Last August Hurricane Harvey broke the all-time record for the amount of rainfall from a U.S. tropical cyclone. Southern Texas suffered from roughly 15 to 20 trillion gallons of rain. (CNN, The Weather Company).
According to The Texas Tribune and The Guardian, Harvey left 30 percent of Harris County, including the city of Houston, underwater. The storm inflicted up to $100 billion worth of economic damage to the area.
Following Harvey, tens of thousands of Houstonians experienced flood damage to their homes and 30,000 found themselves in need of shelter. Financial experts say it may take the city up to 10 years to fully recover from the devastating effects of the hurricane (CNN, The Guardian).
As Houston begins the long road to recovery, four friends and SAGU alumni are responding to the dire needs of Harvey victims. Pastors Bill and Hannah White and Ryan Beaty and his wife, Pastor Korista Lewis, are ministering to the city they call home through restoration and distribution efforts.
“I’m still experiencing waves of grief over what friends, coworkers, and neighbors experienced,” says Korista Lewis, the lead pastor of VillageHouston. “I’m highly aware that the recovery from Harvey is not over and will be felt in the systems, infrastructures, and the economy of Houston and the Gulf Coast for months, if not years to come.”
Harvey brought 16 feet of water to certain areas of the freeway and displaced people from both of the couple’s congregants. “The hardest thing was having to wait for all the flood waters to go down to be able to help people,” says Bill.
Bill and Hannah
With the vast amount of property devastation to Houston residents, the demand for contractors in the area is high, yet many hurricane victims lack the financial resources to hire one. In response, the Whites are organizing groups of skilled laborers to preserve the properties of victims. Their church, Village Heights, has placed a sign-up sheet on their website where people can list a need in the community or volunteer services.
“On a normal Sunday, we’re still only around 50 people, but to see the impact of what we can do together is astronomical,” says Hannah. “People in our community know that they can depend on us.”
Ryan and Korista
Ryan and Korista recently directed their efforts toward evacuees. The couple volunteered as clergy for a 12-hour shift at the George R. Brown Convention Center (GRB) where more than 10,000 hurricane victims found shelter.
From 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., Korista ministered to displaced persons and helped to reunite a brother and sister who were unable to find each other amid the storm. After searching through thousands of evacuees, the siblings were finally reunited. “It was overwhelming to be a part of that reunion,” she says.
In the triage center, Beaty worked with medical personnel to help the injured and the sick, many of whom struggled with mental illness and lacked access to medication. He says that his experience serving at the GRB reaffirmed that ministry is “more than a pulpit.”
Worship Through Service
Property damage and displacement have not been the only blows inflicted by Harvey.
Following the hurricane, stores in impacted areas ran out of the most basic items. Beaumont, a neighbor city of Houston, experienced a loss of clean water for several days. As soon as the descent of flood waters allowed, both couples paused routine Sunday services and distributed necessities such as water, food, and blankets to congregants of their daughter church in Beaumont.
“Korista told people that instead of gathering together for worship, we would worship God by serving the people God loves,” says Beaty.
Hurricane Harvey proved to be a devastating natural disaster, yet Lewis says that the storms of life often drive people deeper into faith, and Harvey has been no different.
In the midst of overwhelming circumstances, Hannah says that SAGU has been a source of support.
“In light of a hurricane, our friends from Southwestern were some of the first ones to reach out,” she says. “I know for sure that at Southwestern, I got so much more than I paid for when it comes to my relationships.”
The couples' friendships began when Bill and Hannah, who met and started dating their freshman year at SAGU, connected with Ryan Beaty at a Davis Hall event.
“Because of our similar sense of humor, dedication to out-of-the-box thinking, and shared love of Texas, the three of us became instant friends,” says Hannah.
Years later, Ryan shared his vision to plant a church in the heart of Houston and to reach the culturally diverse in the area. The Whites knew that shifting the trajectory of the Church in Houston was something they wanted to invest in. They joined Ryan’s launch team, and in August of 2011, the friends celebrated the launch of VillageHouston.
By the time Ryan started dating future wife, Korista, the Whites felt God calling them to plant their own church. Beaty, their advocate and mentor, suggested the Heights neighborhood of Houston as a location. After a drive through the neighborhood and many prayers, the Whites knew where God was calling them.
In October of 2015, Village Heights launched as the first daughter church in the Village Network.
“Bill & I couldn’t be more thankful for Ryan & Korista,” says Hannah. They’re some of our dearest friends, most cherished mentors, and incredibly valued pastors!”
Today, both Hannah and Bill are the lead pastors of Village Heights. Lewis is the lead pastor of VillageHouston, and Beaty continues to oversee church planting while directing Sanctuary Network. Sanctuary Network provides resources and mentoring to pastors in the Houston area so that they can better support their own congregations.
The network recently hosted a gathering of Houston ministers to disconnect from the trauma of Harvey, receive prayer, and relate to peers who Beaty says, “need each other in a stressful time. I don’t know a single pastor or minister in the Houston area that hasn't been impacted,” says Beaty.
Although the couples minister to different demographics in the inner- loop of Houston, VillageHouston and Village Heights remain supportive of each other’s efforts.
“Our individual churches are built around our specific communities, but we love to take advantage of any opportunity to partner together and make a greater, more unified impact,” says Hannah.
As they look toward Houston’s recovery from Harvey, Village Heights and VillageHouston will remain unified in their vision to be “Christ-centered, community- crafted and audaciously generous.” Both couples are committed to providing long-term relief efforts and to carrying the heart of the city they love.
Unfortunately, tragedies such as Hurricane Harvey are unpredictable. Through the efforts of Bill and Hannah White, Korista Lewis and Ryan Beaty and hundreds of other local pastors, victims of Harvey are receiving the help they need.
To partner with the Whites and Village Heights in relief efforts, click here .
To support pastors and their families in the Houston area, click here .