It was 4:21 p.m. on Friday when I got the call. I was grocery shopping, trying to replenish our provisions at home. Our power had been out more than 60 hours, and we had to throw out the entire contents of our freezer and refrigerator, save for some deer meat that stayed frozen and some Dr Pepper. How Texas is that?
‘You’ve got big problems’
On the other end was Ruth: “You’ve got big problems!”
She handed the phone to her son-in-law Paul, who began to explain to me these problems in great detail. As he was driving by the church, he noticed water was running out from the building and into the street.
The part of our building used for our Mother’s Day Out program was covered in standing water as it was continuing to pour down from the ceiling.
They turned the water off immediately, but so much damage already was done—standing water in four classrooms, furniture damage, drenched carpet, water in the light fixtures above. Not to mention what may be happening inside the walls and the damage to toys, books and all kinds of things used by teachers as they teach and care for children. Water was everywhere.
‘Where do we start’
“Where do we start?” I asked Paul.
“Call a plumber and tell the church to be here tomorrow at 10 a.m. to help.”
I called every plumbing service in Alice and the surrounding area. Not one plumber answered. Not a surprise given the current circumstances, but I still had to try.
I began to hear plumbers already had waiting lists 30 to 40 customers long. Then we started hearing plumbers can’t even get parts.
Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.
It was Friday evening, and I knew gathering for worship at the building on Sunday morning was slim to none, and slim just left town.
I sent out a One Call message to our church members informing them of the situation and asking anyone who could help, please, to come to the church the next morning. I posted on Facebook to alert our members, as well. That post took off and started getting shared like it was a video of a kitten playing the piano while watching a squirrel water ski. Church members, former teachers, city officials, pastors from other churches, members from other churches, seemingly random people, everyone saw it.
I still was hunting groceries for our family, as we were living meal to meal, and was running late on Saturday morning. If we had five to 10 people show up, I would have been thrilled.
When I arrived a little after 10 a.m., parking spaces were limited. The parking lot beside the playground was full, as was street parking right in front of the building. At one point, I was able to count about 35 to 40 people, four to eight times more than the amount of people we might have expected. The Apostle Paul might say it this way, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine …” (Ephesians 3:20).
West Main Baptist Church, Church of the Overcomer and BT Church all sent people to help us. All of these churches had their own issues to deal with, whether it was plumbing issues at their own buildings or just helping other members who had problems. None of them thought of themselves but, instead, stopped what they were doing and put our needs ahead of their own as they came to help us.
Our church members and theirs squeegeed and mopped floors together, hauled off trash together, moved furniture together, loaded trailers together and relocated the entire contents of four classrooms together.
Somebody knew a plumber, somebody had parts, the leak was fixed, and we did gather for worship on Sunday morning to tell all of the stories of how God had provided for us in the last week.
‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’
In these moments, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6) was more real to me than it ever has been.
All of a sudden, denominations didn’t matter. There were no debates over worship style or how often to observe the Lord’s Supper, no hotly contested arguing over free will versus predestination, faith versus works, or the inerrancy of Scripture. Though I searched high and low for two people belligerently yelling at one another over the continuationist and cessationist views of spiritual gifts, I found none.
What I did see was a whole lot of people from different economic, educational, ethnic, political, religious and social backgrounds obeying the command of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
Of all the things we could do to show the world we follow Jesus: Size of our buildings? No. Bank accounts? No. Number of people in our pews? No. Giving to missions? No. It wasn’t even telling others about Jesus.
Jesus said the way the world would know we follow him is how we, as Christians, love one another. If that is true—and it is—Jesus has a lot of followers in Alice, Texas. “Alice es buena gente.”
Zach Tharp is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Alice. The views expressed are those solely of the author.