Local church members head to assist in Houston

While watching the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Steve Stark felt the need to help people in Texas affected by the storm.

“I wanted to be able to help them,” he said. “I was dying a little to go down there because those people needed help, and not being able to help them bothered me.”

That’s why Stark jumped at the opportunity when his congregation’s disaster relief group organized a trip to Houston.

“They needed help then, and they need help now,” he said. “I was happy about the opportunity to help through this because I had been looking for ways to do it.”

Stark and four members from Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seymour left Sunday and will return Saturday to help with the effort to rebuild homes affected by the storm. A member of Zion Lutheran Church in Seymour will join them along with members from St. John Lutheran Church in Columbia City.

Harvey hit as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 and has been pegged as the costliest weather disaster in United States history at an estimated $190 billion, according to the Office of Coastal Management under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm dumped a record-breaking amount of rain on Houston and other parts of Texas, some areas receiving more than 50 inches.

Volunteers on the trip will be working with installing insulation and drywall in homes in a neighborhood in Houston.

Volunteers will stay at Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Texas, and Trinity Klein Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas, will be coordinating volunteers.

The churches are working with around 550 homeowners, said the Rev. Jimmy Rodriguez, associate pastor at Immanuel.

Rodriguez said he has been told around 150,000 homes were affected in the area.

“When you’re talking about that number of homes, you’re looking at years and years of recovery,” he said.

Lending a hand in a time of need is what Christians are called to do, Rodriguez said.

“We have the opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet and mouth down there, and what better way to show Christ’s love than by total strangers showing up to help total strangers,” he said.

Rodriguez organized the trip for volunteers.

“We’re called to carry each other’s burdens. We’re called to serve,” he said.

As an experienced construction worker, Stark said he can use his knowledge to help fulfill the commitment Christians have to help their fellow man.

“I have this construction experience that I can use to help people, so I feel like this is something I can do and use to help serve the Lord,” he said.

Stark has 30 years of experience in construction and has owned his own business. He still has a small business that deals in construction, and oddly enough, a man who owned property in Jackson County had moved to Houston before the storm and contacted him to do work on the property.

“I was supposed to meet up with him, but he was in Houston when the storm hit, and we never did get to meet,” he said.

The group will assist Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod World Relief and Human Care through its disaster response unit, which assists in major disasters across the globe. The organization has converted semitrailers into work sheds to store tools for volunteers in areas where they will be working while in Houston. They also have organized thousands of volunteers to assist in the recovery efforts from the hurricane.

While larger organizations will oversee the project, Immanuel organized the local effort through its disaster response team. Rodriguez created the group after the 2008 flood to help people in Jackson and Bartholomew counties.

“I took it upon myself to organize groups of people who would go out and help our members and members of the community to kind of muck out their house after the flood, and from that was born our disaster response committee,” he said. “I probably have a list of 50 to 70 people who have volunteered along the way, and whenever there is a need, I send an email out, and they respond with whether they can help or not.”

The group has assisted in a number of projects following disasters, including building a home for a couple in Henryville after the 2012 tornadoes devastated the area.

For Stark, helping and encouraging the people in Houston is something that comes just as natural to him as the construction work he has done throughout his career.

“This is something I’ve done my whole life, just trying to help and encourage people no matter what I’m doing,” he said. “I guess if I have a passion, it’s to help people.”

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Jordan Richart is a correspondent for The (Seymour) Tribune.