Hurricane Harvey Recovery Driving Tour

During the 2018 Rio Texas Annual Conference, the driving tour will cover some of the impacted areas and stop into the case management office to meet some of the Rio Texas staff. Nikki and Vicki will M/C the tour and provide an interactive discussion along the way. 

You will be provided a boxed lunch and we will have you back in time for the Thursday afternoon plenary session. 

Come and see how your church can assist us in these important recovery efforts. 

Download Registration Form

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An Inspiring Presence - a volunteer connection that spans 1380 miles.

by Laura Bray

Last August, Chris Burnley watched the news and videos of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction from his home in Virginia, just south of Roanoke. Four days later, with scenes from the disaster still unfolding, a story in his local newspaper caught his eye. The reporter wrote about Steve and Barbara Abbatello, a couple from nearby Union Hall (only 25 miles from Ferrum College, where Chris works), who drove a trailer full of relief supplies to areas near their second home in Aransas Pass, Texas. An idea began to bloom in Chris’s mind. For the past two years, Ferrum students and staff traveled on a service and discipleship-oriented trip during fall and spring breaks; for the upcoming spring break, why not go help a nearby neighbor (or his neighbors) in Texas?

A week or two before Ferrum College arrived, a conference call from the Rio Texas case management and construction office at FUMC Aransas Pass brought Chris, Mike Bock (Project Manager), Vicki McCuistion (Asset Manager), and Steve Abbatello together to discuss what projects the arriving team would work. Steve (a member of FUMC Portland) was volunteering with the Rio Texas construction office, helping with assessments and construction support. “It put shivers down my spine, thinking of what fate had done with their wanting to come to Texas to lend a helping hand,” recalled Steve.

The staff and students arrived in Aransas Pass in mid-March. As they worked with the local team on that ground that included Steve Abbatello, what started with a newspaper article truly came full circle. Such is the connectionality of the United Methodist church in action.

The Book of Discipline itself speaks to connectionality. “Connectionalism is an important part of our identity as United Methodists. It….. provid[es] a connection for ministry throughout the world, all to the glory of God. It provides us with wonderful opportunities to carry out our mission in unity and strength” (para 701). Two groups serendipitously connecting with each other shows the strength of that bond.

Seven months after the storm, Aransas Pass and its residents have made great strides in recovery, but much work remains. Blue roofing tarps still dot the area, and piles of wood, branches, and trash at the curbside attest to the imminent pick-up of still more storm debris. At several areas around town, various crews work to repair homes, inside and out.

Steve said the crews at FUMC-P work directly with the Rio Texas Conference, an UMCOR partner agency, and its local team, including case managers and construction managers. “It’s hard to tell where the FUMC-P efforts end and Rio Texas efforts begin,” he said. “We want to make it as expeditious as possible to get help to people who need it.”

“A lot of people think, ‘it’s seven months later, everything is back to normal, right?’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he continued. “We have four to five years of solid effort ahead of us, getting people back to where they should be. We’re encouraging everyone to put together Volunteer In Mission (VIM) rebuilding teams and come down here and help.”

The staff and students from Ferrum worked to renovate an outbuilding into a house for a survivor whose nearby home was completely destroyed by the storm. Rio Texas offered to replace the home, but the 80-year-old owner demurred, simply asking to have the outbuilding renovated.  The Ferrum team worked on paneling and plywood. After they left, another team continued the work, including construction of an outbuilding for a washer and dryer. Many of the volunteer team members attend FUMC-P, which itself is undergoing $1 million in storm-related repairs (they currently worship at the neighboring high school).

Students and staff found the experience rewarding. Student Tressa Alfaro is from Houston; her family suffered extensive storm damage. “I’ve never felt so hopeless watching the devastation on television while in Virginia,” she said. “Growing up on the Gulf, I know just how quickly people forget about the storm once the water is gone. Too often, the people who need help the most don’t receive it. This trip was a beautiful opportunity to learn new skills and help others.”

Chris Burley (who serves as the Vice President for Administration and Finance for Ferrum College) said the trip helped fulfill Ferrum’s motto of “Not Self, But Others.”

As a United Methodist affiliated school, “Ferrum’s very nature is missions-focused,” he said. “The most rewarding part of the trip was helping those in need and teaching students the carpentry skills required to help them.” The trip’s success led to an effort to add similar experiences to Ferrum’s three-week experiential courses offered every May.

Student Mikayla Cannaday found the experience humbling. “Some people lost everything, but they still had the biggest smiles. One woman kept asking what I needed. ‘Mac, do you need sunscreen? Do you have enough water? Do you want a snack?’ She was willing to help anybody.”

“I firmly believe that God put us on this earth to love and help other people,” she continued. “If you have the time and ability to help others, you should.”

Toward the end of the trip, Steve and fellow team leader Dave Lofquist hosted a shrimp boil at Steve’s house. “It was the first Cajun shrimp boil for a lot of those kids,” said Steve. “It was our way of thanking them for what they’d done. They put in long days and had built up an appetite”--to the tune of 20 pounds of shrimp, 7 pounds of sausage, and some crab, corn, and potatoes thrown in for good measure.

“These kids could have spent their spring break at Daytona Beach,” said Steve, full of admiration for their hard work and sacrifice. “They represented their school well; their presence here was inspiring.”

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”-- Colossians 3:12 (NIV)


Pictured below: 1 & 2: Ferrum College; 3: Building of the addition, 4: Shrimp boil

UMCOR Sunday March 11 - Use These Helpful Resources!

Great News! UMCOR updated this Pastor and Leaders Kit with all new resources to help you promote UMCOR Sunday (formerly One Great Hour of Sharing) on March 11, 2018. You can post some of these resources on all your social media outlets. UMCOR also has a downloadable poster and a bulletin insert you can print out and insert in your church bulletin the week prior to this special Sunday.

They also have new Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest images to post on various media outlets.

This kit has everything you need to empower your congregation to give generously.

All of these great resources are available at the link -


The Victoria Advocate highlights Rio Texas Harvey Recovery

The Victoria Advocate covered on the front page this week the work being done in the Victoria area in partnership with Rio Texas Conference and FUMC Victoria.

The story highlights the many volunteer teams who have been responding through the Rio Texas Conference office and the establishment of the case management office - all out of FUMC Victoria.

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Harvey Disaster Recovery Tools for Worship

Join us in lifting up Harvey recovery in your worship services this holiday season.  

We need your help in highlighting needs associated with the long term recovery of Harvey impacted areas.

To assist you in this effort we have created a bulletin insert and worship slide for your use.

Download - Bulletin insert

Download - Worship slide

Please watch the short video below and SHARE! - a wonderful tool for your church website or including in worship!

Help us provide hope to the thousands of families who have been displaced from their homes and designate your donations for Advance #2057.

Case Management Training Led by Nikki Leaverton


November 21 and 22, four case managers and one case manager supervisor received their official UMCOR disaster case management training at Grace United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi. (Thank you Grace UMC!)

Nikki Leaverton, Rio Texas Disaster Recovery Director and an UMCOR consultant, led the two day training with new staff that will be based in offices in Aransas Pass United Methodist Church serving the Coastal Bend area.  The team will work in partnership with the Coastal Bend Disaster Recovery Group. The intention is to have an office with six staff, with one case manager still to be hired. 

The team represents a wealth of local knowledge and passion for serving their neighbors in need. Discussion included healthy boundaries, examples of cases, how to interact with clients, and safety policy.

Vicki McCuistion, the Disaster Recovery Asset Manager, shared experiences from the Wimberley flood recovery efforts from her previous work with the Barnabas Connection during the 2015 two nationally declared disasters.  Nikki shared of her work in West, Texas responding to the fertilizer plant explosion. 

Gary Herring, the Construction Supervisor was also in attendance. 

Rio Texas Youths passionate about missions should attend UMVIM Leadership Training


Youth that have participated in student mission trips throughout the years are invited to join any of the Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Leader Training sessions occurring around the conference

All volunteers (youth adult) interested in mission leadership are encouraged to join one of the sessions at UMVIM Leadership Training signup.

Youth will take their passion and skills learned during student mission trips and apply it to greater opportunities in Rio Texas, nationally and abroad. The UMVIM Team Leader training event is the start of a lifestyle whereby Christians, adults and students, may offer their skills and talents for Christian service at home and around the world. The training event provides the theological foundation for missional living while learning the skills to partner and be culturally sensitive to the needs of those we serve.

Missional life is about God's mission in the world and may include construction, renewing of mission facilities, feeding, teaching, witnessing, conducting medical clinics, conducting Bible study or Bible School for children, and serving in disaster relief efforts around the world. This training is one avenue for these teens to develop spiritual leadership and missional focus to guide tomorrow’s church.

In addition, Rio Texas is partnering with UM ARMY as they provide youth camps to help Harvey relief in League City, Edna and LaGrange , see UMARMY

Hold off on flood buckets... for now


Thanks to your hard works and generosity, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is nearing capacity for cleaning buckets in their storage facilities.

UMCOR is asking for those who are working on filling buckets to complete their work but is also asking those who have not yet started new projects to hold off for now. It is likely, in the future, that some of the current supplies will be distributed and there will again be room in the storage facilities.  

If you currently have finished buckets, please send an email to and someone will contact you to help coordinate delivery to the warehouse in Kerrville.