HOUSTON—Paul Matlock, 73, was sitting in his yard, staring into the distance, overwhelmed, when Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers arrived.
Floodwater from Hurricane Harvey had climbed more than 6 feet inside his home; it was chest high when he managed to escape with his wife Diana, 63, and their toy fox terrier. They had flooded twice before but never this badly. They knew when they left that they would probably lose almost everything they owned. And the sight when they returned confirmed it.
They had just finished restoring their home following last year’s “Tax Day” flood. A granite countertop and brand-new stainless steel appliances lined the kitchen where Diana Matlock enjoyed cooking for friends and family.
Little is salvageable now.
“I spent three days trying to figure out what I had done to make God so mad at me,” Matlock said as he watched SBDR volunteers carry items to the curb. “I’ve lived a pretty moral life. And [the hurricane] affected all of my immediate family and my wife’s family in Louisiana.”
His spirits were immediately lifted when he saw that he had not been forgotten by God—in fact, he was being helped yet again. When the SBDR trucks rolled into the driveway, his first thought was to grasp the volunteers’ hands and join them in a prayer of thanksgiving.
“I’m convinced God sent them here,” Matlock said.
For thousands upon thousands of homeowners like Matlock in Houston and along the Texas Gulf Coast, Southern Baptist volunteers are on-site or making plans to be there to add their labors and share their faith.
At the Matlock’s home, SBDR unit leader Brian Batchelder, whose unit is with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said the couple knew what needed to be done but had no idea how to do it alone.
“We provided the how,” said Batchelder, who attends Broadview Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. “People need to see Jesus in the middle of a crisis. That’s why we come—so people can see what Jesus means to us and how he can help them.”
When Matlock teasingly asked volunteers not to scratch his ruined truck, Batchelder knew the homeowner was beginning to find hope.
A smaller moment encouraged volunteers Linda Parker and Glenda Warren, both of Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa. When they arrived with the SBDR mud-out team, they first found Matlock almost in tears and despondent. No one had touched anything, and the stench of mud and mold was overwhelming, even with a mask.
The only thing Matlock wanted to find was his father’s 1942 class ring from Oklahoma Baptist University. Matlock kept it on his nightstand in a handmade wooden box, but everything in the room had been scattered by the floodwater. Together, they scoured the room, finding the ring as well as a large container filled with photographs that somehow had been untouched by the flooding.
“Little things like that are irreplaceable,” Parker said, adding, “Just the fact that someone was doing something took the burden off his shoulders.”
SBDR volunteers say they try to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus, easing the spiritual burden as well as the financial through providing cleanup aid at no cost.
“These folks have lost everything,” Batchelder said. “It just breaks my heart to take all their stuff to the curb and to have to pay someone to do that.”
Batchelder’s voice broke as he recalled his first volunteer experience, following Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At the end of every project, he and the volunteers signed a Bible and gifted it to the homeowners as a tangible reminder that they are never alone.
“This isn’t about us—it’s about Jesus,” he said, gazing at the gold-shirted volunteers working in the Matlocks’ house and debris-laden yard. “We’ll be gone, but he’ll still be here.”
Matlock and his wife were unable to escape with anything but a few pieces of clothing and family mementos. What little remains of flood survivors’ lives is under constant threat by looters. Three homes have been looted in the Matlocks’ neighborhood, but local law enforcement has increased patrols in the area, and Matlock believes his home will be safe.
SBDR volunteers expect to be stationed in Texas for many months as assessment and recovery continues.
The scope of the devastation is staggering. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the nation, bigger than the state of New Jersey with a population of more than 2.3 million within city limits and 6.5 million throughout the metro area. Across the state, Hurricane Harvey affected more than 6.8 million people in 18 counties. As the days pass, the damage and death totals continue to rise.
So, too, do the number of volunteers. In Matlock’s area, SBDR has partnered with Champion Forest Baptist Church. A church-wide call for volunteers supplemented the ranks by more than 2,000 people. Together, SBDR and Champion Forest have cleaned more than 400 homes, with many more scheduled for the days to come.
The impact of Hurricane Harvey remains mind numbing.
As the Category 4 storm crept across Texas in mid-August at an agonizing 2 miles per hour, the rain—more than 51 inches—kept falling, and the rivers and bayous kept rising.
The water rose quickly in downtown Houston, climbing to almost touch interstate exit signs and inundating local businesses, killing more than 70 people, necessitating more than 75,000 rescues and causing up to $190 billion in damage. An estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain—enough to fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times—fell in Texas and Louisiana over a six-day span.