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People who Don’t Call it Quits

May 13, 2020

During this time of pandemic, MDS’s projects are all shut down until it is safe to resume work. Until that time, we are re-publishing stories of recovery and restoration from the past—stories that remind of us there’s hope, even in the most trying of circumstances. This story comes from the fall, 2016 issue of Behind the Hammer.

Mary Owens, sitting at the kitchen table with her 8-year-old great-granddaughter Lia, is explaining why she feels nervous whenever it rains in Bastrop, Texas.

“This year, I had three feet of water in my house,” she said. “In the middle of the night, at 1 a.m., we had tornado warnings. So we got in the closet, and pretty soon, I thought: what’s that coming under the door?”

It was floodwater, streaming in — cold, muddy and frighteningly fast.

Lia, who lives with her great-grandmother, pauses as she builds a Lego tower, which she has fastened to a set of wheels. “I thought I was going to drown,” she says.

In what might be a defining characteristic of today’s great-grandmothers, Owens pulls out her flip-phone to show some photos of the water cascading into her house the night of the storm. Though dark and somewhat blurry, the pictures clearly portray one woman’s experience of a flood that affected her whole community.

For Owens, this year’s flooding was a replay — only worse — of floods that struck in May 2015.

“I’ve lived here since 2005 and I’ve never had water in my home until last year, when two rooms were flooded,” she said. “This year, the water went all over.”

Multiple disasters, returning volunteers

Bastrop, Texas has had such a string of disasters that many residents and responders have no words left to describe their misfortune.

“After a while, you run out of things to say,” said Carl Dube, who served in Bastrop as a project director for MDS after a wildfire in 2011 that burned some 1,700 homes in the area.

MDS volunteers rebuilt homes for three years after the 2011 fire, then the May 2015 flooding struck. That same year, in October, as MDS crews were still working on burned and flooded homes, another wildfire broke out, burning an additional 65 homes.

Then, in May 2016, floods struck again. 

“The folks in Bastrop and the long-term recovery team, even the volunteers — they have become a very dogged and determined group of people,” said Dube, who grew up in Austin, about a 30-minute drive from Bastrop. “They’ve been through a lot.”

Although the faces of project directors and volunteer teams change, the heart of MDS is steadfast. MDS keeps coming back, offering help and hope to people in the small rural towns of Bastrop and nearby Smithfield, people who don’t seem to be calling it quits anytime soon.

What is contentment?

This is the second time in a one-year span that MDS volunteers have worked on Mary Owens’s home.

This summer, volunteers are working here as part of a youth program in which young people stay at a nearby campground while they repair homes every day for a week. This includes a group of Amish young people who, after driving 22 hours from Indiana, have arrived at Owens’s house.

On this day they are sawing out still-damp sheetrock, cleaning out mold that has crept up behind the walls, and replacing the sheetrock before they paint.

As far Owen is concerned, these young people are a sign that God, indeed, will provide. “I went to Bible study last night and I told my pastor: I’m so blessed I could pinch myself,” she said.

A member of Mount Rose Baptist Church, she said the floods and volunteers have made her think about what it means to feel content.

“When you’re not content, you want more, more, more. Well, I don’t have any money. I don’t have a new car. But I’m happy with whatever I have. When it’s your time, God will provide.”

By Susan Kim, freelance writer