amazing for me to see as a pastor. I was really overwhelmed to find out that many of our church members were already taking in neighbors and coworkers. They were just doing what was necessary to get people out of harm’s way.”

The members of Providence mobilized on their own, but John certainly helped spur them on.

“The last time we were together as a church,” he said, “I was teaching on John 13, where Jesus says, ‘A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.’”

They heard that sermon on Sunday, and then Harvey hit on Friday. And despite the apt message, Providence had no idea what they were about to be called to.

Nobody was prepared

“We were told that we might get up to 24 inches of rain,” John recalled. “That’s a lot of rain, but what we were told by the media at the time was, ‘Stay where you are. Don’t get out on the roads.’”

So Providence prepared for two feet of rain.

“I told the church, ‘We’re not having services—24 inches is a lot of rain, and I don’t want anybody putting their life in danger. And that’s the only preparation we did.”

But John is quick to point out, even if they knew how wrong that was, what could they have done? “No one expected 52 inches. And honestly, you can’t prepare for it.”

As you may already know, about 80% of Houston residents didn’t have flood insurance. John, like many others, had no reason to believe it was necessary. “I don’t have flood insurance because I was told by a realtor, ‘You’re not in a flood zone. You’re not in a floodplain. You don’t have to worry. It’s never flooded here. It’s never supposed to flood here.’”

Driving through the dry streets of Sugar Land, you might not believe it is anywhere near Houston after seeing photos and videos of houses swallowed by water. But take a second glance, and you will see a community that is reeling with the rest of the city.

“Pockets around the city remain dry,” John says, “but everywhere you go, you can drive through a neighborhood that looks fine, and then the next street is really bad. It doesn’t matter where you go, there are houses under water.”

So this small, mostly dry, church moved into action.

Mobilizing a displaced church

Providence is a portable church, renting space from a local school. When Harvey hit, the school cancelled building rentals. As a result, the church hasn’t gathered together as a whole since the Sunday before the hurricane hit.

“We leaned on our small group leaders to reach out to their group members,” John said. “We leaned on our ministry team leaders to reach out to their volunteers.”

“God is using the storm to unify the city, to unify churches, and to actually get the church outside the church walls.”

And the message they spread throughout the church? “Just be a good neighbor—whatever that means,” John said to his church members. “Whether that means just listening to their Harvey story, do that. If that means preparing a meal, do that. If that means being a shoulder to cry on, do that.”

What the church found beyond their dry patches of pavement was a city full of people—churches like them, individuals, and small groups—banding together with one mission: help.

“God is using the storm to unify the city, to unify churches, and to actually get the church outside the church walls.”

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An improvised service

With the school closed, Providence couldn’t hold a formal service. But that simply meant they needed to get creative.

“We created an online experience for our members to watch. Our worship leader and myself put together about a 30-minute service. We sang a couple of songs, and I taught on the Good Samaritan.”

If ever there was a time that the church needed to reflect on that parable, it was then, when their definition of neighbor was literally all of Houston. Church members watched the service on YouTube and Facebook.

“We encouraged people to get together with their family and friends and have a church service on their own.”

And there, gathered in dry homes, the church contemplated how to help the displaced community at their doorstep.

“We don’t want to duplicate efforts. There are other churches and organizations that are doing a great job at collecting supplies. Water, diapers, clothing, food, whatever. We as a church had to decide, ‘What is it that we can do?’”

In the wake of a hurricane that affected millions of people, that is a daunting question. But Providence was determined to have an answer.

“We know that we can’t help everybody in this city,” John said. “But we’ve got to help someone.”

Starting with the neighbors next door

“Just a few blocks from where our church meets, there’s a neighborhood called Twin Oaks. And Twin Oaks was hit hard.”

Like much of Sugar Land, the depth of the damage is deceptive.

One house at a time, we’re going to ask people, ‘What do you need?’

“You can drive right past Twin Oaks and think, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal,’” John said. “But you drive into that neighborhood . . . block after block and house after house, everything that was on the bottom floor is now out on the curb.”

Driving through those roads, John decided how Providence Christian Church was going to collectively serve their neighbors: They adopted a street.

“We know some people in this neighborhood. None of the people on this street attend our church, but it’s not really about that. There’s a need, and we’ve got to meet it.”

While Providence may not have the material impact of a larger church or relief organization, they are faithfully offering what they have. To John, it may feel like a widow’s mite, but to people who have lost everything, the dry space and helping hands could play a crucial role in rebuilding their lives.

“We have office space, and we have storage space,” John noted. “So we’re partnering with people outside of Houston and asking them for sheet rock, insulation, float materials, paint, tools, and building supplies. One house at a time, we’re going to ask people, ‘What do you need?’”

It is one neighborhood. It is one church of 200 members. And it is one way that God is working in the midst of Harvey’s devastation.

“God has called us, and God’s love compels us to go serve,” John said. “It would break my heart to think that we would see ourselves as being too small, or we don’t have enough resources or manpower when God is trying to do something. We can’t fix the whole city, but we believe that with God’s help, we can fix one street.”

"We can’t fix the whole city, but we believe that with God’s help, we can fix one street.”

As a permanent fixture in the Sugar Land community, Providence is in this for the long haul.

“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And we’ll see how far it goes.”

What Houston needs

Maybe, like Providence, you’ve been wondering how you can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey. John points out, it’s not as simple as asking what people need and then sending it from afar.

“The needs change overnight,” he said. “The first night, people just needed a safe place to go and a hot meal. The second day they needed clothing, bottled water, and Internet access.”

As a former missions pastor, John was familiar with the trouble with donations. But after Harvey hit, this reality became most clear when he volunteered at a local shelter. “The city was trying to meet needs that were two days old. I went to a shelter on Wednesday, and I’m sorting clothes thinking to myself, ‘All of these clothes have been donated today, but we needed these clothes like two days ago when people first came in and their clothes were all wet.’”

That’s why, in addition to building supplies, Providence Christian Church is asking for donations to buy the things they know Twin Oaks needs.

“If we have cash, then we can decide what we need when we need it. When we ask for specific items, we may be a week late or a month late getting people help.”

There are many incredible organizations—Christian and secular alike—that every American can give to right now to impact the relief efforts in Houston. But one advantage of giving to a local church is that long after those relief organizations have gone, churches like Providence remain within the communities they have helped rebuild. God will continue to work through the relationships that are forming right now, and His Kingdom will continue to spread in Houston through these churches.

If you would like to be part of what Providence is doing to relieve the Twin Oaks neighborhood in Houston, you can give here.

 

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