Hurricane Harvey cut a wide swath, and recovery efforts continue many months later as those who lost everything struggle to regain and rebuild their former lives. Pastor Jorge Cardenas and his wife of 20 years, Olivia, suffered a loss that was deep and wide and that profoundly affected their congregation of 700 at Church on the Rock Katy. When the decision was made to release Barker Reservoir in order to spare the city of Houston, the Pastor and his neighbors were unknowingly sacrificed for the greater good. Their neighborhood, which would have been relatively safe, was instead destroyed as the powerful water rushed through their streets and into their homes. Rescued by volunteers in canoes, Cardenas watched as his wife shivered, a hopeless look in her eyes, cradling their dog, who also shivered in fear. With no nearby shelters and panicked people afraid to stop to help, Cardenas had no idea where to go or what to do. “It was then that a man in a pickup truck stopped and offered us a ride. Turns out, he was a member of our congregation,” said Cardenas. “He took us out of danger and to a point where our son could pick us up. Our son and his wife took us into a spare bedroom and gave us a place to live. We had no idea we’d be there for 90 days until we went back to survey the damage.” The couple was not allowed back to their neighborhood for days, and when they finally returned, they witnessed absolute devastation. “We lost our house, our car, and our church, just like that,” said Cardenas.
“I know the people who made the decision to release the dam had a choice of a bad decision and a worse one. The bad decision got us.” What they found was 6 feet of water inside their house, a smell that would only get worse as the days went on, and all of their belongings destroyed. “We didn’t have emotions strong enough to face the devastation. It was just a small taste of what a refugee must feel like,” said Cardenas. Then they started to see God’s hand. A ministry of Baptist men called 8 Days of Hope brought in a half million dollars’ worth of equipment to gut and disinfect the pastor’s home and church. Soon, they were joined by teams of church folk from all over the nation. “People we never met before from places as far away as Ohio, California, Tennessee, and Louisiana came to help us recover,” said Cardenas. “They gave us their time; they gave us their resources.”
Neighborhood churches such as Kingsland Baptist took up offerings to kick off the recovery funding for the church. They even called other local churches on behalf of the Cardenas to ask for financial help. Then they invited the members of Church on the Rock Katy to worship in their church every Sunday afternoon. Cardenas explained, “Thanks to them, we were able to provide a place for our congregants, many of whom lost everything, to continue to come together for prayer and support.” And the outreach didn’t stop there. A Bible college from California brought people to Katy to prep and paint the church sanctuary, completing the entire job in one week and saving the church an enormous amount of money. In the 5,400 square foot gym, where all of the rubber flooring tiles had to be removed, disinfected, and sanitized, the Cardenas were overwhelmed with the prospect of reconstructing the tiles, which, with all their markings for sports, created a giant puzzle. When two soccer teams showed up offering to help wherever needed, the Cardenas asked them to tackle the flooring. In three and a half hours, 40 kids were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and re-tile the entire floor. Cardenas joked, “And it only cost me $500 in fajitas!”
This was the Body of Christ coming together, and it didn’t stop. A group called Pastors Serve Ministry showed up one day and asked about Cardenas’ wife – How was she handling everything? Was there anything she needed? Cardenas explained that Olivia had lost all her shoes, purses, house supplies, china, silver, and all memories of their kids and their first grandchild. The group smiled and handed over $1,000, saying, “Please buy your wife some shoes and purses.” Then they handed over another $1,000 for china and silver, another $1,000 to buy whatever else she needed. As Cardenas said, the generosity was just astounding. In addition to losing their home and church, the couple also lost Olivia’s brand new car. The insurance company wanted to assess the damage but couldn’t reach the house because of flooding. By the pastor’s reputation alone, they processed the claim to replace the car right away and then the dealership, hearing of their plight, gave them the same car at a better price. The outpouring of graciousness continued as friends sent food and money, and teams from Hope City, Kingsland Baptist, and Grace Community Church (a church that experienced its own flooding and still sent a team to help Church on the Rock) continued to offer help.
The church’s own staff worked 80 hours a week for no extra pay to get the church up and running again. After only 54 days, they were able to bring their congregation back into the church and worship God again under one roof. The church is now 90 percent closer to completion and the Cardenases hope to get their home to the point that they can move back in soon. In their eyes, Harvey was a blessing in disguise.
“We learned God’s love through the body of Christ. We learned that you reap what you plant. We learned, as difficult as it was for two givers, that it’s okay to receive. We learned to love people just the way they are. We learned that what you practice, you become.
We learned to stop complaining and acting like victims and to start recognizing the Body of Christ all around,” said Cardenas. He is grateful for what he says is a deeper sense of knowing the Lord. “Every morning I’d get up and hear God say, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ Then my wife and I went into a Christian pharmacy to get shots for Tetanus during the clean-up. The Greater Life pamphlet scripture of the day was on the counter and the featured scripture was from Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When God said this, his promise was not that there would be no waters. Not, you’re not going to go through this. His promise was, I’m going to be with you. If he’s with you, it doesn’t matter how bad it is, he’ll pull you through.” One after another, God was with them.