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The hands and feet of Jesus: Volunteers work on Hurricane Harvey cleanup

Volunteers from Dickinson relax for dinner while working on cleanup from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.1 / 3
The volunteers from Dickinson and several from other U.S. communities pose with a couple in Rockport, Texas, and a sign, "Bless Our Home" that was found in the debris of their home. 2 / 3
The volunteers from Dickinson were overwhelmed by the destruction of neighborhoods in Rockport, Texas, when they arrived to help with cleanup.3 / 3

When Hurricane Harvey swept through Rockport, Texas, it left behind piles of debris and despair. How were the homeowners, particularly the elderly and widowed ever going to recover?

Images of the damage to Houston and the Gulf Coast communities were etched into the heart of Wayne Craig, a master electrician from Dickinson. He’d made missions trips to New Hope, Uganda with teams from the Evangelical Bible Church, but never one in the United States.

“Pastor Ron (Dazell) has been convicting my heart to understand the mission field does not start beyond the borders of the United States -- some of the greatest mission work we can do is in our own backyard,” he said.

It was around day two or three of Hurricane Harvey when he got to thinking about the Minot flood and remembering how crews of out-of-state volunteers came to help. He contacted Evangelical Bible Church Senior Pastor Tim Privratsky and Associate Pastor Ron Dazell with his vision of North Dakota saying thank you and helping their Texas neighbors. They  agreed that Samaritan’s Purse was the perfect organization to contact.

Ten volunteers from the church stepped forward to go on the trip, along with Craig’s  brother-in- law and sister. They crammed into three vehicles, and left the church at 4 p.m., Oct. 20, and drove 28½ hours straight through to Houston.

“We did not worry about what we’d be doing -- the biggest challenge was getting there,” Craig said.

They arrived in time to attend worship services with the church that was hosting the team, and to dip their toes in the waters of the Gulf Coast. Monday, they headed over to Rockport -- where the eye of the storm made land.

“Remember Houston flooded, but Rockport was in total destruction -- it looked like the path of a tornado -- we’d see six homes destroyed and one standing. Even the block homes were pushed over,” he said.

They were assigned to a neighborhood of older homeowners.

“What really touched me were the homeowners telling stories of total despair. By us being there, we were their hope, their starting point,” he said. “Of course, we didn’t get everything done. We made their yards look nice and gutted out their houses, but it was a starting point of progress.”

Having served in the mission field before, Craig was prepared for the devastation -- others were not.Team member Kim Emmerich said it was overwhelming.

“I can only imagine how overwhelmed I would feel,” she said.

She was hesitant about coming along on the trip,  not sure she could contribute. She went anyway.

“I’d seen images on TV and my heart went out to the people. Wayne assured me I could make a contribution,” she said.

Emmerich was one of five women who worked side by side with the men. As the sheetrock was hammered out and the trees cut, they took the debris to piles beside the street. There were fire ants, snakes and lots of cockroaches.

“I didn’t get bit -- and I was thankful there were no mice,” she said.

“The homeowners would tell us their stories and it seemed to be healing for them to be able to share with us,” Emmerich said. “There were lots of tears. They were losing hope and now we were offering hope. Many were older ladies, one man was blind, another man was disabled. They were so thankful for the help and hope.”

She felt the synergy of the team -- the coordinated energy multiplied by working together.

“It was amazing what we could accomplish,” she said.

The friends she’s made stay connected through Facebook.

“It was humbling for the people to accept help, but we said  they’ve been through so much, and what we were doing was only a portion, she said. “I guess I feel renewed to continue to serve, rather than getting into retirement age, rather than coasting, I want to serve for the kingdom.”

Craig said one of  blessings of the trip for him  was seeing Kim do so well.

“She worked side by side with me and talked with the homeowners . It was the women who really bound our team to the homeowners.”

Craig and several other volunteers were assigned chainsaws to clear the trees -- mostly coastal oak. The trees grow with twisted limbs and were difficult and heavy to remove.

“It was ironic-- the team from North Dakota became the lumberjacks of Texas,” he said.

Along with the excessive heat, the fire ants were horrible, he said.

“They were in walls -- all over. We picked up insulation and put it in bags. We saw millions of these ants, but nobody got bit.”

The North Dakota team was paired with several other individuals and couples. Together, they worked on at least eight homes -- some requiring several hours  and others took multiple days.

“There were other faith-based organizations -- we’d see other signs on vehicles driving around,” he said.

Samaritan’s purse volunteers not only cleaned yards, but their chaplains were on hand to help the homeowners through the grieving process.

“I like to say we were the hands and feet of Jesus -- we were there serving, sowing, planting, fertilizing,” he said. “We had the great fortune of one homeowner’s friends giving her life to Christ. She’d never been in church before. It was a pretty touching moment.”

Another time, Craig represented Samaritan’s purse in presenting a Bible to a homeowner. The cover was filled with messages from the N.D. team.

If anyone plans to return next year for the rebuilding process, Craig added, “You can’t drive 1,500 miles and not see them.”

He gave credit to Samaritan’s Purse for its professionalism in responding to a disaster -- trailers with showers, meals, tools and T-shirts for the volunteers.

Pastor Tim also spoke positively regarding the trip.

“I’m proud of the people for taking a  week off of their work to go down and work with Samaritan's Purse -- it's part of the church (mission) to go outside of the walls to work like this,” he said.

Craig told a story that validated his decision to volunteer:

“We were in the gym where they feed us every morning. It was early and I’m sitting by myself drinking coffee and reading my Bible when an elderly man (82) came in, saw my N.D. T-shirt and sat down with me.”

About 20 years ago, he said he’d heard about a flood in a town called Fargo and had a desire to fill a semi load of food for those impacted by the flood. He rounded up the food and found an agency to haul it free. Then they learned that the children often got forgotten in floods. What they really needed were teddy bears. So, the man collects  another truck full of teddy bears and cancels his sailing vacation so he and his wife could haul them to Fargo.

“He personally handed out the teddy bears,” Craig said.

The  gentleman further added that he was in the gym to pick up the garbage and clean the kitchen after meals were served.

“That tells I still have 35 years of serving,” said Craig.

Craig and Pastor Ron have already purchased their tickets for a mission’s trip to New Hope Uganda the end of January

“Ron will continue with his ministry of training pastors, and I like to say, I’ll go and carry his luggage.”