Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast two years ago Sunday. The Rev. T. Wayne Price remembers his lowest point – returning two days after the storm to the First Baptist Church of Refugio.
“It literally looked like a war zone and I thought – and I was right in terms of our physical facility – I thought I’ll have no church,” Price said in an interview last summer. “And I was correct on that. It was essentially destroyed.”
He and his wife stayed with family in Cedar Park while the winds of Harvey shredded Refugio and the church. The roof was largely gone. Everything inside was windblown and rain-soaked.
Now, finally, two long years later, the church finally welcomed home its congregation. First Baptist Church dedicated its restored sanctuary Sunday.
“Probably the greatest miracle in this, and there have been several, is that – to this point – the Lord has done this, this total restoration, without a cross word, without anybody getting unduly upset,” Price told the congregation. “That’s pretty good among Baptists.”
The congregation laughed.
Price may be overlooking a more fortuitous decision the church made to buy wind insurance weeks before the hurricane.
It wasn't all smooth sailing: Mold mitigation, asbestos abatement, contractor conflicts and other obstacles occupied much of the town’s time over the last two years. And the church was no exception. Price said last summer there was a period of nearly two months where work on the church completely stopped.
What's happened since is analogous to what's happened throughout the town.
“Everyone has been dug in, trying to rebuild, trying to recollect, trying to come back together as a community,” Katie Bernal, who grew up in Refugio, said. “And it’s been amazing watching people do that. But this is kind of like – all right, we’re kind of getting there. We’re getting over it. We’re back in our home church, in our place, in our home.”
Bernal, a nurse in Houston returned to her hometown for the day to visit her parents.
“Everyone’s so excited to see our church back," her mother, Melissa Gonzales, said. “It received the most damage of any facility [in Refugio] proportionately.”
That’s not just hyperbole. Gonzales has some perspective. The superintendent of the Refugio Independent School District has overseen the renovation of the high school twice. The first was completed the day Harvey came ashore. The second was mostly completed this month, just before school started today.
The scenario reminded her of the final days of summer 2017.
“It was an eerie feeling,” she said. “Here came the furniture that had arrived the day that we evacuated. It was the same crew. And I thought – Oh, my goodness. I kept checking my phone to make sure there wasn’t something brewing out there in the Gulf.”
There's still a ways to go. The high school doesn't have a gymnasium. Some residents are still living in damaged, substandard housing, despite the best efforts of volunteer groups that have been rehabbing homes nearly nonstop since Harvey.
But after the big ceremony at First Baptist Sunday, the Rev. Price had an opportunity to reflect. He says he’s optimistic.
“It’s strictly up to us,” he said. “If our commitment stays good and strong, and I believe it will, and I hope God will allow me to enjoy physically and spiritually another few years here. I’m grateful.”