AUSTIN—When his feet hit the floor in the early morning of Oct. 31, Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church in Austin, didn’t expect a wet landing.
However, the standing water in his bedroom instantly took him back to the time a plumbing failure occurred in an earlier home.
But this time, the trouble originated outside—the result of what would be described as a 500-year flood. Sloshing his way to the front door, he discovered a swift flow of water, several feet deep, moving across what had been his front yard.
Two new neighbors across the street—both young military veterans—said they tried to alert Paynter to the rising water but couldn’t rouse him with knocks on the door.
When they learned about Paynter’s bum knee, the two men used the fireman’s carry method to get him through the swirling water to dry land.
“They were the kindest, most compassionate people,” he said. “They literally carried me out of here.”
Other neighbors ‘had it worse’
Neighbors’ fences that washed against the back of the Paynters’ home kept damage to the house from being more substantial.
“So many people had it worse,” Paynter said, pointing to a neighbor who sustained so much damage he simply left town.
Patio furniture and other outside items vanished.
“My barbecue grill was three blocks away,” he said, noting the unexpected force of nature caused by the quick rise of Onion Creek.
In his front yard, he pointed to a mark about four feet up a tree trunk, representing the water level when he made it to the front door. One neighbor had six feet of water in his home and had to kick out a window to escape.
Library a casualty
Paynter’s home library, accumulated over many years, became a casualty of the flood. Water damaged or destroyed many of his books, and his file cabinet of sermons also was waterlogged.
He and his wife, Suzii, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, had no flood insurance, since their mortgage company did not require it. Their out-of-pocket expenses were high but offset by the generosity of many.
“The Texas Baptist Men were just unbelievable,” Paynter said, “not just for us, but for the whole neighborhood.”
The volunteers quickly removed the lower four feet of drywall and the insulation behind it that wicks the often-contaminated floodwater that can cause mold and other issues.
Volunteers pitched in
More volunteers—Baptists, Lutherans and otherwise—flooded into the community over the next several days. Volunteers from South Main Baptist Church in Pasadena, including retired engineers and electricians, made a big impact.
“They worked for about five days nonstop,” Paynter said.
Texas Baptists also sent a check to help with some expenses as they always do when one of their pastors experiences a crisis, he noted.
About 15 “good-as-gold” Baptist volunteers from Beaumont were the first to arrive after the flood, he recalled. And he noted appreciatively that about 300 employees of H-E-B grocery stores busily hauled away the mounting debris in the community.
“So many people from the church came to help get the furniture and mud out of the house,” said Suzii Paynter, who was not in Austin at the time of the flood.
Love expressed in midst of a ‘chaotic mess’
While describing the experience as a “chaotic mess,” she noted, “People’s responses have been so wonderful to us.”
A deacon at First Baptist in Austin cataloged the titles of books that had been destroyed. Then the deacons ordered new copies to present to their pastor.
Someone even anonymously sent a package filled with Baylor University caps and other alumni items.
Standing amid the painters and other construction workers bringing their home back to working order, Paynter reflected on the lessons learned while going through such times.
“In a situation like this, you find out how compassionate people can be,” he said. “It has been amazing.”
Noah or Job?
In 43 years of marriage, the Paynters have experienced more than their fair share of damage to their homes. They recalled three house fires, including one set by an arsonist at a previous home in Austin in 2010.
Then there was the time when they lived in Waco and a truck drove through a bay window. They also discovered an infestation of bees in the house—on the same day.
“It gets you thinking, ‘What is the point of all of this?’” Suzii Paynter said.
After seeing the damage, helping deal with some of the issues related to their home and the larger community, and experiencing the gracious responses from many, she sounded a lighter note.
She told her husband he had a couple of good choices for next Sunday. He could either preach on Noah or Job.
–Originally published in the February issue of Baptists Today and used with permission.