Helping the Other Up
Solidarity Amongst Believers Lifts Spirits in Houston
On the evening of August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, causing great devastation and flooding along its path. Much of the city of Houston and a widespread surrounding area was underwater. Among the flooded structures was The Oaks Adventist Christian School, a kindergarten through 12th grade institution that serves 137 students in the Houston area.
During the second week of school, the faculty, staff, and students made preparations with an organized strategy to prepare for the storm. Just over a year ago they had undergone much damage due to the “Tax Day Flood” of 2016. The devastation in the previous flood was extensive and the school suffered much loss. However, they were warned that this storm was stronger and they needed to prepare now more than ever. They removed valuable equipment and placed valuable school assets on higher ground, covered windows, and evacuated the school. Despite the preparation, the school facility flooded once again, and the property was reachable only by boat.
Four days after the catastrophe, Samuel Vega, Associate Pastor of the Houston Spring Branch Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with two elders from the church who were conducting rescues by boat, passed by the school. Vega recorded the bleak image of what the school looked like and how much flooding had occurred, hoping to raise awareness of the need for help. In the recording, he appealed to all watchers to share the video to continue raising awareness, as the road to recovery would be long and arduous. He hoped that by raising awareness people would be moved to aid the school through financial donations and volunteering in the reconstruction process.
The following Sunday, as the school faculty and staff prepared to clean out the school, 300 volunteers showed up from across the city and state to work. They helped strip out the soaked walls and clear out the water at the school. Lily Hernandez, treasurer at The Oaks, said that on the initial Sunday, they achieved a month’s worth of work in one day, thanks to the volunteers who stepped up. This was the first stage in a long recovery period.
The school suffered up to six feet of flooding in some areas, and those walls would need to be torn apart and reconstructed. Through social media, word of “Work Bee” days spread. For the first stage of demolition and cleaning, the removal of hazardous debris, only individuals over 18 years of age were allowed. During this time, Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) sent 25 volunteers. Under the leadership of SWAU vice president James The, along with the heads of enrollment and spiritual development, the team helped the school begin the demolition process. These volunteers came to school on Labor Day weekend, giving up their holiday to be active in the work of the Lord and to be His hands and feet.
Additional help came from sister schools throughout the Southwestern Union. Ozark Adventist Academy in Gentry, Arkansas, sent 25 volunteers, accompanied by their principal, Mike Dale. South Texas Christian Academy from McAllen, Texas, also came to the aid of The Oaks, sending 15 volunteers. The teams of volunteers undertook various tasks to aid in the reconstruction of the school.
In addition to building damage, school supplies and furniture inside the school were also ruined. Burton Adventist Academy in Arlington, Texas, has arranged for a benefit banquet in which all profits will go to the purchase of brand new desks for students at The Oaks. North Dallas Adventist Academy in Richardson, Texas, sent two trucks full of school furniture such as school boards, office desks, cabinets, microwaves, and much more. The Oaks’ High School Principal, James Friesen was greatly touched by these acts of generosity. He believes that, after all this hardship, the sense of community built through these acts of assistance have encouraged the school’s students and will ultimately excite the kids to learn.
The Oaks student body has found much encouragement in the help of so many. The healthy sports rivalry between schools was completely overshadowed in the moments of need. Friesen has found encouragement seeing how God pulled people together nationally and locally to help in any way possible. They have not felt alone nor forsaken. While the difficulties and struggles may be discouraging and overwhelming at times, seeing God work actively through so many people is beyond what they could have ever hoped.
Entities including the Houston Astros baseball team, churches from the area and out of state, along with community members, have helped and pitched in with rebuilding and recovery. Nearby restaurants familiar with the school provided free lunches to all those who came to volunteer in the reconstruction as a way of saying “thank you.” Friesen believes that now, in the last stages of the reconstruction, when the work may seem to be dreadful and the volunteers are tired, prayer and support are greatly needed, as every day is a step closer to completion.
When The Oaks Adventist Christian School reopens its doors to students and restarts school activities in late September, the school will not be completely repaired. Temporary classrooms have been set up in the gymnasium until all repairs have been concluded. Hernandez is grateful to God and optimistic, saying, “It could have been so much worse. Everyone is safe and we saved a lot of supplies. We’re going to get through this one, too.”
Lastly, Friesen is grateful to all the community members, parents, and churches who have been so selfless and generous in helping the school get back on its feet. From donating their time and hard work to great financial donations, all have been a testament in showing the Gospel of the Good News in its truest form. Friesen believes that caring for others is the most important part in the Lord’s work: “If you care for others, they’ll care about what you know.” Meeting the needs of our students will in turn allow us to share the gospel with them and hence fulfill the Great Commission.