Jessica Brown of Mission Lake ward remembers the exact moment she felt inspired to go to Texas. After days of watching the heart-wrenching news of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, she was loading a box of groceries into her car when a very strong thought came to her. “You have to go to Texas.”
About an hour later, her husband called her and said, “I can't stop thinking about the idea that we need to go help in Texas.” But how could they make it happen? A few weeks went by punctuated with the urgent feeling that Jessica needed to follow this prompting. Finally she decided to start researching how to do it, and everything fell into place. She found affordable plane tickets and a place to stay with the Barr family, formerly of Mission Lake ward, who had relocated to the Houston area last year.
Jessica and her fifteen-year-old daughter Gracie flew to Houston and reported to the Helping Hands home base with the missionaries to get an assignment. One of the women in charge grew very emotional as she expressed how grateful they all are for the countless visitors from other states willing to help. But Jessica was even more impressed by the other volunteers. She says, “Another couple we worked with was from Utah and had a scheduled ten day vacation that they canceled. Instead they flew to Texas, spending each day working hard in mucky conditions to serve people they didn't know.”
Despite the hours of news reports she had consumed, nothing prepared Jessica for the reality. “It’s hard to comprehend what it’s like actually driving through a neighborhood and seeing the piles of debris lining the streets and smell the stink of furniture, carpets and household belongings soaked in flood waters and full of mold. My heart ached for these people as I witnessed the destruction of their personal belongings. It was especially sad to see piles of ruined photographs, personal papers and books.”
The Browns worked in four houses while they were there. In one, they mucked out a garage, pulling out moldy drywall and sorting through the homeowner’s belongings. Most went into the trash heap in the yard. She didn't have flood insurance and was trying to save as many things as possible by laying them out on tarps in the backyard. Her house already had been stripped of everything on the ground floor including drywall five feet high and all the flooring. It was hot and humid, and rained off and on, making her attempts to salvage items in her backyard almost impossible.
Gracie says, “The very last people we helped were the most grateful. It was an older couple and they were so sweet. It must be so hard to witness your house and almost everything you own be destroyed. Once we were done with their house they hugged me so tightly and wouldn’t let me go. The whole experience was so humbling and I’m so happy I had the chance to help these people. I can't imagine anything better I could have done with my time.”
For Jessica, the most touching part of this experience was the reaction of the homeowners. “They were thankful for their lives and for those serving them. I saw people from all different backgrounds coming together to help one another, neighbors hugging and talking in the streets, churches working together despite different beliefs. The local Lutheran church served a free lunch to all the LDS helping hands workers. While wearing our yellow Helping hands shirts, we were stopped several times with thanks and comments like, ‘Hey, yellow shirts! We’ve had yellow shirts working in our neighborhood all week, thank you!’"
The whole experience has profoundly changed Jessica’s priorities. “I think it is easy for us to get distracted spending a good majority of our life dedicated to acquiring the very things that we saw in those piles of moldy, wet mountains of trash in front of each house. There is nothing inherently wrong about having these things and some are necessary to our daily lives, but I realized that it all can be gone in the blink of an eye. As I ponder on our experience last week the following scripture keeps coming to mind:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” --Matthew 6:19-21
“I feel like I gained so much more than anything I was able to actually to do help. I now understand more fully the concept of service being its own reward. Many times I heard the missionaries respond when thanked for their service with, “It’s my pleasure!” I realized the truth of this statement. Doing service for others is a pleasure and can bring great us great joy, while giving comfort to those we serve.
“I can’t help thinking of how we can apply the lessons of these types of disasters to our spiritual lives. I have had to ask myself: What is my foundation? When the storms of life come as I know they will, whether literal or figuratively, how will I fare? Have I set my heart on the right treasures?
“I am so grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am grateful for the scriptures that can be a lifeline to guide us through the storm. I am grateful for this opportunity to remember what is most important, and for the extraordinary opportunity to have this experience in Texas.”