by Amy Tartick
Eight Days of Hope exists to demonstrate the love and hope of Jesus Christ by serving those affected by natural disasters. Through our disaster relief, furniture distribution, feeding and shower trailer ministries, we strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus during adversity.
Eight Days of Hope began in the wake of one of Hurricane Katrina. NOAA lists Katrina as, “one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States.” In August 2005, Katrina struck South Florida with significant force, but then it gained intensity as it moved into the Gulf Coast where it caused catastrophic destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi in particular, along with harming Alabama. Waters from the storm surge breached banks and levies peaking near Waveland and Pass Christian, MS, along with putting much of New Orleans, LA under water. Individuals and families lost everything, homes, cars, and heartbreakingly, even family members as the storm claimed more than 1,000 lives. In the midst of this much despair, how should those who follow Jesus respond in bringing hope and restoration? Sometimes it begins with a phone call, putting a “yes” on the table, and then letting God move.
On Mission was able to catch up with Steve Tybor, co-founder of Eight Days of Hope earlier this summer while he was driving out to Houston, TX, to plan an October rebuilding team for that area. You are welcome to hop in the backseat and listen in on our conversation.
On Mission: Before we jump into what Eight Days of Hope (EDOH) is currently doing, could you give us a little background on how this all started?
Steve Tybor: I was living in Mississippi and my father was based out of Buffalo, NY, that’s where he lives. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast my dad called me from New York and said, “Steve let’s go find somebody, anyone to help. Let’s find a widow, maybe an elderly couple, a single mom, someone who doesn’t have a lot of means, and let’s go help rebuild a house.” So the goal was we would take two or three of our friends and five or six of us would go to the coast of Mississippi. Well, we don’t have 684 friends, but that’s how many people showed up to go to Bay St. Louis/Waveland, MS and we rebuilt 84 homes in eight days. As I was driving home with my wife, and three kids at the time, still seeing all the damage and knowing that so many people needed to see a glimpse of Jesus, we formed a 501 (c)3 . . . Every year since then we’ve done one or two rebuilding trips and the ministry has evolved quite a bit.
OM: Was there something specific you can put your finger on that was the turning point to move from a one-time relief effort to a fulltime relief ministry?
Steve: We’ve been volunteer-led now for 13 years and that worked for us. We have about 125 leaders, from nine different denominations, and they live in 30 states. We’re very diverse in our leadership, and we realize that God was opening some amazing doors for the ministry to share the gospel. . . . So, the turning point I think very clearly was when we were in South Carolina. Then-Governor Nikki Haley invited us to serve people who had been flooded the year before. On day number one of that trip of Eight Days of Hope XIII, we got hit by Hurricane Matthew. . . . Governor Haley called and said, “Hey, instead of rebuilding homes could you clear roads, could you open up churches’ parking lots so people could have a safe place to sleep because there’s going to be no power for weeks,” and we just saw doors starting to open. We realized that when we left eight days later that we could have stayed there for months.
OM: Moving forward to this past year, 2017 seemed to have several major storms. According to reports, Maria, Irma, and Harvey, were the most devastating hurricanes of the season. Were you able to help in the wake of each of these storms?
Steve: It takes 90 days to plan a rebuilding trip. So once we lock in, like were about to lock in to go back to Houston in October, between now and October, we can send rapid response volunteers, and so we have a rapid response arm. So if a tornado hits Kansas, a snowstorm hits Buffalo, and a hurricane hits Florida in the span of a month, we can go to all three disasters, bring our equipment, bring our leadership, skills, bring our experience, bring volunteers and we can help people within 24 to 40 hours of a disaster. But the major rebuilding events where we take thousands of volunteers for eight days takes 90 days to plan. So once we start planning a trip, we say no to other trips. But now since the ministry has expanded, if we were in Houston helping with Harvey, and Irma hits, or Maria hits, moving forward we can have different teams go to different places.
OM: It seems EDOH has a focus on serving in the wake of Harvey in SE Houston. Why was this area selected?
Steve: We received a call from John Camardo, and he knew of a pastor in Houston who was looking for somebody to help them put together a coalition and wanted us to bring our experience and wisdom (learning from our own mistakes). We were already in Houston right after Harvey hit. . . . While we were there, we met a church, Clear Creek Community Church, and we just hit it off, so we helped them form a coalition. It’s called 4B Disaster Response Network. It’s a coalition of 30-some churches who come together to help people rebuild. After we left doing our rapid response work, very quickly we decided to go back to Houston and start rebuilding.
OM: What partnerships were in place or formed from the Harvey relief work?
Steve: We formed some new partnerships since The Chapel came on board . . . Hands of Hope . . . a metal manufacturer down south, Reed’s Metals . . . Amy, here’s what happens, when there’s a movement, when people are seeing that God’s army is responding and they feel comfortable that no one is drawing a crazy salary, that no one is wasting the funding that’s coming their way, they quickly jump on board. And so we had many regional churches, we had volunteers from all 50 states and 10 different countries come to help out with Hurricane Harvey. And it’s not because of us, it really isn’t. I tell people a lot that we might be good but God is great. And God continues to move through Eight Days of Hope. So many partnerships were in place. We now have seven or eight different partners around the country who are always in the loop of what we’re doing and the cutting edge of helping people in need working with Eight Days of Hope. As you know, The Chapel is one of those organizations.
OM: The National Hurricane Center reported that Harvey dropped more than 60 inches of rain on southeastern Texas causing catastrophic flooding and taking the lives of at least 68 people. Historically, Harvey is the second most costly storm in the US, surpassed only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. How soon was EDOH able to respond, where did you begin work, and what did you find when you arrived?
Steve: We based out of Grace Church in southeast Houston, 48 hours after Harvey hit. The night before Harvey hit, somebody in Mississippi gifted us a very unique commercial pump. It has a four-inch mouth that literally sucks the water out of commercial buildings. Grace Church flooded in SE Houston and they were willing to let us stay there for seven weeks. (Our rapid response trips go for 21 days. We made an exception after Harvey. We were there for seven weeks.) So the first five days we worked on that facility so they could help that community. Once we were in Grace Church, we gutted out hundreds and hundreds of homes. You drove into some neighborhoods in SE Houston and the houses looked normal until they started to get gutted. And then you’d go back a week later down a street and you would see 12 feet of debris in front of every house. When a home floods, you have to remove the drywall, the insulation, and the flooring—if not, mold sets in. It was amazing, you know it was a different type of look. Katrina, looked like a bomb hit it—someone had dropped a bomb. Houses were gone, there was slabs, there were swimming pools that were in ground that were empty or full of debris, but the house was gone.
OM: How were families or individuals selected to receive help from EDOH?
Steve: So, they go to 4B our partner that we helped launch and they fill out paperwork. This was just the perfect storm. It was the storm of a thousand years . . . . Ninety percent of the people that had homes flooded in Houston did not have flood insurance. So pretty much every single family that came looking for help qualified for help. As long as they own their own home and did not have any insurance, we helped those families rebuild their homes.
OM: In situations like this, what is the best way for the gospel to be shared with those who have just lost everything?
Steve: We share the gospel. We tell the volunteers to be ready to share their three-minute testimony. We’ve learned that people don’t need to hear 49 Scriptures in a 40-minute testimony on how you or I came to meet the Lord. So we tell the volunteers to practice with each other on how they met Jesus in three minutes. On this trip more than any other trip we saw hundreds of people come to meet Jesus for the first time. Many homeowners came at dinner and they confessed that they were not believers but they were so encouraged hearing the testimonies, they gave their hearts to the Lord while the volunteers were there working on their home. We had a married couple, they had filed for divorce and felt like giving up. She was a believer, he was not. He repented and came to meet Jesus during EDOH XV. I think one of the most unique stories is the volunteers go home and they are exhausted. But when they leave, their hearts are full. Every trip we’ll have volunteers meet Jesus and become a born again believer. I thought it was interesting I had a gentleman from Ohio. He was getting ready to leave on last day and said, “Hey Steve, pray for me. I’ve got to go back to my church and have some explaining to do.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well my church sponsored me to come down here to go on a missions trip. But Steve, I’ve been faking it my whole life. Last night I fell on my knees in the parking lot right next to the tool trailer and a 25 year old guy led me to the Lord. I came on a mission trip and I met Jesus while I was sent from my church to go on a mission trip.” And I said, “You know, if your church does anything other than rejoice with you and celebrate with you, then you need to find another church.” Those stories happen all the time, Amy. We have people in parking lots, in driveways, in the middle of a floor—volunteers and homeowners—they hear someone’s testimony and when they get asked, do you have a testimony, do you know Jesus? Have you accepted Him into your heart? That is usually when someone makes a decision for eternity.
OM: Overall, how many families or individuals have restored homes by EDOH and how many volunteers served?
Steve: We went in March, Eight Days of Hope XIV and XV, we took 4,692 volunteers, and we helped rebuild over 800 homes. We had the governor, Governor Greg Abbott, show up and thank the volunteers and he actually volunteered with us. . . . People see this grassroots effort, a volunteer organization making a difference that God has allowed us to be a part of, people want to be a part of that as well.
OM: Okay, I have to ask, how did you ever feed and house that many people daily?
Steve: In Houston, when you feed 4,692 people, per two eight day periods or a total of 15 days, our feeding bill was about $140,000. So we had to raise that money. We traditionally ask churches to sponsor a meal. We have a feeding team that comes in. They bring in a 53-foot feeding trailer, other feeding equipment, and they can make thousands of meals in two hours or less. I often joke that its eight pounds of hope because I never leave thinner than I came. The cooks do a great job. They get up at 3:30 in the morning to make breakfast. Typical breakfast would be eggs, bacon, and sausage, and there’s yogurt, cereals, and bagels and just pretty much anything someone would want to eat—it’s free. We don’t charge the volunteers to come, but we do have to raise that money. We house the people in local churches. [In Houston], we found a mall that had flooded and was gutted. We provide security at all the facilities and if families come, and we’re very family friendly, they stay in tents, they go to hotels, or they bring their own RV.
OM: We learned that EDOH opened a satellite location in Buffalo this past summer. What is the purpose of this facility and are there ways folks can help locally?
Steve: Last year there were 969 disasters in America. We went to 14 of them with our rapid response arm and our rebuilding arm. We have sensed that there is a huge movement of people wanting to get involved with EDOH. They want to love and serve people in need and they want to be able to show up and start loving on people immediately. For people from Buffalo to get to Houston, and be there for seven weeks, that’s tough. Well, there were disasters in Ohio and New York last year, and there was a tornado in Massachusetts . . . there are disasters all the time. We’re going to have equipment, people, leadership, full-time missionaries, and an office and warehouse in Buffalo, NY, so when there is a disaster in Pennsylvania or Syracuse, we can dispatch very quickly. More importantly, the volunteers won’t have to get in their cars and drive 20 hours. So when there’s a disaster in Ohio, a group from WNY can leave on Friday morning and be at the disaster Friday afternoon. Serve for a couple days and go right back home.
OM: How can our Chapel family best pray for EDOH?
Steve: Wow, we like to keep it simple—we want Jesus to be seen. If people forget our name or our logo, or they forget the name of the volunteer who came to love and serve them, we’re okay with that. We just want people to remember that they saw Jesus that week. So continue to pray that we not only stay humble, but also that we keep the main thing, the main thing. Pray for our leaders to follow the doors that He opens up for us.
In closing, Steve also shared something after our interview that I wanted to pass along to our readers. He said, “. . . very simply, God tells us through His Word to love Him and love others. So on all of our trucks you see a saying, ‘Loving and Serving Those in Need.’ You know the best sermon I’ve ever heard, Amy, is the one I saw. I’ve heard a lot of great sermons. I’ve heard great pastors in WNY and all along the south as I’ve traveled the Bible Belt, but the greatest sermon I ever heard was when I saw it—when I see Jesus in action, when I see people using their gifts to love others and to serve others, and you don’t judge, but you just serve them right where they’re at. It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit does.”
Please visit eightdaysofhope.com to learn more about Eight Days of Hope.
Editor’s note: This interview appeared in a shorter form in On Mission.