This article is taken from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas website, which demonstrates the importance of the currency of external relationships as the foundation of any ministries.
Mission to Rebuild Based on Community Relationships
The roots of this particular mission trip are 20+ years deep. The Rev. Jim Liberatore, rector of St. Andrew’s, Pearland has been planting seeds and tending relationships with people and institutions in the Pearland community for more than two decades and it paid off this summer for Harvey flood victims.
Liberatore and his associate, Debbie Allensworth, have ministered together for more than two decades. Three years ago, they brought the idea to the vestry of making Mosaic , the church’s second campus, a parallel outreach arm. The vestry approved the change in order for the church to have as much leverage to help the community as possible because many entities with grant money will not work with faith-based organizations. Because Mosaic is now its own 5013c, Allensworth is able to “sit at all sorts of tables that would not speak with churches.” Today, Mosaic, which functions as a nonprofit, is part of the Brazoria County Long Term Recovery Group addressing Harvey response and is a critical piece of the rebuilding puzzle said Liberatore.
St. Andrew’s and Mosaic are known throughout the area for their support of teachers and students in Title I schools, for outreach ministries that touch every aspect of the community from underserved elders to hosting senior prom for students with Down Syndrome. They partner with the local Muslim community to foster understanding and host neighborhood gatherings for worship and fellowship.
“Debbie and I have longtime relationships with different politicians. I pray with the superintendent of schools. We’ve worked with chefs, school teachers and bankers. And we have earned a lot of credibility because we have a reputation for being dependable,” Liberatore said. “That all helped us put together the pieces we needed to host the large group that Reach Mission Trips brought in July,” he added. Team members came from Trinity, Galveston and St. Mark's, Houston as well as churches from Colorado, New York and Ohio.
Liberatore gives much credit for their deep community ties to work he first did with Eric Law and Kaleidoscope Institute, an Episcopal program that provides “resources to equip church leaders to create sustainable churches and communities.” Kaleidoscope promotes a gift-based system of “holy currency” exchanges, that ensure sustainable ministry. It has worked well for St. Andrew’s and Mosaic.
“Eric Law’s work helped us understand the need for these relationships and because of that, we knew who to call and we already had those relationships in place to help us begin helping our neighbors and when we had the chance to host Reach.”
St. Andrew’s youth have joined mission teams with Reach Mission Trips for a number of years to do home repair across the United States. The Colorado-based Christian organization brought more than 100 teens and 30 adult sponsors to help repair 14 flooded homes in the Brazoria County. Team members were from Trinity, Galveston andSt. Mark's, Houston as well as churches from Colorado, New York and Ohio Because of their strong relationships in the community, Liberatore and Allensworth got the school district to provide a school to house the large group. Restaurants stepped up to feed the volunteer workers and the county commissioner showed up with his barbeque team to help feed and welcome the Reach volunteers. More than 50 members of St. Andrew’s helped with logistics during the week as well.
In Harvey’s aftermath, “a friend in North Carolina raised $6,000 for us and some runners got pledges to run in the Houston marathon to help,” Liberatore said. Former church members have sent monthly donations for rebuilding work. A $10,000 grant from Dow Chemical allowed them to purchase a trailer and tools. This has translated into new sheetrock, floor tiles, kitchen cabinets and more for people like Tammy Davis, who recently returned home.
Davis, a former kindergarten teacher, is a member of Grace, Alvin. The family, with four of six children at home when Harvey hit, evacuated as water was rising to the second floor. They eventually got 12 feet of water in their home. Davis grew up in the house and when the water started pouring in, she put the little ones in a canoe and pushed them out with her older kids at her side.
“The flood was like a scary movie,” Davis remembers. “and our house was like a dead house, a haunted house afterwards.”
The Davises spent the last year living in an antique store, a Galveston hotel and finally a rental house next door. They moved back into their home in July despite sheetrock dust covering the floor and a kitchen sink temporarily held up by 2x4s.
“Being home is a real blessing,” Davis said, as her daughter Scout chased one of three gray kittens out the front door, dodging boxes of floor tiles stacked by the wall. “I feel like I can finally rest,” she said. Sitting at a kitchen table, piled with unpacked items, and surrounded with teens hammering sheetrock, Davis seemed unfazed, adding, “When you wake up and want to work on something, you are here!” Her grandmother’s roses have begun to bloom again by the front door.
Davis home schools her children and has an autistic son who was especially traumatized by the upheaval. Even through this unsettled year, she managed to complete her communication degree from Lamar University in May, taking four classes in the fall of 2017 and five in the spring of 2018. She is upbeat in the face of challenges many survivors of Harvey’s waters are suffering and exemplifies a resilient spirit.
Reach’s mission team finished up sheetrock repair on Davis’ house and laid floor tiles in the living room on the second floor. With a little more help, the family can finally unpack the remaining boxes and get on with their lives.
Caroline Crump, 18, a sophomore in speech therapy at Appalachian State University, is Reach’s hospitality manager for the summer. Exuding both compassion and competence, Crump said she had served as a team member for seven years before joining the staff for the summer. “For me, the family aspect of a mission trip is incredible,” Crump said. “There is accountability and awesome growth in [spiritual depth].”
Paul Richardson, Reach’s director explained that relationships are a “big part of what we do.” He said, “We want the homeowners to be encouraged by having the teams there and we want to empower our campers so that no matter where they are, they will act on the call for service Jesus placed on us. The work is a foundational building block for them.”
Richardson said it was especially gratifying working with St. Andrew’s and Mosaic because “Jim has brought a heart of service to his congregation and they have embraced it.”
St. Andrew’s has helped to muck out upwards of 85 homes and has assisted mission teams from churches across the country and the Diocese of Texas to begin repairs on a number of others. But the work continues in earnest. Liberatore and Allensworth hope to hire a Spanish-speaking project manager who can work with the many migrants who are reticent to ask for help. Allensworth also hopes to hire a case worker with grant money. For more information, or to schedule a mission trip to Brazoria County, contact Allensworth.