Reflection on a week in Orange, Texas
In the early morning hours of Sept. 9, six Tehachapi residents loaded into a van for a journey to Texas. All, members of the Tehachapi Church of the Nazarene (TNAZ), answered the call to pray, give and go.
The rag tag team had more "re-building heart" than construction skill, and more energy than experience. I was honored to be one of the six.
Our suitcases were packed with tee shirts and jeans. Our van was loaded with air mattresses, water and snacks. We embarked on a 28-hour drive to the Lone Star State and the community of Orange, Texas.
Orange boasts 18,000 residents and dozens of churches and businesses. Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on them all. 80% of the town was hit and I mean, hit hard. Rising water, from seemingly unending rain, seeped into nearly every structure in town. It shorted out appliances, soaked cabinets, mattresses, dressers and chairs. Most everything, inside homes and businesses, was drenched. By the time we pulled into town, worldly possessions were piled outside in mountains of rubbish. The houses were empty and restaurants were closed.
Our team's mission was to re-build the home of Aaron and Rebekah Spell. Their four-bedroom, three-bath house withstood nearly two feet of water infiltration, but everything inside,did not. Their family of nine was living in a fifth-wheel trailer – tight quarters for even the closest family.
As we drove down the street, the sights and smells were overwhelming. As far as the eye could see were piles of people's lives. There were couches and tables, refrigerators and dishwashers, bed frames and mattresses. I saw soaked photo albums, Christmas decorations and shorted-out coffee pots in the piles, and there were piles everywhere.
Upon arrival at the home, we were met with the stench of rotting meat and musty carpet. While the water had receded, there was still a slow stream of liquid flowing on the street. Green mold had already consumed water-drenched surfaces and duct-taped refrigerators couldn't hide the rotting food trapped inside.
It was something out of a movie. It was surreal and overwhelming. It was a hostile take-over of the neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs. But, in true Texas fashion, they were already taking their town back.
Neighbors helped neighbors remove damaged goods, cut out drywall, and tear out cabinets. Families fed families. Friends donated clothing, blankets and food. Churches opened their rain-soaked doors to store supplies, host suppers and provide spaces to sleep. There was so much to do that it was clearly overwhelming to the already fatigued residents. Our arrival was met with open arms.
In full disclosure, we didn't come alone. A team of construction pros joined us in Orange. A Kern County Contractor (and TNAZ church member) sent a U-Haul filled with building supplies, equipment and real construction talent to join our team. This multi-skilled crew led the charge and we helped the effort.
We cut and hung drywall, taped and sanded, cleaned and cleared, trimmed and textured. We worked long hours to not only re-build their home but renew their spirits. The greatest gift we brought with us, to Texas, was hope.
Hope that people still hear and care. Hope that people still respond and act. Hope that the Spells would someday move back home. And they will.
For their part, Aaron and Rebekah Spell just oozed Southern hospitality. From the moment we met them, they couldn't thank us enough. Having survived a tornado and two previous hurricanes, the family had always picked themselves up and re-built their lives. But, this time was different. This time was worse. This time, in spite of their new home on higher ground, they didn't dodge the storm. It was all Rebekah could do to face the damage, clean out the house, and struggle to figure out what to do next.
When she heard the news that we were coming to help, she cried, "Big, ugly tears of joy." Over and over again, she told us that the words "thank you" seemed small and inadequate. To which we replied, "It is our privilege and honor to help."
Rebekah, with a smile as big as Texas, made us lunches and dinners each day. But more treasured than the delicious comfort food and great conversation, was the big dose of gratitude that accompanied each meal.
Our Senior Pastor at TNAZ, Robert Brooks, put his preaching into action by leading us throughout the week in Orange. It was Pastor Brooks that shared his vision to pray, for those damaged by the storm; give, for restoration and recovery; and go, to be the hands and feet of Christ in an area shattered by Mother Nature.
Although less than a dozen of us went to Texas, our church family, and our Tehachapi extended family, prayed and gave ... enough to cover the cost of re-building, enough to purchase new appliances and extra cash to help replace the cabinets, flooring, beds, tables and chairs.
While we can't replace the lifetime of lost mementos, we worked diligently to put their home back together and look forward to the day when our new Texas friends move home.
TNAZ is accepting donations for the Hurricane Harvey re-building project. All donations will be funneled through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries to Orange, Texas families in need. The "Go Team" of Pastor Robert Brooks, Pastor "Goose" Augusto Ramos, Lynn Brooks, Randalyn Brooks, Elijah Christensen, Mary Beth Garrison, and construction team members Rick Peterson, Aaron Florschuetz, Mateo Gonzalez, Elias Mendez, and Josh Wilson, warmly thank you for your support and prayers.
Special thanks to Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Wanamaker Church of the Nazarene, Orange First Church of the Nazarene, TNAZ church members, and Tehachapi friends and neighbors. Together, we made a difference in the lives of one beautiful family in Texas.