When Minner Labrador Jr., D.Min., Vice President for Church Ministries and Ministerial Director at the Southwestern Union, realized that Hurricane Harvey, a storm of unprecedented magnitude, was a day away from making landfall in Texas, he knew he needed a plan to care for the caregivers—the pastors and teachers who would look to the needs of others above their own needs.
He gathered a team, Eddie Polite and Rodney Mills, the respective ministerial directors for the areas affected of the Southwest Region and Texas Conferences, Ivan Williams and Jose Cortez Jr. from the NAD ministerial, as well as Glen Altermatt, Associate Ministerial Director for the Carolina Conference. Altermatt’s experience in dealing with the aftermath of several disasters assisted the team in formulating the initial first response plan to assist the pastors and teachers who would be impacted by the storm.
“The safety, continued support and emotional care for the pastor is our first priority. We know that the pastor must be healthy, strong, loved, and cared for in order for the church family to also be healthy, strong, loved, and cared for. In their renewed strength, they can care for others,” says Labrador.
Unfortunately, their predictions were right and pastors and churches were not spared from the ravages of hurricane Harvey. At least nine churches suffered water damage and so far there are reports that four pastors and two teachers lost their homes.
The team developed and implemented the following approach in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
1. Immediate Cash Assistance. For each pastor and teacher who received damage to their home or vehicle, the Union and Conferences provided a cash-in-hand gift of $1,000 to assist in offsetting immediate needs with the promise of additional financial assistance as needed.
2. Ministering to the Pastor and Family: A group of leaders from the Union and Conferences met privately with each of the pastors to allow them the opportunity and space to tell their stories, as well as to pray with them and their families. The leaders were able to listen and affirm the pastors and teachers, and reminded them of their value and worth as caregivers to the congregations and schools. The pastors and teachers were encouraged to take care of themselves and their families’ needs.
3. Adopt-a-Church: The team is working to partner non-affected churches in each conference with affected churches. The adoptive church will care for the needs of the affected church on an ongoing basis by praying with and visiting its members; assessing any needs the church may have; and providing support, be it financial or otherwise, to the church.
4. Pastor to Pastor: Along the same lines as adopting a sister church, the pastor and elders of the adoptive church will work to support the pastor of the affected church by checking in with the pastor, listening when needed, performing pastoral duties, and praying for the pastor.
“Pastors will rarely ask for help, but we found out how much they needed it when we were able to give them space to talk about how they had been affected personally, and when we were able to meet some of their immediate financial needs,” says Labrador.
The leadership team of each conference along with union leaders also met with the group of pastors before the initial private meetings to encourage them corporately and let them know how much each of them matter.
“You will not be alone in the recovery, we will stand with you and your families and ‘we’ve got your back.’” Labrador said. He recalls that one pastor emotionally approached him after the meeting, and said, “No one has done this before. Thank you for telling us how much we matter.”
Jessica L. Lozano is the Southwestern Union Communication Director