Reporting Back to You from Vidor, Texas || guest post by Ned Keene

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Todd Spahr and Brian Lauer, both of whom just returned from Vidor, Texas. They were with one of the first teams sent down to help people recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey last fall. Todd leads one of our growth groups, and Brian is a member of the group. These are some excerpts from our conversation.

Ned: So, how bad was the devastation?

Brian: The devastation still looks fresh today. We drove around and saw piles of trash in yards from gutting houses, even 7 months after the fact. It’s amazing that it looks like it just happened yesterday – and it’s everywhere. You don’t see the water, but you see the remnants and effects of the water and water lines on houses.

Marking the water level from the flood.

Todd: You see lots of homes with holes cut out in the middle of the roof because that’s how people escaped the rising water.

Ned: What were some of the challenges or difficulties you faced?

Brian: The living accommodations. We had Red Cross cots to sleep on until we got an air mattress. And the labor was tough and demanding.

Todd: The building we stayed in had 2 feet of water in it from the hurricane. It was gutted down to the concrete slabs – no floors, interior walls ripped out, gym packed with supplies for homes, etc. The living conditions were a bit rustic to say the least, but we made it work.

Ned: What was a personal highlight for you?

Todd: I went through this experience with my 16-year-old son, so being with him the entire week was a highlight. We had a great time interacting and got to talk about things we don’t normally have time for in our busy lives. In addition, it was great for him to see interactions with other Christian brothers and sisters. To add to that, doing the work was lots of fun. I don’t have much skill, but I love to do it, and I got a lot of training along the way.

Brian: There was a group serving alongside of us who were young college students from Tennessee. I was wowed by them. I was never like that in my college days – to travel 14+ hours to a disaster area, volunteer to put in hours of hard labor each day, all for the love of Christ. It just blew me away that they’d give their time and energies to this effort for other people.

Todd: They invited us to do devotions with them the first night. One student gave an amazing message on the importance of serving others,

to be the extension of Christ in that way. He gave it for his fellow companions, but we realize how spot on he was for us, too.

Brian: Whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it for the glory of God – whether we’re putting toilets in, or receptacle covers, or hanging lights, or shoveling debris – we’re doing it for the glory of God. That made a huge impact on me.

Ned: Did you see a moment where God showed up or came through in a significant way?

Brian: Well, in the lead up to the trip, just asking for people to partner with us, sponsor us, setting a financial goal, and having it met and exceeded was definitely a moment where God showed up before we even started.

Todd: We thought we’d be involved with people, interacting with families. In fact, we went to drywall training because we thought we’d be in a particular home. But our initial job was installing toilets and putting up lighting in the [building for serving teams]. It felt a little disappointing at first, but then we realized that God’s using our talents for something bigger. We’re not in a home or working with one family, but what we’re doing is going to be significant for other future teams coming down. They’ll have a nice place to stay and facilities to use that we didn’t.

Todd: In addition, the original plan for the house we stayed in was for women in crisis. The work we’re doing now is going to allow the building to be used in that way once the building teams are done with it. It was a humbling moment because God said to us, “You thought you were doing X, and I want you to do Y. And this is where I need you. You need to change your thought process because this is how you’ll serve a greater number of people.”

Ned: Was there anything inspiring to you during the trip?

Brian: We had a 60-year-old gentleman on our team from another church who was an inspiration for me. He worked alongside of us, equally as hard. He does this all the time. He was very inspiring – his modeling, his leadership, his gumption for his age.

Todd: One family we worked with had 4 feet of water on their second floor. That’s a lot of water! Yet they were both so upbeat and positive, even though they lost so much. When we walked in upstairs, we saw waterlogged family photos that would never be able to be recovered. Ruined things were everywhere. But the joy they were showing us, the thankfulness they had, the tears they shed because of our work – it was like that with every family we met and did work for.

Todd: One older couple with the husband having dementia woke up at night in the storm with their bedroom flooded. Their mattress was soaked. She just bawled when we came out to her house to help prep it. This couple ended up at two churches that got flooded, and eventually landed in some small town in Louisiana. They are just resilient people.

Ned: If someone is thinking of going, should they?

Brian: Absolutely go! You will grow as a Christian. I almost feel like I left a part of myself down there because I left too soon. My heart and the compassion I feel for those people – it was hard to leave because I just wanted to keep helping. The need is there. Go.

Todd: There’s a need for anyone at all skill levels, from master craftsman to those who can just turn a screwdriver. If God is tugging on your heart at all to do this, you need to act on it. Living Word partnering with Servants is such a great partnership to work with. Get involved. We need to be more involved. [Jesus said], “When you’re helping the least of these, you’re helping me.” My question is, why did it take me 46 years to get into this and respond to God? I’m kicking myself for not acting on this earlier in my life.

Brian: I have non-Christian friends who deride Jesus and Christians, who say that it doesn’t make a positive difference on anyone. And I say baloney! This just shows how much the Body of Christ is alive and how much we can do for people in the name of Christ’s love.

Todd: We’re helping people who have no other means – elderly on fixed incomes who cannot get FEMA loans because they can’t repay them. The house may be nice, but the interior is just a wreck. At least 2 to 5 years of work still needs to be done. We got the chance to share the love of Christ to some people as well and were able to say we’re here because God’s called us to do this. In one of their lowest points, they get to see God step into their lives through us and love them in the midst of it.

Bonnie Lauer, Brian’s wife, also went on the trip, and she shared this moment with me:

One day I was picking up trash in the yard of the house on which we were working. As I picked through layers of trash, I found a key, a beautiful flowered plate for a tea cup, a fork, spoon, books, crayons, a shoe, dominoes, pieces of broken pottery, glass, and a myriad of other random items. My heart broke as I wondered to whom these items belonged. Likely, they were not even belongings to the owner of the house on which we worked. They probably floated away from some other home and found their way to this spot where I would pick them up later. These were symbolic to me of a life that was totally disrupted, displaced, and disheveled. My heart went out to those whose world was rocked by the hurricane.

From Pastor Brian:

Ned, thanks for getting this great feedback from Todd, Brian, and Bonnie. And thank you to all of the Living Word people who are going on these trips.

If you are interested in such a trip, visit our website (under the Serve tab click Disaster Relief).

Lord, thank you for the resources we have of people, time, talent, love, and the desire to serve. May we be a blessing to the people who need what we have to offer. Amen.