Howdy, y'all!! Information about the Mission Team will be published here during the Mission Trip February 5th - February 9th. Check back here for more updates.
Sunday, Feb. 4
Here we are at the beginning of another mission trip from St. John's. We have changed our venue this year to Houston, Texas, as part of the on-going Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Harvey set a record for the most rain from one storm and it is the most expensive hurricane in US history. 15,000 homes were destroyed and nearly 20 times that were damaged. We don't know yet what we will be doing exactly, but it will probably be hanging drywall or putting up insulation. We will find that out tomorrow morning. One thing we have learned from prior trips is that you need to be flexible because thing can change quickly. What we do know is that whatever we do, it will be helping someone and will be done to the glory of God.
Since we flew out of Chicago O'Hare, our day started about 6:15 AM partly due to the forecast in Chicago for snow and strong winds. There wasn't a lot of traffic, but keeping the windshield clear was a constant battle. You can see in the photo that there wasn't a tremendous amount of snow but it was enough to cause problems. As the second picture shows, the concourse in O'Hare wasn't very busy.
The flight boarded on time, but that was about all that was on time. Once on the plane, departure time came and went and after about 15 minutes we backed up a bit and spent 45 minutes getting de-iced. Then onto the tarmac where we were 30th in line to take off. They only had one runway clean for take off. Then they shut that down in order to allow more planes to land. Even though there wasn't much snow, it was enough to make the whole airport look white to the incoming planes. All of this resulted in nearly a two hour delay in our take off, but take off we did. Upon our arrival in Houston, we got our vehicle and took the 45 minute drive to Tomball, TX, a suburb on the north side of Houston, to Salem Lutheran where we will sleep and get our meals. Salem is a congregation established in 1851 and has a beautiful campus with a very large worship center and a grade school.
We have been given a tour of the facilities, found our sleeping rooms, and settled in to watch the Super Bowl. Philadelphia has just taken the ball away from the Patriots and it looks like we will have a new champion. Next year the Bears --- sometimes I crack me up!!! More tomorrow!
Monday, February 5
After finishing up last night, I stepped outside to get a picture of the church steeple. Being lit from the inside, it is a striking image for the church to project. The second picture for today shows a series of bird sculptures that are suspended over the lunchroom in the school which is where we eat our evening meal.
Our day started at 7:15 with breakfast and devotions led by one of the staff here at the school. Kolaches and donuts were the order of the day. Kolaches are supposed to be pastries with a fruit filling but here they were basically pigs in a blanket.
After breakfast we girded up our loins (Bible talk for get ready to head out) and took a 25 minute drive to Trinity Lutheran church in Klein. This church is the one that handles all the vetting of homes and homeowners wanting help. They also look at the sites to determine what needs to be done and organizes and direct the work of the volunteers. Between Salem and Trinity, many man-hours and dollars have been spent and stewarded in the recovery efforts in the greater Houston area.
Our first assignment was to a home in Humble, about 35 minutes from the church in Klein. You must pronounce it without the 'H' or they will know that you are a Yankee. Luckily we were never challenged although we were ready!! Anyway the house in Umble was a nice looking place and the neighborhood was nice as well. We were told that there was 11 feet of water in the house.
They have been working on this house for a while as most of the sheet rock and first coat of mudding had been done. Initially, we were sanding the first coat of mud. Some of the mudding was just a bit sloppy and sanding was a chore. They are hoping that the finish coat will 'fix' it.
We also had an electrician on site from North Dakota hooking up switches and outlets and a farmer from Iowa hanging some sheet rock in the master bath. It was only one wall and part of another, but going around the pipes and switches and outlets can be very time consuming.
The Midwest is well represented on this trip. There is a couple from Iowa and her brother and his wife from North Dakota. There are also two guys from Wisconsin to go along with Pat Smith, Sheila and me and our friends Ken and Ronda Kruse from Washington. All of us are struggling a little bit to get into a 'recovery' mode of thinking about home repair. Things that would normally not be done become acceptable when people are desperately working to put their lives back together and have limited resources to make it happen. Very few around here had flood insurance since flooding is normally not an issue unless you live along a river, creek or bayou.
Once we finished in the master bath, we picked up all the tools and made the trip back to Salem (about 45 minutes) because they had done all the work in that house that was going to be done by the Lutheran groups. Tomorrow we move on to another house in Houston where we will start the day by moving 125 panels of drywall into the house. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? We just keep reminding ourselves that we are lending a helping hand to someone who has been knocked down and needs the help.
After the pictures of our workday, I have included a couple of photos from Salem. The first one shows the worship center with the pond and fountain in front of it and the steeple again showing behind it. There is a lot more to the campus, including a daycare center, a school and a nice gymnasium with a workout center and a suspended jogging track. It really is an amazing facility and God has blessed them greatly and it is encouraging to see them in turn being a blessing to others.
The next photo is what our dormitories look like. A series of aluminum cots for our sleeping pleasure. I know that they have accommodated larger groups than what this room can hold but I don't know where they all stay.
Finally, we have a group of card players spending some of the evening hours together laughing and sharing. We had a very nice meal for supper and the group is small enough to fit around one table which made for a lot of friendly conversation.
Well, it is time to call it quits and head for my cot and lights out. We hear that you all are getting quite a snow storm this evening. You will be in our prayers as we hope that we are in yours as well.
We headed off to a new location this morning and it didn't have any of the needed supplies, so our first stop was at a warehouse to load up two trailers with drywall. We were met there by Laurie, the materials and volunteers coordinator. She showed us around the warehouse and told us her story and how God has been blessing their efforts here in Tomball. Laurie had worked in a warehouse at one time before becoming a teacher at Salem Lutheran church in Tomball. After Harvey, the congregation was wanting to be a part of the rebuilding efforts and were looking for someone who could manage and coordinate the supplies that would be coming in. She prayed about and came to the conclusion that this was why God had brought her here because she had the skills needed including being adept at handling a forklift, as you can see in one of the photos. As supplies started coming in, the next concern was where to store it until it could be used. That is when a local warehouse offered them a very large, very nice facility along with forklifts and fuel to stage the materials and load the vehicles--all free of charge. After a while, the congregation had about reached their limit of what they could do, and they weren't sure how continued supplies could be secured. An organization called World Vision was helping supply non-profits in the area but could only support 30, and Heart for Texas had found out about it too late and were on a waiting list. One of the 30 organizations was going to stop their work and contacted Heart for Texas to see if they wanted their remaining supplies. Of course, they did. Now that organization is continuing to receive supplies from World Vision and, in turn, giving it to Heart for Texas. In the warehouse, there are many boxes of flooring, rolls of insulation, stacks of drywall, compressors, brooms, and a large supply of bathroom vanities--but no tops, until just recently. A supplier wanted to know if they could use some vanity tops. Voila!! Another God moment. Tops for the vanities. They also had a large supply of water in gallon jugs. They didn't want to waste it, but it wasn't really needed either. Well, they run a youth camp each summer for a week. Seems there is exactly enough water for each youth to have a gallon a day for the week and with the summers in the Houston area, they will need to be drinking at least a gallon a day. God is good!!
After the tour and loading the trailers, we set off for the home of Trinidad and Linda Hernandez. He is a very happy man and appreciative of all the work being done for him. He has an interesting story as well. He lives across the street from a very nice neighborhood where post Harvey assistance wasn't really needed, so he was overlooked. He didn't let that bother him, and he just kept working on his house on his own. Somebody who knew of him and what a great guy he is told Heart of Texas of his predicament. They went to check it out and knew that they needed to help him. This was on a Friday, and Monday of the next week was that last day that the city of Houston was offering free pick-up of housing debris. So, the Heart for Texas supervisor pulled all the crews that were working over to his house, and, by Monday morning, they had cleaned out his house and the street lined for about 100 yards with debris for pick-up. Now we were there to start putting things back together.
It took about an hour to unload the 125 sheets of drywall and the insulation, but soon we were busy putting up insulation and pulling nails and screws that had been missed when cleaning out the house. The ladies took it upon themselves to insulate and provide some privacy to the main bathroom. Dan and Brian took on insulating the kitchen while Ken and I removed screws and lent a hand as needed with the other projects. By the end of the day things were starting to look a lot different.--although not as different as when we are able to get some of the drywall up. We were all a little sore by the end of the day and a nice hot shower back at Salem felt mighty good. Even so, we are looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. May God continue to protect you!
Wednesday, Feb. 7
Today is going to be a rainy day and cool. Good thing we got all the drywall unloaded yesterday. We found out at the end of the day yesterday that the master bath will need to be demolished. Apparently Linda Hernandez wanted to demo it, but Trinidad did not. Kent, the general foreman for Heart for Texas work crews, took a look at it and told Trinidad that it had to be demolished because the water in the walls would have allowed mold to start forming and not addressing that could be very dangerous. Score one for Linda. We decided to tackle that chore toward the end of the day.
We started the day as we left it on Tuesday, putting up insulation, drywall, moving electric lines and re-building a wall in the kitchen. The kitchen is a converted garage and the framing where the garage door had been was completely gone. Dan and Brian took on that challenge while the rest of us measured, cut and hung drywall. There are a lot of small spaces, electrical boxes and non-standard stud widths to deal with, so the going is slow. Also complicating the work is piles of drywall and all the household belongings piled in the middle of the room. Everyone is in pretty high spirits and there is a lot of laughing and bantering going on.
I am going to have to sign off for this evening, We are all very tired, I am having some issues getting photos from my phone to my computer and we are wondering what the winter storm will do to our travel plans for Saturday. I hope to add more to this tomorrow. Good night and God bless!!
I am back! My pictures finally downloaded and now they are a part of the story. We got some company in the form of Chuck, an electrical engineer that works part time with the Heart for Texas organization, and Kent, our general foreman. They were taking stock of what needed to be done and if there were any other issues that had not yet surfaced. John, a volunteer from N. Dakota, was also there checking out the electrical and found a couple of 'oddities' that will have to be addressed.
Besides the visual progress, the highlight of the day was Kent telling us about the coverage they got from The Today Show. They heard about what was happening in Houston and did their show live from Houston. They were sponsored by Lowe's and brought in 98 families that had been impacted by Harvey as their guests. In addition, each family received a Lowe's gift card worth $2000 and they had brought in $250,000 worth of merchandise and let the families pick what they needed. As it turned out, the family that was the featured family of the show was Trinidad Hernandez. This is the family whose home we are working on this week. That seems pretty cool to us.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, we had the ladies leave and the men tackled the master bath. Since mold could be an issue, we made sure to wear masks, long sleeves, gloves and safety glasses. It was pretty hard work getting the tile off and we finally knocked off around 5:30 and we were about two thirds done. We were all pretty tired and looking forward to a nice hot shower and a night out for dinner. Rhonda has a daughter and a cousin in the area and asked for recommendations. Her son-in-law suggested a steak house he uses to take his Catepillar dealers to. Steaks there start around $40. Ouch!! Her cousin pointed us toward the Saltgrass Steakhouse. It seemed to more in line with our budgets, so that is where we went. It was a nice, western themed steakhouse and we all loved our meals, especially the Pecan Pie Bread Pudding dessert, yum!!
I do believe that is about all I have to share with you about our day Wednesday. Be sure to scroll down to see how our Thursday progressed.
Thursday, Feb. 8
Today, the temperatures are supposed to be a lot nicer than yesterday and the sun is shining. Yipee!!
This morning, we had to say good-bye to Roger and Sandy, the couple from Iowa. They had come down last week and it was time for them to go home. John, Sandy's brother, and his wife Bonnie from N. Dakota will be with us tomorrow as well as Dan and Brian. Interesting tidbit about Roger and Sandy. They recently called a new pastor to their congregation and it turned out to be the pastor from Ken and Rhonda's church in Peoria, Redeemer. To make it even more interesting, last week, Roger and Sandy were working with a pastor from the Houston area who used to be the assistant pastor at Redeemer. Small world!!
Since Rhonda had gotten a Thrivent grant, we took advantage of the sunshine to get a couple of photos outside Trinidad's house in our brand spankin' new Thrivent t-shirts.
I guess I let you all down a bit today because I didn't get very many pictures. I can't say that at the end of the day that the difference from the day before was as great as in previous days, but we did finish demoing the master bath, the kitchen has all it dry wall up, a couple of closets are done and the main hallway is starting to get some drywall as well. Here is something that we have not told you about Trinidad yet. He is a non-denominational pastor and his house will be his church. The great room will be their worship area and one of the bedrooms will become the Sunday School room. They are a very small congregation. Right now they meet in a small tent next to the camper they have been living in and if the weather is to cold or rainy, they meet in the camper. He doesn't have a church bell, so he calls the service with a shofar. The same kind of instrument mentioned in the Bible and used by the Jewish soldiers when the walls of Jerico fell.
The other highlight for the day was actually provided by our synod. They have sent out a crew to photograph, video, and report on the various LCMS relief efforts in Florida and Texas. Today was the day they were in Houston and they were sent to the Hernandez house, partly because of him being featured on The Today Show and partly because it was the only active site at the time.
When they showed up, they spent some time taking some pictures and video and then they interviewed Trinidad. That, however, was not the end of it. The interviewer was Pam Nielsen, who is the Associate Executive Director for the Communications Department for the LCMS. She also knew Sheila through LWML, so she interviewed Sheila and Rhonda since they are both officers for our district. Pam said she had been interviewing guys all week and was glad to have some women to talk to. The video and some photos will find their way onto the LCMS website soon, probably under videos or hurricane relief. It was an exciting wrinkle to the day, punctuated by Trinidad giving as a few blasts on his shofar.
It is just about bedtime and our tired bodies are ready for it. We are praying for a good day tomorrow and a safe trip home.
Friday, Feb. 9
Well, in a way, today was the reverse of yesterday. Yesterday we were able to upload pictures but didn't take very many photos. Today, we remembered to take photos but have not been able to upload any even though it started around 2:30 this afternoon and it is now 10:30. Even so, it was a good day for us.
After breakfast and devotions led by one of the staff members here at Salem, we took a quick tour of their worship center and a Fair Market gift shop that they run. It is a beautiful facility and eventually there will be a picture on the site for you to see for yourself.
We again spent the day at the Hernandez home. Two of the ladies took a quick side trip to make some purchases to be a gift to Trinidad and Linda. We launched into more drywall and even though we are maybe 40% done with the house and a little disappointed to not get further, we are still pleased with the progress that has been made and the difference that we could see from Tuesday to Friday.
In addition to the gift given to the Hernandez' this afternoon, Brian left 4 quilts with us that people in his congregation had made for families here in Houston. He had given one to the Hernandez yesterday and since he and Dan had to leave today at 3 PM, he asked us to see that the Miller family (our Monday home), Kent (the general foreman), and Laurie (materials and volunteer coordinator. We also presented Laurie with $2000 worth of Lowe's gift cards to be used for helping people get back in their homes. She hopes to keep us updated on how they are put to good use. They are very conscientious of being good stewards of any and all gifts to Heart for Texas. We have also found out that they have a goal of getting 50 families back in their homes and the Hernandez home is #31.
It is getting late and we leave early tomorrow morning, so I need to sign off. Hopefully our flight will be uneventful as well as the drive home from Chicago. If I can, I will try and get today's pictures on line tomorrow. See you all in church Sunday.
Saturday, Feb. 10
Home again and it feels good. The pictures that we took on Friday have downloaded and I am able to put them on the website. You may have noticed in some of the pictures that not everything looks like you might expect or hope. I guess it was a kind of 'perfect storm'. We were dealing with amateur drywallers, not having all the correct tools at our disposal, working around some questionable construction, retrofitting into a flood ravaged structure and the decision to cut off the existing drywall that hadn't been damaged. Those cuts were less than ideal. We also were working around the guys dealing with the electrical systems of the house. If a wall had plugs or switches in it, we were to drywall only one side so that they could have easy and full access to the wires and boxes.
As we said before, we were glad for the progress that was made and sad that it wasn't more. The smiles on Trinindad's face and the tears in Linda's eyes say more than we possible could express about what helping this way can mean to someone who is overwhelmed with what is needed to be done. Thank you for your financial support and your prayers. Another successful mission trip completed. Where will God lead us next year, back to El Paso, out of the country, who knows? I can hardly wait to find out.
St John's Lutheran Church
13443 Townline Road
Green Valley, IL 61534
Sunday 8:00am Traditional
Sunday 10:45am Contemporary
Wednesday 5:30pm Traditional
Sunday School & Bible Class
9:30am -Meet in Church