HARVEY UPDATE: Dickinson First Presbyterian a hub for flood and spiritual recovery

HARVEY UPDATE: Dickinson First Presbyterian a hub for flood and spiritual recovery

(Photo: The Rev. Kathy Sebring leads services outside of flood-damaged First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, Texas, on Sept. 3. 2017. See the Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the services here.)

Record rainfall from Hurricane Harvey brought five feet of water into First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, Texas — along with some unwanted visitors in the form of fish and snakes. But the Rev. Kathy Sebring said it also has brought the blessings of Good Samaritans eager to serve as the hands and feet of God in the community.

The church has long been actively engaged in several ministries to help the community of mostly low-income residents where it sits. With back-to-school clothing drives, a diaper ministry, ESL Bible studies, music lesson scholarships and a food bank run by M.I. Lewis Social Services in its fellowship hall, families have come to rely upon and trust the work of the local church.

Now, First Presbyterian of Dickinson has added a new role in the community — hub of flood recovery efforts in the area. Members of the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders have been helping get the church ready for its new mission, one that will include helping the Disaster ReBuilders coordinate its recovery work in the region.

“Everybody is working hand-in-hand,” said Sebring, a former grief counselor for a local hospice who was asked last year to helm the church. “The Fuller Center folks are providing so much structure. God is working through the hands and feet of many people right now.”

Sebring is among community leaders that are working with various organizations and church to help the devastated community, including the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders as a leader in home restoration. The Disaster ReBuilders are working to establish a camp in the area, likely in Texas City, where they plan to begin hosting volunteer teams in a few weeks.

That will be part of a very long-term recovery for the region. The spiritual needs, however, are immediate.

“Everybody’s faith is tested,” she said, noting that concept was the subject of a devotion by Oswald Chambers upon which she reflected a few days ago. “We have faith, but until it’s tested and you go through the test, you don’t really own the faith. If you go through a disaster or crisis and you come through it, it’s yours.

The Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders’ Aaron Ratliff comforts someone outside of First Presbyterian of Dickinson.

“I just try to comfort people and say that this will pass,” Sebring added. “This kind of thing will either strengthen your faith and you’ll have complete trust in Christ, or it can kill it. We’re trying to seek people who are really fragile and come alongside them and pray with them and listen and let them tell their story. We just reassure them of God’s love for them and that they’re not alone.”

While the cleanup and restoration of her church is ongoing, the congregation took a major step in marching forward this past Sunday, Sept. 3, when it held services and communion on the church lawn.

“It was so important that we get together,” she said of the services. “Everybody was hugging on everybody, and there were a lot of tears. It was really just an affirmation that we survived and God is good. We had a lot of offers from churches in the area not affected by the flood to come worship with them, but God just kind of told me that wasn’t the way to go. For one thing, most people’s cars were destroyed. It was very important that we get together and worship as a community and remind each other that, through God, all things are possible and we will go on. It was great and so good to see everybody.”

The church’s role as a community servant applies well beyond those who attend the church. Sebring noted that one family driving by during Sunday’s services stopped and asked if they could take part in communion. They told her they had not attended church in a long time but believe it is time for them to return.

A trailer of food and other supplies brought by the Disaster ReBuilders’ Aaron Ratliff and Katy Summers has helped begin to restock the food pantry, the contents of which had to be discarded after being flooded.

“People are hungry,” Sebring said. “We had people walking by and we’d catch them eating the contaminated food. We’d give them what food we had.”

She also recalls getting a donation of fresh fruit from a local grocery store. She was heading out to deliver some when a family drove up in search of something to eat. She gave them the fruit.

“The look on these children’s faces, it just broke your heart, but they were so excited,” she said.

It is the children that Sebring is especially concerned about as the long weeks, months and years of recovery lie ahead.

“Everybody that comes up and we give food, we ask if they’d like prayer,” she said. “So we pray with them, and they’re just in tears and then I’m in tears. I’m very, very concerned for the children. This is a low-income area already.

“So I think it’s very important that we maintain a presence,” she continued. “People are naturally used to coming here because of the food bank, but now they are coming for more than the food. They are coming for spiritual comfort.”

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Watch Sunday’s emotional service at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, Texas:


Flood-impacted families waited a long time for this week to come

Flood-impacted families waited a long time for this week to come

When Cathy Wagner’s 13-year-old grandson got home from school on Wednesday, he stopped in his tracks and smiled. When she asked him what was wrong, he just kept smiling and responded:


Cathy and her husband David, a Vietnam veteran, used much of their life savings to purchase their “dream house” in Albany, Louisiana, a little more than three years ago. They even purchased flood insurance for the first year until their agent convinced them it was a waste of money. The area had never flooded, and it would never flood, he insisted. They canceled it.

In August, though, a flood deemed a once-in-500-years event began lapping at their doorstep. When they went to bed, their floors were dry. In the middle of the night, they were wading through three feet of water on their way to their four-wheel drive truck. It stalled in the rising water. Later, someone tried to rescue them by boat, but a tree fell on the boat, injuring Cathy’s knee and sending them back into the house. They would be in there with the floodwaters for 18 more hours before an airboat came by to rescue them.

Cathy and David Wagner thank Fuller Center volunteers for their work on their “dream home” in Albany, Louisiana, on Thursday.

For the last few months, the Wagners have been living in a FEMA trailer behind the damaged home. Already disabled, they blame the living conditions for respiratory problems they have developed since the flood.

This week, however, about two dozen volunteers from across the nation have come to Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, to help the Wagners get out of that FEMA trailer and back into their dream home.

“I’m so excited and so happy and so thankful,” Cathy said Thursday, the final day of the Higher Ground on the Bayou Flood Recovery Build. “I feel so blessed right now. Everybody here has been so lovely and so nice.”



In the Pumpkin Center neighborhood of nearby Hammond, Louisiana, Bill Hayden, also a Vietnam veteran, and his wife Debi thought they had seen it all after living on the same property since 1990. For the first 15 years, they lived in a doublewide. When they were in the middle of building their dream home, Hurricane Katrina hit.

“We just watched the trees blow in the wind, but we had no major damage,” Debi recalled. “We were able to finish the house just fine.”

Certainly, if they could survive Katrina, there would be almost nothing Mother Nature could throw at them to disrupt their lives. Almost.

Like the Wagners, they say they were also told that flood insurance would be a waste of money. In August, their home was flooded with about 20 inches of water. They, too, partnered with the Ginger Ford Northshore Fuller Center for Housing to get repairs during this week’s Higher Ground on the Bayou Build.

Fuller Center President David Snell presents a Bible to Bill and Debi Hayden during Thursday’s dedication ceremony.

“It was a very disturbing event,” Bill said of the flood. “We have bought flood insurance just in case it happens again.”

For now, though, thanks to Ginger Ford Northshore Director Tamara Danel and the volunteers she helped bring to Louisiana this week, they have nearly completed their long journey back from the flood.

“This is a great opportunity for us to serve and do what we do,” Danel said during the dedication ceremony at the Hayden home with hot sunshine beaming down. “We want to see you back in your beautiful home and be proud of it and feel safe in it.”




Volunteers came from all across the country to work in Louisiana this week, but only one came from out of the country — Jose Santos Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been an integral part of The Fuller Center’s local leadership team in Nicaragua as the group’s project manager. He knows architecture and engineering, but travel is not his specialty.

“It’s my first trip to the United States,” he said. “It’s my first time on a plane.”

Santos said the many volunteers who keep coming to work in Nicaragua through The Fuller Center’s Global Builders program have provided a tremendous boost to the families and local employment picture in the Las Peñitas area, and he wanted to do a little to pay it forward. He’ll also hanging around for this weekend’s Fuller Center Conference at which he’ll meet with Global Builders team leaders. And now that he’s gotten his first plane flight under his belt, he’ll have another before going back to Nicaragua.

“I’m flying to L.A. to see family,” he said. “I haven’t seen them since 1998.”


Hammond Daily Star article about the Build

high-resolution photo gallery from the build