Angels in the aftermath: Andee's story
Thrivent member Andee Casarez recalls the day she and her family were forced to evacuate their home in Katy, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit.
"I couldn't believe this was happening to us until we left our home in waist-high water," says Andee. "When we were allowed to return two weeks later, our neighborhood looked like a war zone. There was glass all over. And concrete fences were knocked out from the pressure of the water created by motor boats that were rescuing people and animals from their homes."
"As soon as we had to leave our house, people began to take us under their wings." – Andee Casarez
Yet in the aftermath of the hurricane, she was overcome not by a sense of shock or fear, but of gratitude. "As soon as we had to leave our home, people began to take us under their wings," Andee says.
Her brother-in-law located a boat to get the family to safety. A past coworker found an apartment for the family to rent until their home was repaired. A friend in Nebraska applied to lead a Thrivent Action Team and organized a fundraiser.
"I know that it was God's way of saying, 'I've got you,'" says Andee. "I don't remember feeling scared. People lifted us up, so we never felt helpless."
Laurie Holleway volunteers her time to assist with disaster recovery efforts in the Houston area.
From survivor to volunteer: Laurie's story
After surviving Hurricane Harvey, Laurie Holleway told her husband, "the Lord is calling me, but I don't know what he wants me to do."
She found her answer during a Sunday worship service at Salem Lutheran Church. The church had acquired a large warehouse, where volunteers could accept donations and then distribute the items to hurricane victims. When the pastor asked if anyone could operate a forklift, Laurie looked at her husband. He smiled and whispered, "There’s your calling."
"I told God, 'I'll volunteer until you show me what's next'," Laurie says.
Today, Salem Lutheran continues to partner with Trinity Klein Lutheran Church to assist with disaster recovery efforts. And Laurie (who worked her way up from forklift operator to distribution manager) continues to follow her calling.
“We're going to be doing this for a long time," says Laurie. "And we're always seeking volunteers to help."
The damage caused by the 2017 hurricane season was so catastrophic and widespread that the recovery is projected to take five to seven years.
As of July 2018, more than 100 households in the Middle Keys were still living in FEMA temporary trailers.2 Nearly 135,000 homes in the Houston area were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. And in Puerto Rico, an island of nearly 3.4 million people, power was fully restored nearly 11 months after Irma swept through.
Convoy of Hope response to Hurricane Irma and Maria, September 2017 – August 2018.
Generosity goes the distance: Stories from faith communities
Caleb Campbell, pastor of Desert Springs Bible Church in Arizona, recently returned from Texas after volunteering with members of his congregation. "Most of us were shocked at the devastation and need that is still there," he said. "Especially since it is no longer in heavy news coverage."
"Most of us were shocked at the devastation and need that is still there." – Pastor Caleb Campbell
Tim Birdwell, pastor of Phoenix Bible Church, also led a volunteer team to the Houston area where they met resilient and grateful people. "The woman we served thanked us 100 times and fed us every time we came," Tim recalls. "She was in tears when we left about why we would give our time and travel to bless someone we didn’t even know."
Like so many volunteers, connecting with real people experiencing adversity, and seeing the extent of the destruction up close, left an imprint that is hard to forget. “It was amazing to see the devastation seven months post-hurricane," Tim says. "People still need help so badly."
Our continued prayers go out to the families affected by last year’s natural disasters and to the thousands of volunteers who continue to assist them.
Orphan Grain Train response to Hurricane Harvey, September 2017 – August 2018.
Habitat for Humanity response to Hurricane Harvey, September 2017 – August 2018.