Baptists cooperate to help flooded Rio Grande Valley churches

Ray Becerra and Jimmy Jimenez, volunteers from First Baptist Church in Weslaco, replace flood-damaged drywall at Iglesia Bautista Avondale in Harlingen. (Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church Weslaco)

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HARLINGEN—As churches in the lower Rio Grande Valley recover from devastating floods, neighboring congregations and Baptists around the state continue to respond to their needs.

The National Weather Service called it “déjà vu all over again.” Little more than a year—367 days—after the Rio Grande Valley endured a major flood, more than 15 inches of rain fell in six hours on June 24. Floodwaters destroyed or seriously damaged more than 1,100 homes, and about 45,000 people lost electricity.

Steven Parker, pastor of First Baptist Church in Weslaco, remembers the 2018 flood vividly.

“My home flooded last year,” he said. “It gives a whole new meaning to ministry after a flood when you’ve experienced it yourself.”

TBM offers disaster relief

The summer 2018 flood was one in a series of disasters Parker experienced since he became senior pastor at the Weslaco church in February 2008, about five months before Hurricane Dolly hit South Texas.

“I’ve developed a good relationship with Texas Baptist Men and their disaster relief ministry through the years,” he said. “It’s become far too common an occurrence, but it’s always a blessing to work with those folks.”

Within days after the most recent storm, TBM disaster relief volunteers set up an incident command center at First Baptist Church in Weslaco, which provided housing for the crews.

“TBM volunteers worked on about 150 homes,” said Dwain Carter, TBM state disaster relief director. TBM crews—working alongside South Carolina Baptist Men—tore out damaged drywall, removed soaked flooring, and treated surfaces to mitigate mold.

Baptist disaster relief volunteers prepared more than 1,000 meals and distributed 1,500 boxes to allow flood-affected families to collect and store their belongings. The volunteers washed about 150 loads of laundry and provided access to more than 250 showers. They also distributed more than 30 Bibles.

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Flood-damaged churches discovered

TBM assessors and Jorge Zapata, associate coordinator of missions and Hispanic ministries for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Texas, discovered several flood-damaged churches in the area. The first church they identified was Iglesia Bautista Avondale in Harlingen.

Laney Lopez from First Baptist Church in Weslaco works on Iglesia Bautista Avondale in Harlingen. (Courtesy Photo)

Pastor Roberto Reyes and his wife, Lorena, live half a block from Iglesia Bautista Avondale. When Reyes waded from his home to the church building the morning after the storm, he discovered the facility filled with floodwater.

“I surrendered it to God,” he said in a video posted on Facebook. “I told him: ‘You know our situation. You know our finances. It’s in your hands.’ God began to send all kinds of help.”

Zapata had coordinated a mission trip for a group from First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who planned to work in colonias along the border. The group was housed at Cone Oasis Baptist Camp in La Feria when the flood occurred.

The young people from Tennessee helped Cone Oasis staff deal with rising water that threatened to damage the encampment kitchen, Zapata noted. Then, since the group was unable to travel to the colonias where they planned to serve, Zapata redirected them to Avondale.

The youth group from Tennessee removed wet carpet and water-damaged furniture from the building, and TBM volunteers removed buckled paneling and soaked insulation from interior walls.

Helping sister congregations

Parker and Jose Aguilar, pastor of First Baptist Weslaco Español, recognized an opportunity to help a neighboring congregation. So, they planned a weekend project to replace the interior walls at Avondale, using drywall and other supplies TBM provided.

Volunteers from First Baptist Church in Weslaco and New Beginnings Fellowship in Sinton helped members of Iglesia Bautista Avondale in Harlingen. (Courtesy Photo)

Joined by volunteers from New Beginnings Fellowship in Sinton and working in partnership with Christian Aid Ministries, a Mennonite organization, the Weslaco crew hung sheetrock throughout Avondale’s facility.

In the weeks ahead, First Baptist Weslaco hopes to work with Zapata on several “other projects on a smaller scale,” Parker noted.

In addition to Avondale, Zapata identified three other Hispanic churches in the area that sustained significant damage and lacked flood insurance.

The storm damaged the roofs of both the parsonage and worship facility of Iglesia Bautista Emanuel in Harlingen, resulting in damage to their interiors. The storms and subsequent flooding also damaged Iglesia Bautista Getsemane in Elsa and Iglesia Bautista Sublime Gracia in Progreso.

Continuing assistance

CBF Disaster Response provided $10,000 to help the churches, and CBF Texas contributed an additional $1,000 grant. Fellowship Southwest is seeking to raise $25,000 to cover the cost of repairing what the churches lost and replenishing the CBF Disaster Response emergency fund.

In addition to providing financial assistance, Zapata also is coordinating mission teams to help with construction projects at the affected churches.

For more information about the Fellowship Southwest Rio Grande Valley flood-recovery effort, click here.

To contribute financially to TBM disaster relief, send a check designated “disaster relief” to Texas Baptist Men, 5351 Catron, Dallas, TX 75227, call (214) 275-1116 or click here.


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