PORT ARTHUR?Fewer than a dozen of the 34 mission volunteers from Inglewood Baptist Church of Grand Prairie had experience with the demolition and rebuilding assignments they were handed June 2 by Nehemiah’s Vision, based in southeast Texas.
Over a four-day period they were asked to clear a home site along Highway 69 covered in rubble from a fire and further damaged by a hurricane, and paint a house rebuilt by earlier groups of volunteers.
Observers paused to watch the crew that included a half-dozen gradeschoolers, eight teenagers and several retired women. Some questioned the ability of the multi-generational team to perform tasks more suited to construction workers. And yet their willingness to tackle the job and confidence in God’s provision ultimately surprised the skeptics whom Inglewood’s pastor jokingly dubbed “Sanballet” and “Tobias.”
Nehemiah’s Vision is a non-profit organization formed in 2005 by Southern Baptists in southeast Texas to help rebuild homes and churches that were damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Rita.
“We have been amazed at how God has blessed our efforts,” said Nehemiah’s Vision field foreman Jeffrey Hazleton. “Since the storm, more than 4,000 volunteers have logged over 100,000 hours in the rebuild effort. People of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels have been the backbone of the work done for so many people who had nowhere else to turn.”
To date, more than $4 million worth of material has been nailed, brushed, and installed in order to repair and rebuild 500-plus homes and churches.
Knowing that Inglewood Baptist had promoted their work as a family mission trip, Hazleton called on Ridgewood Church of Port Arthur to provide the group’s lodging, expecting it would be a good match for a congregation known for its family-integrated ministry. Men and boys spread out in a recreation center while women and girls utilized three classrooms. Ridgewood pastor Dustin Guidry offered Inglewood full use of their kitchen to cook meals and the gym for meetings and recreation.
“We wanted to make this a family mission trip because we believe in doing ministry together,” explained Inglewood pastor Shawn Barnard. “We wanted to teach our children what it means to love God, serve him, and do it together.”
The 39-year-old pastor took his turn at operating a Bobcat front-end loader while his 7- and 11-year-old sons and 16-year-old daughter disposed of debris. Six other families brought children along who pitched in wherever needed. They worked alongside more experienced senior adults and a professional contractor from the church to tackle both ends of relief work?site clearance to pave the way for another house and exterior painting to finish a home makeover.
At the demolition site, Linda Hailey had tried for three years to clear the land by herself, hoping to return her parents to a house that will replace the one where she grew up and later lived with her own children and grandchildren. She was surprised when the Inglewood van drove up Monday morning ready to work.
“They showed up here, out of the blue, and I was so overwhelmed. We said a prayer and they started working, helping me out,” she told a local reporter.
After a news crew from local ABC affiliate KBMT-TV aired a feature on the effort, assistance multiplied with the use of a larger front-end loader, bulldozer and a portable trash unit. One man stopped to offer goggles and gloves, later returning with diesel fuel.
“We came down here not really knowing what to expect,” added Joel Owen, Inglewood’s youth minister. While Nehemiah’s Vision was prepared to offer an assortment of tools, the job could not be completed without provisions that came as a direct answer to prayer, he explained.
“It’s been amazing to watch God work and we’ve been blessed to see how much work has been accomplished,” Owen said.
Repeated complaints about the property prompted concern that it might be seized due to the loss of a homestead exemption. After a county representative saw the progress made by the volunteer team, she planned to report on the improvements.
Hailey’s father is confined to a hospital bed in the home the family rents, but managed to visit the site with his wife while being transported in an ambulance for a doctor’s visit. When he heard about the volunteers, he told KBMT reporter Brian Burns that he was overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude to the strangers. “I thank them…,” Hailey shared as tears began to flow.
An hour away in Fannett another crew painted the home of a single mom who has lived in a FEMA trailer for the two and a half years since Hurricane Rita took the roof off her home. After the storm Rosie Guerra’s brother offered to move in with the family and support them with his income so that his sister could use the time to return to school. But in a matter of months he passed away.
“She never lost hope,” Hazleton told the new group of volunteers. “We’ve gutted the home and rebuilt it from the inside out. Now you’re going to finish the job.”
In addition to painting the exterior walls and trim, volunteer Harry Miller told of building the decking and ceilings for both the front and back porches, as well as making a few adjustments that put the house in shape to be occupied by the Guerra family.
A 25-year veteran of similar construction projects, Miller said, “Our volunteers have enjoyed being here and working with Nehemiah’s Vision.”
Volunteer contractor T.D. Hollingshead praised the efforts of the teenagers who joined in and showed a willingness to help wherever needed.
Several teenagers guided children in baking cookies and designing bookmarks to include in an evangelistic project for Outreach Port Arthur, a ministry of several SBTC-affiliated churches in southeast Texas, led by Brent Sorrels.
After fellowshipping over a meal with Ridgewood members on Wednesday night, the Inglewood team fanned out into a nearby neighborhood to pass out copies of the Gospel of John. Dads, moms, and kids took turns greeting homeowners while the pastor patrolled the area replenishing supplies