Both you and your wife, Jennifer, feel like God called you to Houston, Texas in 2014 to start Hope City Church, which has grown so much over the last few years. Briefly describe that journey and how God led you to where you are today.
I come from a family of cowboys and preachers so I’m pretty sure God made me for Houston, Texas. In 2014, Jennifer and I couldn’t stop weeping over this big, amazing city. According to a recent Rice University study, Houston has surpassed New York City as the most international city in our country, with over 6 million people in the Greater Houston area. Right at 1.8 million of them say that they have no connection to God at all. That’s more than the population of many entire states. The need for Jesus here is so is intimidating, but the calling of God is unstoppable. In January of 2015 we stepped out in faith and poured everything we had into starting Hope City. Our prayer was that Hope City would impact generations of believers and ignite them to spread the hope of Jesus like wildfire. Since January of 2015, we’ve seen a little over 10,000 people give their lives to Jesus. That sounds amazing, but when you put 10,000 beside 1,800,000 you realize how great the battle before us is. Our God is able!
Even with thousands attending each week, Hope City is still waiting on a permanent place to call home. Tell us where you have been meeting and give an update on how God is moving to secure a space for your growing church family.
We currently have three campuses across Houston. Our Memorial and Katy campuses meet in local high schools and our Cypress campus, which launched October 22, meets in a middle school. We have a trustee board that helps oversee campus expansion and building projects. This board is made up of brilliant business people who have a heart for God and a head for finances. The west side of Houston is very expensive so we are constantly looking and praying. Be in prayer for us. We know that God has several buildings for us as we continue to reach lost souls. As much as we would like to have permanent meeting spaces, we will keep pressing forward and taking new territory. Our heartbeat is to reach this city by planting multiple campuses all over the Greater Houston area. The move of God that is happening in and through Hope City proves that this is not anything done by man – we don’t even have a building and God keeps pouring out revival. It reminds me a little of those old school weekend tent revivals that helped bring an awakening to this country. We believe that this mighty move of God proves that nothing can stop what God is doing.
As the Pastor of a large church in the Greater Houston area, you’ve had your hands full meeting the needs of your community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Describe the ongoing relief efforts over the last several months.
As soon as Harvey hit and we realized the extent of this catastrophe, our team immediately went out and began the rescue phase of our Emergency Response Plan. We sponsored 6 airboats that could navigate through the waters and sent them with $100 grocery gift cards to give out to victims who had lost everything. These guys were amazing. Adam and his crew of boats rescued 577 people. Once it was safe to enter into homes, we began our relief phase. More than 2,000 members of our volunteer team served 50 different shelters across Houston. We’ve had well over 40 home restoration projects completed by our teams and many more that we’ve been able to do through partnerships with other churches and organizations. We ran a 20,000 sq ft warehouse that served the community as a collection and distribution center. Currently we are entering our recovery phase as we work to rebuild our city and the surrounding communities. We’ve provided more than 600 backpacks and school supplies for children who lost everything and fed more than 10,000 hungry people. We are currently working to bring in materials for families in the construction process. This won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible if we continue to stand united.
It can be overwhelming to see the devastation left behind and still have hope. How has God personally encouraged you in the midst of so much tragedy?
Seeing so many pastors and churches stand together, arm in arm, in this city has brought so much hope to my heart. When the rain falls, the church rises! Even in the midst of pain, I’ve felt hope rising more than ever before. I talk to pastors every day now because of the flood that I would probably never have had the opportunity to know. I’ve been praying for unity and revival and a hurricane came, but the last time I checked if God can use a lion’s den and a fiery furnace to change a nation, then a hurricane doesn’t stand a chance. When pastors stand united, not even hurricanes can stop us.
Daystar recently gave over $600,000 toward hurricane relief efforts with a portion of those funds going to strategic partners on the ground in Houston, including Hope City. Describe how that donation has provided much-needed supplies to those impacted by the storm.
Just a day or two after the storm hit, Marcus called and said, “We want to help.” It was so encouraging to know that not only were Marcus and Joni praying for us, but our entire Daystar family was standing with us. Partners who give to Daystar can trust that the money is getting into the hands of the most oppressed and forgotten. Our giving filter involves reaching the least of these, including children, the elderly, and single moms. We’ve been able to immediately put supplies and resources in the hands of those who were getting covered up in red tape through government and insurance programs. With the money that Daystar sent, we have also helped several churches get back on their feet. This storm destroyed so many churches. I remember being in Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit and 60 churches closed, never to reopen. We have decided that will not be the story of Houston. We will stand with our brothers and sisters, especially in hard-hit, lower income areas, and help them recover. So many of them are fighting such a valiant battle in those areas and we need them there.
I’m so grateful for Daystar’s generous donation to relief efforts in the city of Houston. So much of our rescue, relief, and recovery would not have been possible without this generous partnership. It has enabled us to mobilize teams and supplies to those who have lost everything because of the floods. By standing together, we’ve been able to help so many more people than we could ever have done alone. We’re better together! Thank you, Daystar.
Can you share one story in particular illustrating how a family or individual was impacted through Daystar’s donation?
Adam serves on our Parking Team at the church. We are fishing buddies. He’s just a regular Texas guy with a huge heart who decided he couldn’t stand idly by while people were in need. He grabbed several other friends and our church sponsored their airboats by paying for the gas, onsite repairs, and oil changes. This would not have been possible without Daystar’s generous donation. I called him after I talked to Marcus and said, “Keep the boats rolling, keep saving people.” Together they were able to pull more than 570 people out of the water to safety. Many were elderly people who were trapped and a few were confined to wheelchairs and would’ve drowned in their homes had he not been there. They also found a 91-year-old woman and her 86-year-old sister who would’ve never been found. She was in a wheelchair and was deaf. She couldn’t say thank you but as the tears streamed down her face, she waved her hands and hugged their necks. They got her to the airlift helicopter and to safety.
Kandice is a 65 yr old widow and one of the most praying women that I know. She lost everything in the hurricane. It’s hard to come home with 6 feet of water in it. We were able to get her temporary housing and because of Daystar I was able to look her in the eye and say, “you are going to be okay, we are going to take care of you.” Our hope has always been that we won’t just pray with people; we want to be the answer to their prayers. Daystar was the answer to ours so that we can be the answer for others.
For all of the Daystar Partners reading this, what would you like to personally say to them about the impact they’ve made during this tragedy?
I can’t express how grateful I am that you’ve helped bring hope to so many in the midst of such hopeless. There have been over a thousand people saved and many more helped by Hope City and that wouldn’t have been possible without you. I don’t know if we’ll ever truly see the full impact of your generosity on this side of eternity. I believe there will be souls in Heaven because of your generous hearts to see the lost be found. It was a beautiful thing to witness people who don’t believe in Christ being saved by Christians. Thank you for helping us as we help others. Your generosity has made a profound impact on Houston, its people, and generations to come.
In the wake of major disasters, people are often looking for answers concerning why God allowed this to happen. How are you responding to those questions?
These kinds of disasters are always hard because we’re left with so much heartache and pain. What do you tell a person who lost everything and has no insurance? Or the man in our church who lost his uncle and their entire family in a van that sunk in rapid flood waters? We don’t understand why something like this could happen, but I think we need to realize that it’s okay to ask why. Jesus asked the Father why from the cross. God isn’t afraid of your questions, but you have to bring them to Him. We live in a fallen world and the Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust. I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that God says in His Word no matter what the circumstances are He is always with us. We are walking people through the grieving process. Grief is God’s gift of transition. If we don’t grieve, we get stuck on the wrong side of a problem and never receive God’s promise. We’ve continued to encourage people to take time to talk to the Lord and process the pain. You don’t always get over it immediately, but with help from Jesus you can get through it. I’ve also encouraged people to look to Heaven as their hope. Even if I lose everything, I still have the hope of my Savior. I’ve continued to encourage our community to keep this simple prayer at heart: “Even when I don’t know what to do, God, I’ll trust you.”
Having faith in the middle of such a devastating situation can be difficult. How have you seen God use this crisis to draw people closer to Him?
It’s been incredible seeing hope rise even in the midst of a hopeless situation. We’ve been able to spread the love and the hope of Jesus in ways we’ve never done before. Only God can take a storm, use it for His glory, and turn it around so that people draw closer to Him. In the few weeks after the storm, we saw more than 400 people give their lives to Jesus. Disasters always cause people to realize their need for something more powerful than them. It’s amazing how when you lose control, you begin to gravitate to the one who never has. God is in control and the harvest has never been greater than right now. I believe this storm has sparked a great awakening in our city that will resound throughout this nation.
A verse we often hear quoted in the Church is Isaiah 61:3 that talks about God giving His people “beauty for ashes” in times of suffering. How have you seen Him be faithful to His Word during this difficult season?
The amazing thing about God is that He’s not just a promise-giver, He’s a promise-keeper. He is always faithful to perform His Word, even when we don’t understand and can’t see what He is saying. If we press on, there is always a promise on the other side of pain. We have one particular family in our church who has 14 children. They lost everything in the hurricane. Their entire house was under water along with their cars. They didn’t live in a flood-plain, so they had no flood insurance. They are a powerful, praying family. Mike and Jackie are amazing parents who dearly love their kids and I remember seeing them in church 2 weeks after the flood. I was preaching about allowing worship to replace your worry. I’ll never forget watching Mike stand in the middle of that sermon with tears streaming down his face and he began to quietly lift his hands and worship. Jackie stood beside him with tears in her eyes lifting the name of Jesus. I stopped and stared in awe as their children stood beside them and followed the leading of their parents. Mike is 60, and starting over is hard, but God is good. His praise in the face of pain impacted me profoundly.
With so much division in our country, there are stories of how people came together to help each other in the aftermath of this storm in spite of differences in their race or religion. How have you personally seen that as Hope City continues to assist with the recovery process?
I’ve never seen a city unite with such strength and humility. Churches of different denominations, people of different ethnicities, and neighbors who’ve never even said “hi” to one another before, all rallied together to help each other in this crisis. The unique thing for me to watch was how churches saved people, clothed them, fed them, and housed them regardless of whether or not they believe in Jesus. Our teams were clearing houses in one particular neighborhood and came upon an Asian couple in their 70’s. They are Buddhist and spoke broken English. They had no one to help them and wept when we offered. We cleared their whole house and have walked through this crisis with them. Before we left on the first day she asked us to pray with her. She held so tightly to one of our team members as he prayed and she wept and just said “thank you” over and over again. That’s truly what we are supposed to do as the church. We are supposed to help anyone and everyone that we can, no matter what they believe. I’m so honored that even through this disaster we’ve been able to love God, love people, and change the world. If anyone ever wondered what the church is supposed to do, look at what the church did during this disaster.
As a result of the storm, Hope City was unable to meet in the places where the church normally gathered, but another group stepped in to help out. Briefly describe what happened and how they blessed you.
I will never forget getting a text message from Pastor Gregg Matte at Houston’s First Baptist Church. It simply read, “Hey man, do you guys have a place to have church this Sunday?” I replied, “No Gregg, we don’t.” He shot back, “Now you do, we will open both of our large campuses for you at 2pm on Sunday for as many Sundays as you need it.” I sat there and wept like a baby; and Pastor Gregg sat on the front row at 2pm while Hope City had church at First Baptist. That’s what Jesus prayed for, and I got to witness Gregg be the answer to a prayer of Jesus. There’s no telling what God is getting ready to do at First Baptist. They are such a great church with a passionate heart and selfless desire to reach this city.
In the vision statement for Hope City, you describe the church’s purpose as “loving God, loving people, and changing the world.” In what ways have you seen the church community step up and live that out in the months following the storm?
We say Love God, Love People, Change the World every weekend. That statement is rooted in Jesus Christ’s purpose, and the greatest commandment. When the storm hit, even before we could organize our church to help, they began to live out the vision. Our small groups began to organically get together and start serving neighbors and people they didn’t know. It helped illustrate the sermon that I’ve been preaching since day one, “Don’t just bring people to church, GO BE the church to the people.” I’m blown away that I get to pastor such amazing people who selflessly give of what they have to help others. I met so many people who had lost something that were still out there helping others.
As the news coverage of Hurricane Harvey diminishes, it can be easy for those not directly affected by the storm to forget about the needs that still exist. How can people get involved and continue to reach out and support those struggling in south Texas?
While stories of Harvey are slowly fading from national media attention, our city will be left picking up the pieces and rebuilding for months and even years to come. We are aggressively working with the city as well as other organizations to identify needs and help people who are desperate. In order for a community to rebuild after a crisis it takes money, manpower, and materials. We are happy to help coordinate teams to work, materials to be delivered, or money that is given. One hundred percent of everything that is donated to yourhopecity.com/flood goes directly to helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. But our heartbeat is for this city, so any organization that you trust, please give through it. Every dollar counts and we are so grateful to the Daystar partners for trusting us and throwing us a lifeline. It’s truly been awe-inspiring to see people come together for the sake of humanity and help one another out.
As the clean-up and rebuilding process continues, what is your hope for the future of the communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey?
I continue to pray and believe that our communities and our city will recover, rebuild, and rise again – stronger than ever before. We are living in a new normal. Houston experienced a love like I’ve never seen. I believe this is just the beginning for what we will see as God pours His glorious power over this city and ignites an awakening that will shake the world.
Why is it so important for believers to not only connect with God personally, but also experience Him in community with others through a life-giving church?
God created us as relational beings to do life with one another. The first thing that God said wasn’t good was loneliness. He said in Genesis it’s not good for man to be alone. We were created for relationship and friendship. In fact, when Jesus left this earth and ascended into Heaven He placed His Kingdom in the hands of a small group. They went with another group to the upper room and unified for 10 days. Then Pentecost exploded onto the scene and they “turned the world upside down.” This is why the enemy tries to isolate us. There is something so powerful when believers come together and experience the power and presence of God in a life-giving church.
How can people in the Greater Houston area connect with Hope City?
There are so many ways to get connected at Hope City. We’d love to have you join us at one of our weekend Worship Experiences. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or download our app to listen to our podcast. If you don’t live in the Houston area, you can also connect with us on our live stream every weekend on YouTube and Facebook Live. Head over to YourHopeCity.com for more info. It’s truly amazing getting to connect with people in Houston and all over the world who are a part of our Hope City Family.