BEAUMONT, Texas – In its 69-year existence, East Gill Baptist Church here has survived four catastrophic events. But last August, when Hurricane Harvey ripped through the gulf coast, the church’s building met its match.
After the storm passed, Pastor Jearon Chew took a boat to the sight of the church.
“We were only able to see the roof of the building,” Chew said. For seven days, the church – located in a lower-income area of Beaumont – sat under water. Once the waters receded, they discovered that the building was irreparable – even though they had only recently completed $40,000 of renovations.
“It was a shock to us,” Chew said. “It was a shock to our congregation. We had put in all of that (renovation) work just to lose it in a couple of days.”
Despite the devastation that the congregation and its members have suffered because of Hurricane Harvey, Chew is hopeful about finding a new building in the area because of a grant the church received from the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC).
This is only one of numerous SBTC grants to hurricane victims made possible by the generous giving of Southern Baptists around the nation – including Missouri Southern Baptists. In the aftermath of the Harvey, Missouri Baptists gave more than $330,000 to Disaster relief, designating $250,000 of this amount to victim assistance. As a result, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Director John Yeats presented $250,000 to SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards in December. In turn, the SBTC has distributed these funds to transform lives and communities and bless churches throughout the region hit by the storm.
“Southern Baptists have been a blessing to us during this time,” Chew said. “We are forever grateful. It is good to know that you are surrounded by people who care about the well-being of the church and the well-being of the people who make up the church.”
For some pastors, the generous gifts and prayers of fellow Baptists brought relief and blessing not only amid devastation, but also amid grief. Pastor Kevin Brown of First Baptist Church, Mauriceville, Texas, buried his father only a week before the Hurricane destroyed his home.
“We buried him,” Brown said, “and as we pulled out of the cemetery that Wednesday it started raining and never really stopped.” A week later, he and his family paddled out of their home.
Not only was Brown’s home damaged by the storm, but each of his church’s six buildings were damaged, as well. Since their buildings were not covered by insurance, they would need to spend more than $400,000 on repairs, according to a conservative estimate from an SBC consultant.
But, because of the giving of Missourians and other Southern Baptists, Brown soon learned that his church would also receive a sizeable grant from the SBTC to help with recovery efforts.
“The SBTC gave a substantial gift, an overwhelming gift, an unexpected gift,” Brown said. “I never would have dreamed that they would do this. I was told directly, ‘We were able to do this because folks from all over the nation have given so graciously.’ I was so overwhelmed at that.”
Soon after Harvey passed, Pastor Kevin Muilenburg of Coastal Oaks Church, Rockport-Fulton, Texas, heard that local officials had unexpectedly designated his church as a distribution center for water, clothing, household items, generators, tools, and other supplies needed in the aftermath of the storm.
So, although his own home had been hit hard by the storm, Muilenburg and other staff members at Coastal Oaks Baptist devoted themselves to recovery efforts. After serving as a distribution center, the church housed relief workers from around the nation and filled out work orders for people in the community needing assistance.
So when the SBTC gave a grant to the church, they put the money in their “Harvey Relief Fund,” which they’ve used to help people throughout the community. With these funds, they’ve paid medical bills, provided rent money for victims, paid the costs of building materials for residents, helped with relocation costs, car repairs, and provided for many other needs.
“We wanted to help with Harvey-related issues,” Muilenburg said. They also wanted the funds to provide more than a “band-aid,” but instead to really “help people get back on their feet.”
“We’ve been blessed,” he said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the disaster, but overwhelmed also by the support financially and the encouragement that people have brought us. It has just been incredible.”