As soon as the river started rising Chaplain Bobby Page knew there had to be a way River Pointe Church could help.
The 22-year-old church had grown into three campuses from its original spot in Richmond at the corner of the Grand Parkway and Highway 59 into Missouri City where they meet Sundays at Elkins High School and their newest campus inside the loop on Shepherd and Washington inside Houston.
“So we sprang into action to feed first responders and national guardsmen to help and encourage them. And once people could get back to their neighborhoods and the shock of the damage of five feet of water in their homes, we had to find a way to serve,” recalled the former Brigadier General. He was a chaplain in the Air Force and has pastoral care and military background and now serves as the missions and care ministry pastor at River Pointe Church.
At the time of Harvey, the regular minister was on sabbatical and the pastor asked Page to lead efforts to serve the community. So they put out the call.
“We were hoping for maybe 500 people on Labor Day that would put on gloves and help strangers muck out their homes. At eight that morning, more than 1,000 people gathered for Harvey.
“We mobilized 3,000 volunteers who gave almost 57,000 hours and our non-profit friends tell us that is worth over a million dollars,” said Page, who was overwhelmed by the support.
He estimated they cleaned, repaired or elevated almost 500 homes in the area.
“We asked our congregation to give. It was beyond our expectations as to what might come in,” said Page.
The Louisiana native received an early training in flood help when storms hit east of Baton Rouge two summers ago.
“It was really crazy weather. An unnamed storm, they called it a rain event, dumped 30-plus inches of rain and my sister flooded with four feet of water,” he said. “She and my brother-in-law are older and disabled. Didn’t have flood insurance and both were living on social security. So a buddy went to help with mucking it out. It rips your heart out when you see houses flooded and all that stinky mud and so much ruined. Photo albums, peoples lives left on the side of the road.”
So he asked his pastor to create a fund drive and they accumulated enough to get his sister started until FEMA help arrived.
“When you get a max from FEMA of $30,000, that’s not enough to put a house back together,” he said.
Once or twice a month he put together a volunteer team who stayed at the church sleeping on air mattresses. After a year and a half, his sister was able to move back into her home. At one point he asked a builder friend to walk around the home after it was mucked out.
“I wasn’t going to ask him to rebuild. I said let me walk around with a clipboard with you. You tell me in order, what steps to do. It was unbelievable. I get chill bumps. It was extraordinary to me how that prepared me for Harvey. It was August, two years ago.” Page said.
So when Harvey hit Houston, the general knew there was an immediate need for cleaning supplies.
“We took a trailer and a truckload of supplies that people donated. That was the beginning of the process on Harvey,” he said.
He said you learn in the military the power of partnerships.
“We partnered with other organizations and worked hand in hand when there was an opportunity to serve and had them come in and train our people on how to rip out sheetrock. It’s amazing what happens when no one cares who gets the credit,” he said.
He said the church has always had an outward focus.
“We are not here for us, but to serve our community and boy, this really mobilized us. It just took it to another level and renewed my commitment to the point of the Gospel as well,” said Page. “We are not here to be served, but to serve.”
He has seen the community outreach change members of his church. He recalled one community member who “just had a lack of belonging and purpose.”
“He was a good-hearted man and he saw his neighbors hurting and the authenticity of those wanting to help, working as a team. He saw something that touched him deep inside. He said ‘I want to be like’ that and my goodness, he has been a beautiful part of our church and continues to serve others,” Page said.
“For me, personally, that’s where my journey with Jesus begins. I just saw how even in a hopeless situation, God can come through if we work together; if we trust. I saw that with my sister, and here again for so many families,” Page said.
The helping didn’t end with Harvey.
Inspired by what they were able to accomplish, he challenged the church to give 30,000 more hours of volunteer service.
During Harvey, to keep track of so many details, they hired part-time a young lady who grew up in the church and just finished college in administration, to help coordinate all the details.
“It’s not easy putting all the projects together and to keep the money moving along at the right place and the right time. That’s how we realized how much we had done. So we gave a report to the church and on the anniversary of Harvey we recognized all those who served and renewed our commitment to stay with this,” Page said.
According to their report, they raised $1 million as a congregation for recovery efforts; helped 460 homes with mucking, gutting, repairs and elevations; mobilized more than 3,000 RPC volunteers who helped throughout the Harvey relief efforts; and served a total of 57,000 hours in the community.
A year after Harvey, the work continues
“We just signed a contract sealing a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and we will start September 15 to build a house for a Rosenberg family that lost their home during Harvey,” he said.