Cypress UMC fulfills a new mission by becoming a mission fieldEmail This Share This Tweet This
by Dr. Tony McCollum, Senior Pastor, Cypress UMC
In August 2017, our congregation embraced a new mission statement after two years of prayerful reflection and intentional conversation. We confidently declared that Cypress UMC is in ministry to “build bridges and create community that connects people to Jesus’ life-giving story.” Then Hurricane Harvey made landfall and wrought destruction on our neighbors and thousands of others. We didn’t know that hundreds of people – from a host of different faith communities, some more than a thousand miles away – would become the catalysts that propelled our new mission full steam ahead.
It happened like this. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we received a call from the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) of the Weaverland Conference in Pennsylvania, aiding repair and rebuilding property that was damaged in the storm. It was one of many calls that we fielded that offered help or supplies, and some were not the right fit. But MDS teams – with their amazing work ethic and skilled laborers – were a match for the needs of our immediate community, with more than 1,100 homes damaged by Harvey.
We stumbled into this relationship because they were looking for a place to stay while they volunteered their services. We responded by turning our Ministry Activity Center into a dormitory and dining area and mobilizing our volunteers to prepare a temporary home for visiting teams and provide three meals a day each week they are here.
Sometimes we want to define church only as we know it and as we practice our faith. On mission trips, I often tell teams that our world is a lot smaller than we ever imagined it to be and the Church is a lot larger than we ever imagined it to be. After Harvey, our Cypress community became a larger mission field and the body of Christ came to us as that much larger manifestation of the Church. Our response was radical hospitality. We are discovering the opportunity to not only build bridges to Cypress neighbors but also to the MDS teams who are coming to serve.
We had begun preparing for this call to serve several years ago. Looking beyond our church walls, we had asked “how could we take our faith into our community?” Cypress is a transitioning neighborhood. A generation ago, it was the very edge of greater Houston. Not anymore. It is changing, and so are its needs for ministry. The needs after Hurricane Harvey propelled us into more than we imagined. After hosting almost 60 Mennonite, Amish, Methodist, and Baptist teams for nearly two years – and 20,000 meals later – we have learned a lot.
We have learned that disasters are indiscriminate in who they affect, and yet we have also discovered great blessings when we offer grace in the same manner. We have found strength and encouragement in our church because of the life of faith that our Mennonite and Amish brothers and sisters bring into our community. To have them come and live among us a week at a time, we feel like we have a whole new set of cousins in the faith across the Midwest and Northeast. There’s such a spirit of service and of care that it changes you, as you live with them day in and day out.
Your church today may be asking similar questions as we did years ago. When we sought answers, we looked for the intersection of community needs, congregational resources, and our own leadership skills. Who God has gathered in that intersection is our ministry.
We quickly learned after Hurricane Harvey that when you do the hard work of discerning who you are and what God is calling you to do, and you are open to being used and being available, then it won’t take long for God to put you to work. He put us all together – MDS, Cypress UMC, Foundry UMC, and Cy-Hope Disaster Recovery – to serve our community and each other.
Our collective work continues. Harvey has become a footnote for some. If you had the means to restore your losses and put things back together, you have been out of the Harvey business for a year. But for many people it’s still a daily reality.
We plan to host MDS and other teams as long as the need to repair and rebuild homes remains. We continue asking our congregation to increase their volunteer commitments and stay involved. This fall, we plan to build a mobile shower trailer with grants from the Texas Conference and TMF. It will be a great resource for our Mennonite and Amish brothers and sisters when they come to work.
As a church, we have made a commitment to be in this recovery effort for the long haul, connecting people, resources and needs to serve our neighbors in the name of Christ. With the faithfulness of Mennonite Disaster Services and Cy-Hope Disaster Recovery, we are all able to live out God’s missional call on our lives.
About the author: Dr. Tony McCollum is senior pastor of Cypress UMC in Houston. He previously led a congregation in Seabrook, Texas, which was flooded by Hurricane Ike in 2008. He says previous disasters – including the Tax Day Floods of 2016 – were dress rehearsals for Hurricane Harvey. In his guest blog post for TMF, Dr. McCollum explains how his congregation responded to community needs after Hurricane Harvey in part by providing hospitality to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
About TMF's Grants Ministry: In 2018 TMF awarded $1.5 million in support of 35 organizations to further their courageous, spirit-filled ministries. We awarded $118,000 for continued Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery.