The Lone Star state of Texas is in the national news once again. As if the devastating hurricanes were not enough, a mass execution at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs last Sunday left 26 people dead and 20 wounded. The victims of this horrific tragedy ranged in age from 18 months to 72 years. The 14-year-old daughter of the First Baptist Church’s Pastor, Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri Pomeroy, was one of the victims. Pastor and Mrs. Pomeroy were traveling out of state when the shooting occurred.
To be honest, I can’t wrap my mind around what it must be like to be Pastor Pomeroy who now has the horrific responsibility of returning to officiate at 26 funerals, with one of those funerals being for his 14-year-old daughter. Having served as a pastor for over 27 years I have conducted my share of funeral services, and under the best of circumstances each one was painful for those who came to pay their respects and to celebrate the life of their loved one or friend.
Just try and imagine for a moment if 26 of your family members or friends were killed within minutes, and you had 26 funerals to attend. How do you ever return to your house of worship, a place which quickly became a house of horror? This is a very small, close-knit community of around 400 where everyone knows your name. My heart breaks, as I’m sure yours does at this senseless act of violence and loss of life.
There’s another Texas town that is hurting for different reasons. Have you heard of Port Arthur, Texas? No? Well, after today I hope you’ll be very well-acquainted. Port Arthur is a community of about 50,000 people, and 50% of those people lost their homes in the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. The CBS News reported the following on August 30.
The situation in this city 91 miles east of Houston was dire early Wednesday, with homes expected to fill with rising floodwaters and residents unsure of how to get out of the city, reports CBS Beaumont, Texas affiliate KFDM-TV.
Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Harvey was falling in the city. It was inundated with some 40 inches of rain Tuesday, the station says. The National Weather Service issued flash flood emergencies for parts of Southeast Texas, including Beaumont and Port Arthur.
Conditions were so bad that Motiva Enterprises began shutting its major refinery there due to flooding. Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens told KFDM county resources can’t reach Port Arthur due to the flooding — and some residents have gone into “survival mode.” “We’re getting 911 and rescue calls but there’s nothing we can do,” Stephens said. “We can’t take the boats out right now. The water is rising and it’s coming there and it’s no way to get to them.”
Many residents were posting pleas for help on social media, and many KFDM viewers were calling the station pleading to be rescued. The county subsequently posted on its Facebook page that water rescue operations would resume at daylight. Mayor Derrick Freeman told KFDM some 20,000 homes had water in them — virtually all the homes in the city.
He said on his Facebook page that Port Arthur “is underwater right now but we are coming!” He also urged residents to get to higher ground, but avoid becoming trapped in attics. He said dump trucks were being used to help evacuate residents. The city’s civic center was being used as a shelter but then it, too, flooded and evacuees were being brought to the Carl A Parker Multipurpose Center, KFDM reports. Dozens of evacuees were stranded in a bowling alley, the station said. Viewers were calling KFDM to report house fires.
At one point, Mayor Freeman wrote on his Facebook page that, “Part of our rescue team is now fighting an apartment fire and rescuing folks from the complex. And the lightning has slowed up some rescues, but they have NOT stopped.” Deputy Marcus McLellan told the station the city’s 911 system has been inundated with calls, which are bouncing to other law enforcement agencies. McLellan said the sheriff’s office is working to relay those calls to the proper authorities in Port Arthur.
Michael Sinegal, who represents Port Arthur on the Jefferson County Commissioners Court, told KFDM he suggested to one woman that she take shelter in her freezer because of how close she lives to a drainage ditch. She had almost 4 feet of water in her home.
“We need boats. We need whatever it takes,” Sinegal said.
Ponder that last statement one more time. “We need boats. We need whatever it takes.” “Whatever it takes” just might include help from people in another community over 1,200 miles away. That’s right, Akron; I’m talking to you!
Fast forward to today, over 2 months later. Clean-up and recovery in the city continues and will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. Students at Staff Sergeant Lucian Adams Elementary School weren’t able to begin the year in their own building due to extensive damage, and they are currently being housed in a number of already-overcrowded schools. There is no real time-table as to when they will be able to return to their building.
A number of weeks back, The Love Akron Network wondered what it would look like if there would be a collective response from the churches of the Greater Akron Area in helping Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey. We knew clean up would be a long process, so we wanted to be deliberate but also strategic in the help we provided. After much prayer and planning, it became obvious that Love Akron, churches, and the city and county could do more together in providing a collective response. It also was clear that while Houston was in the national spotlight, with help pouring in from all over the country, there were smaller communities that were being overlooked, and this is how we landed on the community of Port Arthur.
I’m pleased to announce that help is coming to the children of Lucian Adams Elementary School by way of Akron, Ohio! “Greater Akron Loves,” a disaster relief fund, will hold our first benefit, a concert, this Friday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theater. Scheduled to perform are the Dan Wilson Band, the Juke Hounds, the Swizzle Sticks, Exalting Him Choir, Hyre Middle School Choir, Kenmore-Garfield High School Madrigals, Emmanuel Christian Academy Choir, the Rev. Jimmie Rodgers, Holly Reimer, and other local talent. Also in attendance will be the following representatives from the Port Arthur Independent School District: Dr. Mark Linn Porterie, Superintendent; Donald Ray Frank, President of the School Board; Mrs. Cheryl Tripplett, Principal of Lucian Adams; and Ms. Skylar Slaughter, Teacher at Lucian Adams.
Tickets are $15 and $20 and can be purchased online here, by calling 330-253-2488 or 330-328-2202, or at the Akron Civic box office.
We are grateful to live in such a caring community, where we can come together to help others. We are grateful to those who are part of Greater Akron Loves, disaster relief fund, and those who are endorsing this benefit. Those include:
The Love Akron Network
Akron Area Interfaith Council
Mountain of the Lord Fellowship
Mt. Calvary Baptist
Zion Apostolic Faith Church
City of Akron, Daniel Horrigan, Mayor
County of Summit, Ilene Shapiro, Executive
Akron Public Schools, David James, Superintendent
We need to continue to pray for Texas- for those devastated by the tragedy in Sutherland Springs and for the people of Port Arthur and other areas hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. We also now have the opportunity to do something tangible, to give to a community, to meet the needs of students at Lucian Adams Elementary School. Please join me on Friday in showing how much Greater Akron Loves Port Arthur, Texas!