On Christmas night, 2008, Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson walked from their FEMA trailer to their dismantled home in Galveston and set up their make-shift dinner table. The walls were bare around them, and the floor was dirty from the remnants of Hurricane Ike.Mr. Stevenson lit a candle and the family proceeded to pray for the better part of an hour. They didn’t know how they would ever fix the home they had lived in for much of their life together. They could only pray for help.
A few weeks later, a volunteer caseworker with Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief and Development, Kathy Hill, found the Stevensons and offered assistance. Soon after, their home was gutted by volunteers, and a few months later in June, volunteers began repairs on the home.
Mr. Stevenson’s home is located just a few blocks from Offatts Bayou, and as the water rose, it flooded his home to just beneath his ceiling during Hurricane Ike’s tremendous storm surge. His entire home needed to be repaired.
Over the course of the summer, youth groups, college students, local workers, and volunteers from as far away as San Francisco worked on Mr. Stevenson’s home. Every Monday, Mr. Stevenson would greet the volunteers and thank them.
A very large man, Mr. Stevenson is an imposing presence. At the time, he sported a long gray beard and even longer gray hair pulled back into a pony-tail. Usually sweaty from his own repair work on his home and fixing old motors that fill his backyard, Mr. Stevenson looked like man that few would like to cross paths with. But in truth, Mr. Stevenson is a gentle man who has been sober for over 25 years. He walks with a cane and grows his hair out every year to donate to Locks of Love.
One Monday in July, I was visiting with the most recent volunteers, a youth group from Waco, and Mr. Stevenson began telling us about the storm and his home. He said he came back after the storm to see all of his possessions destroyed, and only the shell of a home. He told us the story of his Christmas prayers, and how desperate he was for anyone to help him piece his life back together.
Then he looked directly at those high-schoolers and said, “You are God-sends.” He paused as tears welled up in his eyes and repeated as his voice choked up, “You are God-sends.” His gruff exterior melted into the graciousness of a survivor of tragedy. Without another word, Mr. Stevenson turned around walked slowly back to his FEMA trailer.
The youth group was left in a state of profound silence. It was obvious how important and meaningful this work was. They realized, as I did, that lives were being changed, and perhaps saved through the simple sacrifice of time and a little hard labor.
Throughout the summer, Mr. Stevenson told his stories to every group and came to the brink of tears almost every time. He put a face to devastation that occurred across the Texas coast, and he forced everyone to realize that the pain and troubles don’t stop when the flood waters recede. The desperation continues until help is found, until survivors find their God-sends.
Mr. Stevenson’s home is now complete, and this Christmas he will celebrate the holidays in a newly repaired and refurbished home. He will say prayers of joy and thanks and look forward to a new chapter in his life.
Texas Episcopal Disaster Relief and Development has helped more than 130 people and families like Mr. Stevenson, and will continue to do so throughout the next year. If you would like to schedule a trip to Galveston to help repair and rebuild homes, contact Luke Blount, Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713.252.9693.