Where Can One Go During A Disaster
Please do catch a view of the SWD Media link below. It is an older video. But it fits well with the focus today on SWD Disaster Assistance Response Team, plus it is just a good video as it focuses on other aspects of GC and SWD Ministry.
Welcome to a new week. Sometimes we are welcomed into a new set of circumstances that are not so welcoming. Such was the case in March 2020. SWD Area 2 Director Clarence Ullrich and I were on our way home one Sunday afternoon following the General Conference Church of God (Seventh Day) Southwest District, GC COG7 SWD, Annual Board and Ministry Directors Meeting March 7-8 in San Antonio, Texas, when it began to be evident this week would likely be different than anything we have personally experienced before. There would be 119 new cases of COVID-19 reported as being diagnosed that day, about 2 people for every state and territory on average. Not really a major threat and the cases seem to be concentrated in very concise areas. For impact, I want to share some data you likely already know. But the focus is on a Ministry practiced by the SWD that is not an official SWD Ministry, but perhaps it should be. That Ministry is the SWD Disaster Assistance Response Team, DART.
Of course, you know the rest. In a few days, the federal, state, and city governments began informing us we must practice social distancing, stay isolated from one another and in some cases shelter in place. However, even before curfews and isolation was imposed by the various governments, Elder Jhabel Chagollan, President of the Greater Houston Pastors Group, called to discuss the matter and inform me he believed the developing situation was going to impact Local Churches and people in ways we had never experienced. The USA President and others were saying we should prepare for at least 2 weeks of being inconvenienced and possibly a longer extension would be necessary. I believed them. But I should have believed Pastor Jhabel. However, no one really knew the devastation this pandemic would be causing. After all, on March 11th there were 245 new cases diagnosed nationwide that day. But on March 12th the number of new cases diagnosed would almost double to 405 new cases, and concern began to grow. Three weeks later, by April 4th, the new daily cases would escalate to more than 35,000 new diagnoses, and on April 24th the number of cases diagnosed daily would peak at almost 37,000. Not every day was that high. But the pandemic resulted in more than 20,000 new cases daily being added to the totals in the United States, extending over several weeks and continue to this day. And, on May 23rd the New York Times reported more than 1.6 million people had been infected with the corona virus resulting in COVID-19 and it had taken 96,610 lives thus far.
The SWD Superintendent did not launch a DART Ministry for the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he began communicating regularly with the SWD Leadership Team, focusing on drawing attention to the fact the Church was made up of believers in Jesus Christ and not tabernacles of wood and stone. Therefore, the Church was open but needed to find new ways of fulfilling the Great Commission in becoming a Vibrant 21st Century Church, a pure and holy bride for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even more, we should not panic because God did not give us a mind to panic and we should put our trust in him for his eternal promises. Also, the SWD Superintendent committed to do a daily blog, such as this one, communicating it through the SWD Media website and via email with some of the Core SWD Ministry Partners. At some point I will stop writing a daily blog, but for now it continues.
On August 25, 2017 another Disaster impacted the Texas coast and SWD when Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Causing about $125 billion in damage, Harvey ranks as the second-most costly hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since 1900. Federal forces rescued 10,000 people who were trapped in their homes or on flooded highways.
Immediately the SWD Administration responded by forming two Disaster Assistance Response Teams, SWD DART, one in Corpus Christi and one in Houston. The design of the SWD DART was to put the headship under the SWD Area Director serving each area and to appoint a team of DART Administrators who would oversee and supervise the volunteers who joined their teams. It worked very well with funds coming from the GC COG7 Missions Disaster Relief Funds and managed by each of the SWD Area Directors and their Area DART Administrators working in conjunction with the Area Pastors Groups.
In the Greater Houston SWD DART launch meeting, the person I had decided should join then Area 3 Director Francisco Camarillo as a DART Administrator, David Vazquez, said to me in front of the 60 or so people who had come to volunteer their services in this new ministry, “You are asking the near impossible. You are asking us to design and build the infrastructure of a disaster response team, WHILE WE ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A BIG DISASTER. What you are asking us to do is like asking a mechanic to change the oil in a car while it is going down the road.” I agreed that was a good analogy and informed him and everyone else, “If it was easy, I would have just done it. But it is not easy, and I am asking you, some of the best administrators I know, to design and build what we need to respond to this disaster. If we succeed it will be a miracle of God.” Indeed, God did perform a miracle.
Well, David Vazquez did join the Team with Francisco Camarillo. He chose excellent core team members and built a beautiful multi-tiered ministry that served Greater Houston both inside and outside the Church. The congregations collaborated with each other and submitted to the leadership in a united effort to do ministry. They learned how to change the oil in a car while it is going down the road. That kind of miracle is done by God through the power of his Holy Spirit working through his servants. Well done, everyone of you who worked on that SWD DART Ministry back in 2017. You glorified God and edified the Church. You showed the world what Christian love looks like in the family of God.
So, when the great floods of 2019 began hitting the USA, the Superintendent considered reactivating the SWD DART Ministry and contacted David Vazquez informing him his administrative services were needed once again. Oklahoma and Arkansas began experiencing the disaster in late May 2019 causing devasting damage along Oklahoma’s and Arkansas’s rivers and streams. Later in the season Tropical Depression Imelda dumped as much as 43 inches of water on some parts of southeast Texas in a span of just 72 hours. The deluge flooded thousands of homes and vehicles and left at least five people dead in Texas. Imelda was the most significant storm to hit greater Houston since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city two years earlier. By the grace of God, in both those disasters the GC COG7 SWD Churches and Members were mostly spared. Albeit, SWD Men’s Ministry Director Sergio Alfaro and his wife Mary did get caught in the Houston flood waters while helping neighbors and it almost cost them their lives, spending two harrowing hours hanging to a small tree in deep water. The Pasadena COG7 received some flooding that required repairs. And, in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Conference President Jerad Ullrich received damage to floors which had to be replaced or repaired. There were others who received damage also. But the GC COG7 SWD Churches and families were spared to a great extent.
David Vazquez and the Superintendent began early in the response before the outcome of damages had been determined for Greater Houston. David Vazquez felt better about leading this SWD DART Mission because he now had experience and because he had already identified key personnel to serve with him. Little did he or the Superintendent know how ill prepared we were to repeat what had been such a huge success two years earlier. David and I rejoiced together that the Greater Houston Area, especially the GC COG7 Churches and Members were spared this time and pledged to take this as a lesson and be better prepared when the next major disaster strikes.
There are several reasons this has been shared with you. 1) It is important to know such a ministry has been tried and worked within our membership in the SWD. 2) It helps me stay aware we have not officially placed this as one of the SWD Global Ministries and it should be considered in a future SWD Board meeting. 3) It serves to inform you Ministry Opportunities abound in the SWD, and if you are looking to make a positive contribution towards the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the SWD is a place where you can serve and take risks for the cause of our Lord. 4) I wanted to include this group of people, some of them by name, to whom I am so grateful for the Ministry Partnership, labors of love and works of faith.
Please do watch the video clip below. It is dated, being made back in 2017. But it starts with Pastor Juan Rios and Pastor Ron Cummings of Corpus Christi who were leaders with the SWD Area 7 Director Misael Ibarra. Also, it lets me highlight again the SWD Media Ministry of which we are incredibly pleased. After you watch this video clip, surf around the SWD Media sites a bit and see what else may inspire you to become Ministry Partners with these leaders.
Having decided I would just write today without using Bible reference, I found it convicting to go ahead and include some verses I hope will be an inspiration for you as they were for me.
Psalm 57:1-2, NIV
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
Proverbs 3:25-36, NIV
Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your feet from being snared.
Psalm 46:1-2, NIV
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Psalm 91:2, NIV
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
2 Corinthians 5:1, NIV
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Isaiah 43:2, NIV
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
Nahum 1:7, NIV
The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.
Matthew 7:25, NIV
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
Philippians 2:4, NAS
do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Galatians 6:2, NAS
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Romans 12:10, NAS
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;
Galatians 6:10, NAS
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
1 Timothy 5:8, NAS
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Proverbs 21:13, NAS
He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be answered.
Galatians 2:10, NAS
They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.