When Hurricane Harvey hit the area and shut down his construction business for a few days, Johnny Higdon decided to put the resources at his disposal to use in the recovery efforts.
While his wife, Pam, and their children helped unload and sort donations at The Woodlands UMC, which was functioning as a distribution center, Johnny grabbed a cargo truck from his work and began shuttling supplies from the church to sites around the area that were in need.
The outpouring of donations from the community had been so great that the church's gymnasium was completely filled with items. On Wednesday evening, Johnny received a call from the church's Missions Ministry asking if he'd be willing to drive the donations the next morning down to NRG Park, where a shelter had been set up.
But not just some of the donations. Everything.
"They want everything?" Johnny asked. Indeed, he'd heard correctly. In that case, he'd need some help.
"I called a couple of guys that were off - because we'd shut our company down - around ten o'clock at night, and I said, 'Hey, you guys wanna do some good tomorrow?'" Johnny recounts. "They were like, 'Yeah, we're all in.'"
His employees showed up the next morning with their families, and everyone set about the task of loading all the goods from the gym into a few cargo trucks, a couple of trailers, and a handful of pick-up trucks. After receiving very precise instructions about where to go and whom to contact when they get there, the caravan then set out for NRG Park, southwest of downtown Houston.
While the roadways were surprisingly clear, when they got to NRG, unexpected complications began to arise. Though workers inside the arena insisted they wanted the goods, the officers at the gate didn't have the right authorizations to allow them to enter. They were sent from one gate to another, the workers at each gate having their own reasons for not letting the group in. One hour passed and then the next.
"We were starting to get a little frustrated because it was hot," Johnny says, "but we were like, 'We can be sitting out here waiting or we can be in there waiting, wondering what our house is like, wondering where our loved ones are. This little bit of discomfort was nothing compared to what those people inside who have lost everything are going through.'"
All they wanted to do was help, which they believed God was leading them to do, but things weren't going according to plan. After about four hours of waiting, Johnny got a call from The Woodlands UMC's Missions Ministry. They said to take everything to St. John's UMC in downtown. He was told NRG would get more goods from elsewhere, but that The Woodlands UMC's friend, Pastor Rudy Rasmus, was in desperate need of supplies at his church.
So they set out for St. John's. When they pulled up to the small church, perched on a tight block right under I-45 as it cuts through downtown, there was hardly anywhere to park their huge caravan.
Johnny went inside and found Pastor Rudy. The church was in need of some goods but not everything.
"Mr. Rudy, all the stuff that we have is all mixed together," Johnny told him. "We didn't organize it to where we can pull out just what you want. It's all or nothing."
Pastor Rudy wasn't sure where they were going to put everything. While there is a gym at St. John's, it's about half the size of the one at The Woodlands UMC, which had been filled by the goods. Johnny told Pastor Rudy they could arrange the bags and then pile them up as high as they could.
"Let's do it," Pastor Rudy said. "I'm not going to turn you away. These people are going to need this stuff."
Though they had finally found a place for the supplies, Johnny wasn't sure how they were going to get everything unloaded. While both The Woodlands UMC and NRG had numerous volunteers to help, St. John's only had about 10 people available, and Johnny had only brought about 10 himself. He knew the process was going to take awhile.
As they dove into the work, though, something special happened. People began showing up to help out. Every time he looked, there were more people there to help carry the goods. Eventually, there were enough volunteers to form a human chain and speed the process up tremendously.
"We had people out in the street and across the grass and the sidewalk and into the church in a line just passing stuff off these trailers as fast as we could," Johnny says. "It was like a conveyor belt."
One of the workers from St. John's, a woman named Savannah, told Johnny she'd been praying that God would fill the gym with supplies for those in need.
"Well, you might've been praying a little too hard," he joked as the pile of supplies grew higher all around them.
In the end, Johnny was struck by how the Lord opened doors and provided helpers as the group stepped into the work God had put before them.
"In all the frustration and misery we had waiting and being frustrated at NRG, that was just God working and continuing to stop us from delivering there," Johnny says. "The items we had needed to go to that church. The biggest thing I can take away from it is that when things aren't going according to the way you want them, they might be going according to the way God wants them, and you just need to be patient and work through it, especially if you're doing His will and it's something He wants you to do."