Sterling man in Houston for LDS mission learns the significance of serving those in need
Sept. 14, 2017
HOUSTON—When the Messenger reported about Snow College quarterback Shane Johnson’s concern for his family, living in Houston, during the Badgers’ first game of the season, we didn’t know that Johnson was not the only Badger who was worried.
Johnson had a stellar game, despite a bit of Harvey-induced distraction. But so did Derek Wright, a wide receiver on the team who had the distinction of scoring the first touchdown of the season and the first touchdown on the new turf at Robert Stoddard Field.
For Wright, Harvey was hitting closer to home: Wright is from Sterling, and his brother Eric (who goes by Wesley) Wright is serving an LDS mission in Houston.
“It was just, like, going through my head: Here I have this opportunity to play, and I don’t know what’s going on with him,” Derek Wright said this week as he remembered that weekend.
Unlike Johnson, who had spoken to his family and knew they were okay and their property unharmed, Derek Wright had no such assurance.
“I didn’t hear from him until the next Monday,” Wright said. “We didn’t know if he was in that area, if he was okay.”
It turned out he was, and even though Derek kept asking about how his older brother was doing, Wesley wanted to know all about the game. “He thought it was cool. He was proud of me.”
Since clean-up efforts began, Welsey Wright has been working 10 or more hours per day “ripping and mucking out houses,” he wrote in an email, alongside other missionaries who all wear yellow T-shirts that have become recognizable as a sign of help.
“The people here are in a great deal of loss,” he wrote. “Seeing them erupt into tears as a fleet of yellow shirts approach their homes is both heartbreaking and heart filling. Knowing without them having to say anything that you are the blessing they prayed for as the flood waters crept into their homes.”
It has opened up doors. “They were curious before as to why people in white shirts and ties were coming to their door, but when they see us coming to their rescue in dust, sweat and blood, they really want to know why we do the things we do.”
And the experience has given Elder Wright a more profound appreciation for the what he went to Houston to preach.
“Service in all forms and capacities is truly the work of the Savior,” he wrote. “Parallel to the scripture in James 1:27, which reads, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world,’ is being the greatest servant you can be to even the most feeble and needy among you. In the act of service, you are … lifting them to a place where they might not otherwise be able reach without you.”
T.J. Pogroszewski of Ephraim just returned in June after two years in the same mission as Wesley Wright. Missionaries tend to become attached to and affectionate for the places and people they serve (“I could talk about Houston all day,” he says), so the news and images in Harvey’s wake impacted him deeply.
“I was devastated,” he said.
He saw pictures of one of the streets where he walked for eight months while stationed in a certain area. Instead of walking, the people were riding in boats. “That was crazy for me.”
He said he was anxious to speak to people he knew—old ward members, new church members he had taught or baptized, nonmembers he had come to know, and of course his fellow missionaries. He longed to do something, but “there wasn’t really a lot I could do. But seeing all of that was insane.”
He knew of one family who had been on vacation in Hawaii when Harvey hit. The husband flew back early to save what he could. It was too late. He called his wife, still in Hawaii, while standing in their living room in 3 feet of water, which had receded down from 8 feet. “He told her, ‘We lost everything,’” Pogroszewski said.
“Having these connections and ties to Houston, these people—it’s going to be a setback in their lives, which is sad to see,” he said.
Yet amid the wreckage caused by the worst of nature, Pogroszewski says he sees some of the best of humanity as people have come together in amazing ways to help each other.
He described Houston as a melting pot of various races and cultures: black, Hispanic, white and, as he put it, “southern rednecks.”
“But none of that mattered,” he said. “Obviously it’s devastating, but it’s heartwarming to see that support.”