New Horizons in Houston


Like yesterday’s oil wildcatters and today’s astronauts, Church members here are pioneers. The Houston Saints are tapping rich spiritual resources and bringing the gospel to new frontiers.

Sprawling over an endless, flat prairie, metropolitan Houston is banded together by highways that radiate from downtown like rings on a pond after a stone is plunked in. Several stakes of the Church reach into the territory within the city’s innermost loop. Houston’s distribution of Church membership, however, suggests not a pie shape but a donut shape, with the hole in the middle representing the inner city, where Church members are scarcer than in the suburbs.

Bishop Del Jones received a strong spiritual witness about the inner city just before he was called as president of one of the stakes that intersect it. “As I drove back and forth each day and passed the central neighborhoods,” he says, “I sensed that the Church wasn’t doing all we could there. We had twelve strong stakes in the outlying suburban areas, but we weren’t addressing the central community.”

After he was called to lead the stake, President Jones began working with members and missionaries to follow up on hundreds of media referrals from the inner city. After seeing the potential for growth, leaders were able to lease a vacant office building on a major thoroughfare. With a fresh coat of paint and the addition of several flower beds, the meetinghouse of the new Houston Fifth Branch has become an oasis among the area’s dilapidated buildings. An office houses a branch of the stake’s successful employment center, and members from outlying wards have been called to run a community-oriented Scouting program. The building represents the Church’s first physical presence within Houston’s inner loop in decades.

This spirit of seeing what needs to be done and then doing it characterizes the people of Houston. As the space and energy capital of the world, Houston’s sphere of influence reaches into the sky via satellites and space shuttles and under the earth via pipelines and oil wells. The influence of the Church is expanding as well. In the past five years, Houston members have made dramatic progress in spreading the gospel, building bridges to the community, and drawing closer to the Lord.

A “Can-Do” City

Located fifty miles from the Gulf Coast, Houston is a city of both the Wild West and the genteel South. “Houston has a rough-and-tumble cowboy side,” says Al Haines, president of the Cypress stake and head of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, “and you also find that legendary Southern hospitality here.” Sophisticated yet down-to-earth, the city boasts both world-class performing arts and the world’s largest livestock show. The area is at times so humid that people’s eyeglasses fog up when they step outside.

“Houston is a ‘can-do’ kind of city,” says President Haines. For example, when the inland city decided some years ago to compete with nearby Galveston as a port, planners widened and deepened Buffalo Bayou to create the 52-mile-long, 25-foot-deep Houston Ship Channel.

Land speculators founded the city in 1836, the same year that General Sam Houston won Texas’s independence from Mexico at San Jacinto, seventeen miles from today’s downtown Houston. After oil was discovered in 1901, the city boomed with energy-related industries. By 1940, Houston ranked twenty-first in population among U.S. cities. Today, its population of 1.6 million ranks it fourth.

The Church too has boomed. When Russell Gray arrived in the southwest quadrant of the city in 1960, he found fewer than 200 Saints meeting in a rented building. Called to preside over the 5,000-square-mile ward area, Bishop Gray oversaw the building of Houston’s third chapel, in Maplewood. “We predicted we’d have 700 members by 1970,” he recalls. “By then, we had over 2,200.”

“The oil business has brought in established members for years,” observes Gary Coultas, a space shuttle engineer who came to Houston in 1963, “but NASA brought in a large group all at once. When a surge in converts came during the sixties and seventies, stakes and wards had this pool of experienced members to draw on. The Church was able to move forward in a big way.”

After the boom brought on in the seventies by the Arab oil embargo, Houston slumped into a recession so severe that more than 221,000 jobs were lost. Stirling Pack, a former bishop of the Cypress Ward who directs investor relations for a large energy company, recalls that by 1986 the ward had lost about a third of its members. “Whole housing complexes were left vacant,” he recalls. “Some member families who stayed lived for months on savings and food storage.”

By diversifying its economy, Houston has since returned to prosperity. In the Church, missionary work has continued apace, and other members have moved back into the area to work at computer and applied technology firms.

Church members point out that Houston’s endeavors are helping spread the gospel. “The energy industry makes possible the high-speed travel that so many of the Lord’s servants rely on,” notes Stirling Pack.

“Through satellites,” Gary Coultas observes, “the President of the Church can speak instantly to all corners of the earth. I believe the space program is inspired.”

New Frontier: A Spanish-speaking Stake

In January 1994, at meetings presided over by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy, the English-speaking units of the Houston Texas Stake were reassigned to several surrounding stakes, and nine Spanish-speaking units were gathered into the area’s original stake. Once the frontier of Anglo growth, the Houston stake is now the frontier of growth for the area’s 600,000-plus Hispanics.

“The only real change in the stake is that meetings are now conducted in the Spanish language,” says Elder Cook, who serves as a counselor in the North America Southwest Area presidency. “With their language barrier removed, many more Hispanics in Houston will now have the opportunity to become good leaders as they serve each other and follow the direction of the Spirit.”

“Houston needed this stake because the area is gaining more and more members and investigators who don’t speak English,” says new stake president Daniel Pereyra, who joined the Church in Argentina at age fourteen. “Many parts of the city are as Hispanic as central Mexico. With our strength concentrated in a stake, growth is going to explode!”

The Church is attracting Hispanic converts like Gaston and Ivonne Garcia. The Garcia family recently moved to Houston from Mexico and joined the Church a month after arriving. “In this church,” says Brother Garcia, “we learn and grow. All the members are teachers and students at the same time. Each week, we can put what we learn into practice.”

Sister Garcia adds: “We’ve felt a big change in our life since we started praying, reading scriptures, and helping other people. We are always looking for brothers and sisters who need love, help, or somebody to listen to. We work and grow together.”

One year after the couple arrived in the United States, their eleven-year-old son spoke in English at stake conference about the family’s recent experience of being sealed together at the Dallas Texas Temple, approximately five hours north of Houston.

As happens when a houseplant is repotted into a larger container, the Spanish-speaking stake has given Houston’s Hispanic Saints renewed life. “With the new stake, I think we’ll see an increase in nearly all statistics,” Elder Cook says. “We’re going to see a real thrust forward among the Spanish-speaking people in this area.”

New Frontier: Growth among Asians

After her family arrived in Houston from Vietnam, Camhue Nguyen became concerned about how her children were using their weekends: they simply relaxed and played. A Buddhist in her homeland, she started searching for a church to attend. After visiting eight denominations, she discovered what is now the Church’s Braeburn Second (Vietnamese) Branch and immediately felt comfortable there. In 1987, she and three of her children were baptized, and later she received her endowments at the Dallas Texas Temple. “I love to read the Book of Mormon in Vietnamese,” she says, “especially the parts by Nephi.”

As a major port city, Houston has become a clearinghouse of culture. Unlike the Hispanics, the Asians in Houston are small in number and diverse in languages. Consequently, one Korean, one Chinese, and one Vietnamese branch cover the whole metropolitan area, with smaller Cambodian and Laotian groups meeting with English-speaking wards.

Stake missionaries play a major role in the Vietnamese branch. “As refugees, many Asians have great needs,” says former branch president Bill Clements, “so our hearts go out to them. Not only do our stake missionaries help teach new members, but they give people rides and help them deal with government agencies, arrange for food and clothing, and find jobs. Some stake missionaries say the time they spend working in the branch is the most profound experience they’ve had in a Church calling.”

Maplewood Third (Chinese) Branch president Paul Pai was born in Shanghai and baptized in the sea near Chilung, Taiwan, at age eleven. “More than half our members are from mainland China,” he reports. “The rest come from places like Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. Aside from four or five families, all our members have joined the Church here in the branch. Many are current or recent college students.”

Chinese converts often come from an atheist background. At first, prayer was a big challenge for convert James Qu. “I wondered if I could really communicate with God,” he recalls. “I felt that Heavenly Father was good and that the Church was good, but I didn’t think it would be helpful to pray. How could he hear and answer us all? As time passed, I realized that I can’t do everything by myself and that I need the Lord’s guidance. Now I pray every day. My prayers are answered. When I feel a lack of peace, I know that can be an answer too.”

“The branch is important not only so Chinese people in Houston can hear the gospel in their own tongue,” says President Pai, “but also because we’re training the people who will one day help others find the gospel in China. We already have three members who were baptized here and have returned to mainland China. They will begin planting seeds of faith for the Church there.”

New Frontier: Speaking to the Deaf

All over the world, members are being prepared to minister to the deaf. “I became interested in sign language when I happened to sit by an interpreter in a college class,” says Elder Gregory Cruz, a hearing missionary from Taylorsville, Utah. “Now I’m preaching the gospel in sign language. I love working with people who are deaf.”

President Walter Scott, who leads the two-year-old Inwood Second (Deaf) Branch, became involved with people with hearing impairments after his wife, Crystina, performed as a deaf character in a puppetry group. Crystina’s heart was touched, and she returned to school to study sign language.

Elder Adam Shewell, a Salt Lake City native who is deaf, recalls that as soon as he got his driver’s license, he started attending a branch for people who are deaf. “Then I was able to understand,” he signs. “That’s why I’m on a mission, to help other deaf people understand.”

Boyce Jones, who is hearing impaired and who serves in the branch presidency, recalls his conversion: “I was studying the Bible,” he signs, “and I knew I needed to be baptized by immersion by someone holding the proper authority.”

When sister missionaries knocked on Brother Jones’s door, he learned about the gospel by passing notes with them. “They handed me the Book of Mormon,” he signs, “and I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. I already knew the Bible well, and I wanted to test this book. I found out it was true. It was so exciting to join the Church!”

“Houston has a large deaf community,” says Elder Cruz. “We teach them the gospel by using examples and stories. We draw pictures with our hands, and we use Church materials like the Gospel Art Picture Kit and videos produced for people who are deaf. One of our investigators was especially touched by a videotape of Book of Mormon stories. With the resources available, and with the Lord’s help, there’s no way we can fail.”

“Growth is slow, but branch members are working hard to involve other people who are deaf,” says Crystina Scott. “If all of us were like these members, the Church would grow so fast we wouldn’t know what to do. As I work in the branch, I don’t feel I’m teaching the deaf anything—I feel they are teaching me.”

New Frontiers: Youth and Singles

“Some people say Houston is becoming the new drug capital of the South,” declares Eric Hamaker, a seminary student in the Baytown First Ward. “We have police at my high school. Dogs sniff for drugs every day, and officials are talking about installing metal detectors. People smoke cigarettes in the halls. The bathrooms are painted black to discourage graffiti.”

When asked what most strengthens them in the face of such conditions, the Baytown youth unanimously point to early-morning seminary. “Seminary helps because we take a practical approach,” says Eric. “We don’t just say, ‘Let’s all be good,’ but we get down to the nitty-gritty of the things we’re going to run into. We come up with practical ways for overcoming the problems.”

“Seminary is the glue that holds these kids to each other, to the ward, and to the gospel,” says Joy Smith, who arises at four o’clock each morning to prepare for her six o’clock class. “They come in every morning for a pep talk, and then they march out to do battle in their respective high schools. They may be the only Latter-day Saint in their science or history class, but they know they’re not alone.”

“Our youth bring their friends to dances, activity nights, and Sunday meetings,” says Bishop Dennis Smith, Joy’s husband. “We’ve had priests baptize their friends. Joy keeps a stack of copies of the Book of Mormon in her classroom so students can pick one up whenever they need it.

“Our youth are dedicated to one another,” continues the bishop. “They don’t want to lose anyone along the way. They’re striving to be in the eternities together, and I think that’s what keeps them strong.”

In the same way that seminary helps Houston’s youth stay on course, the area’s singles branches help young adults prosper in the gospel. Named after the hero who is to Texas what George Washington is to the United States, the new Sam Houston Branch is giving singles in the city’s northwest quadrant new opportunities for service and leadership.

California native Julie Olsten majored in elementary and special education at Brigham Young University and moved to Houston to teach fourth- and fifth-grade special education. She was recently called as the new branch’s first Relief Society president. “I was enjoying teaching Primary in a family ward, but I’m so excited about the branch and my new calling!” she says. “I already love these sisters, and I can’t wait to get to know them all. Being single binds us together.”

“The pull of the world is strong on young adults,” says President Paul Oscarson, who previously served as a mission president in Sweden and as a counselor in the presidency of the Hingham Massachusetts Stake, where he oversaw the singles program. “Young singles who aren’t attending a Church college or serving a mission need a dynamic, challenging place in the Church.

“When young adults live at home,” President Oscarson continues, “sometimes their parents don’t want them to attend a different unit. But if parents could see how young adults grow and succeed in a singles branch, they’d push them in the door themselves.”

“Ikwia Aikwig”

Like a handful of salt cast over the city, individual Saints are making Houston more savory from the headiest heights of glamour to the lowliest levels of poverty. “As my company’s spokesperson to the financial community,” says energy executive Stirling Pack, “I have the opportunity to talk about the Church with people all over the world. I realize that those who find out I’m a Latter-day Saint often watch me to learn about my habits of honesty, morality, and health. So I try to be a good example. I often think of a little acronym, ‘Ikwia aikwig,’ which stands for ‘I know who I am, and I know where I’m going.’”

The same could be said of members throughout Houston. “Our members are volunteering in a highly organized, Deseret Industries-type organization called the Northwest Assistance Ministries,” reports Pat Hall, who directs public affairs in the Cypress stake. Supported by thirty Jewish and Christian congregations, the ministry has purchased an entire L-shaped strip mall and replaced former fashion boutiques, video stores, and pizza parlors with a food pantry, a thrift store, employment and abuse counseling offices, a senior citizens’ center, a children’s medical clinic, and literacy classrooms. “We Latter-day Saints are happy to be working with others to help the needy in this section of town,” Sister Hall says. “We accomplish much more by working together than we could on our own.”

The Houston Mormon Choir is a tri-region group of eighty members that performs at non-Church functions whenever the opportunity arises. With the theme of “God, Family, Country,” the three-year-old choir has performed at several interdenominational prayer breakfasts; at the black community’s Juneteenth celebration, which commemorates the day the slave-freeing Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas; and at a multi-ethnic concert sponsored by the city’s Coalition of Ministers Against Crime. Choir president Taylor Hetzel reports that “members of other faiths tell us they really feel something when we perform. Good music invites the Spirit.”

In the Friendswood stake, members are influencing the community for good with a five-year-old Family of the Year program. After an ambitious yearly campaign that involves local civic leaders, businesses, and newspapers, the stake presents awards to individuals who give service to youth, perform community service, are successful as single parents, and are outstanding grandparents. An overall award is also presented to a family of the year. As many as eight hundred people from the community have attended the award ceremony at the stake center. “We didn’t just decide one day to start a Family of the Year program,” says coordinator Marta Bourgeois. “Our members have been building bridges in the community for years. No matter how we serve, members are always teaching the gospel and opening doors.”

Eternal Frontiers

“As Church leaders,” says Elder Gene R. Cook, “we could pick one problem at a time to help our members work on. We think it’s more effective, however, to address causes rather than symptoms.”

For two years now, the area presidency has led Houston and the rest of the North America Southwest Area in a focus on being more converted to the Lord. “As our members become more converted to the Lord,” says Elder Cook, “they repent of their sins and solve their problems. Their lives become more spiritual and Christlike. They desire to do more missionary work, neighborly service, and family history work. They serve because they want to, not because they feel an obligation.”

The area’s emphasis on conversion has mainly focused on morning and evening daily prayer and daily scripture study for both individuals and families. “Following a plan,” Elder Cook explains, “local leaders and home teachers have taught and reminded members to study and pray. They’ve used special lessons, letters, and meetings. We’ve heard many resulting stories of reactivation and greater righteousness and spirituality.”

Liza Butler of the Houston Texas North Stake is one of those success stories. “When this emphasis on conversion began, my ward passed out an anonymous survey,” she says. “We were all surprised at how few people were both praying and reading scriptures regularly, though we all know we should.”

The bishopric asked four or five families to try a two-week experiment with prayer and scripture study and report the results to the ward. Liza’s family was chosen to participate. “I’ve always gone to church,” Liza says, “but I sort of walked a middle road. We always had a blessing on the food, but our family prayers were sporadic and scripture reading was nonexistent.”

Liza reports that in order to bring prayer and scriptures into her family’s life, they have had to put those activities absolutely first. “If we put them second,” she says, “after chores or errands or breakfast or whatever, they don’t get done. We experimented to find the most convenient times. We let other things go. We prioritized. We got up a little earlier.”

At the end of the two weeks, Liza was able to report great progress to the ward. “Instead of always worrying about day-to-day worldly business, I started being more prayerful in my heart and thinking about scriptures. My kids got so turned on to the Book of Mormon that they’d keep reading after our family session. They’d look things up in the maps and indexes. My husband, who is not a member, noticed I was more peaceful. Spiritually, our two-week experiment was a giant shot in the arm, and we’ve been keeping it up.”

By trying new things, reaching out, and stretching themselves, the Houston Saints have become gospel emissaries who are helping expand the frontiers of the Lord’s kingdom. “We’re excited about the growth we see in Houston and about the wonderful Saints who are participating in building the kingdom there,” says area president W. Mack Lawrence. Elder Cook adds: “The future of the Church in Houston is very bright—there are no limits on what can happen.”

Moroni Stone: A Houston Pioneer

During the 1800s, as part of the Southern States Mission, Texas yielded many new converts who helped build up Zion in Utah. In 1900, the Church approved the founding of LDS settlements in Texas. Moroni Stone was born in 1911 to newly converted parents in one of these settlements north of Houston, called “Little Utah” and later Jozye.

When fifteen-year-old Moroni left his family’s farm in 1925 to seek his fortune in Houston, he found a tiny branch of the Church there—a “twig,” he calls it. The branch met in an upstairs dance hall. “We had to go early on Sunday mornings to sweep up the cigarette butts and mop out the bathrooms,” Brother Stone recalls.

The Houston Branch received its first building in 1932, when an older woman who had boarded missionaries willed her home to the Church, though she had never joined herself. “This was the real beginning of the branch,” Brother Stone declares. Members remodeled the house into a chapel, which Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, dedicated in 1933. Two years later, Moroni Stone was serving as president of the branch.

Needing more space to grow, the branch purchased a lot on Calumet Street near downtown Houston and built the area’s first new meetinghouse, which was dedicated in 1941. “It was a beautiful one-story white brick chapel,” Brother Stone recalls. “We built a new mission office and mission home next to it.” The Church used the buildings until 1957.

As a counselor in the mission presidency, Brother Stone attended a pivotal 1953 meeting where mission president Benjamin Bowring suggested to President David O. McKay the possibility of forming stakes in Houston and Dallas. Brother Stone recalls that “after seeing our statistics, President McKay said, ‘You will have your stakes.’” Later that year, under the presiding authority of Elders Mark E. Petersen and Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Houston Texas Stake was organized.

With 3,900 members, the original Houston stake encompassed forty-eight counties in Texas and two in Louisiana. Today, nineteen stakes and more than 50,000 members fill this same area, which stretches from San Antonio, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Sixty-nine years after Moroni Stone found a “twig” of the Church growing in Houston, the metropolitan area has blossomed into three regions, twelve stakes, and two missions, with seventy wards and branches, thirty-four buildings, and more than 25,000 members.

The Metro Missionary

In the two-year-old, inner-city Sunnyside Branch, where Samuel Hosea now serves as elders quorum president, he has become known as the Metro Missionary—the word Metro referring to Houston’s bus system. “I ride the bus a lot,” Samuel says, “and I always carry copies of the Book of Mormon with me. I strike up a conversation, and then I turn the conversation toward the Lord. I don’t worry if someone will join the Church or not. If they can feel the Spirit or accept a book, that’s all that matters to me.”

One morning, Samuel prayed that he could share the gospel with someone who sat next to him on the bus that day. When a woman named Latonia sat down, Samuel chatted with her, at one point inquiring what was in her backpack. She told him, and then Samuel said, “Well, I have scriptures in my backpack. Do you believe in God and his Son Jesus Christ?”

A wonderful conversation followed. “Latonia opened up and started telling me some of her problems,” Samuel recalls. “She wanted to know why I was so happy. I told her I’d had many of the same problems, but I’d found answers for them.”

They had lunch together the next day. “We prayed, and I told her about Joseph Smith,” Samuel says. “I could feel the Spirit working through me. She was so receptive to the Book of Mormon.” Shortly after, Samuel introduced Latonia to the sister missionaries, and in a few months he performed her baptism himself. “The Lord really does answer prayers,” he testifies.

The story doesn’t end there: Samuel and Latonia were later married. “When I first met Latonia,” remembers Fred Doerr, former president of the Sunnyside Branch, “her eyes were cast down, but she desired more than anything to do what was right. I called her to work in the Young Women organization. Within months, she was teaching good lessons and getting the girls involved in activities.” Today, Latonia serves in the branch’s Primary presidency.

Converted in Her Youth

While still in high school, Houston native Stascia Cowden started questioning her religion. “I had been taught that when we die, we would just float around in heaven as separate beings,” she says. “We would be full of glory but all we would do is wave at each other and sing praises to God. I felt that Heavenly Father’s plan must surely include family relationships after we die.”

Soon after Stascia’s senior year began, a Latter-day Saint friend invited her to a missionary open house, and she began to investigate the Church. At the time, she was president of a Christian group at her high school. “When the vice president of the group heard I was investigating the Church, he got together a crusade of people to rescue me,” Stascia recalls. “I was bombarded with anti-Mormon literature and videos. Our youth minister started showing up at the cafeteria to corner me for discussions. People wrote letters calling me to repentance. Even my dear mother pounded on me.”

When the missionaries asked Stascia if she wanted to be baptized, the eighteen-year-old knew she would lose many friends—but she also knew in her heart that the Church was true. “My baptism was so amazing,” she says. “I felt as though I could walk on air. I still get a smile on my face when I hear the word baptism.”

Stascia thought things would mellow out after she became a member—but the opposition only intensified. “People were trying to knock me down, but the furthest they knocked me was to my knees,” she says. “A Christian radio station prayed on the air that I would repent of joining the Church. The advisers of my religious group told me that because I was no longer a born-again Christian, I had to resign my presidency. They didn’t understand that my testimony of Christ had increased.”

Her seminary class helped Stascia prepare for a meeting with her religious group. “That morning, the seminary teacher suggested that I write down what I was going to say. Then the class pretended they were the religious group, and I practiced my speech. At the actual meeting, I put aside my notes and bore my testimony that Jesus is the Christ and Joseph Smith was a prophet. Later, the advisers decided I could finish out my presidency. The group lost a lot of members, but no one could deny I was a Christian.”

Two months after Stascia was baptized, her mother joined the Church as well. “The gospel is just amazing,” Stascia testifies. “When I heard the teachings, I realized I’d believed them all along. It put me on fire as I fit the pieces together.”

Wake-up Call

“As soon as we took shelter in the bathroom, it started,” Houston police officer Henry Chavez recalls of the day a tornado struck his family’s home. “Things started to hit the house. Things started to come apart.”

“We could hear wood splintering and glass breaking,” says his wife, Mary. “There was a horrible sucking sound. Our daughters were screaming. I thought we were all going to die together. It was the most helpless feeling.”

“The girls were huddled beneath me,” Henry says. “I remember thinking that if I could just keep them covered, rescuers could get them out from under me later. One moment it was pitch black, and then the wall and ceiling disappeared and suddenly it was bright.”

Though in shock, the family climbed safely out of the wreckage of their home. “The roof and all the exterior walls were gone,” Henry recalls. “Our car was lying upside down on one of my daughters’ beds. Natural gas was leaking so badly we could hear it, smell it, and taste it.”

With debris in their clothes and hair, the family ran down the street in the rain. “We had no house, no car, no checkbook, no keys, no change of clothes, no toothbrush, no anything,” Mary recalls. “The tornado had hit several houses, and people were running around like ants. We found out later that no one was killed.”

Though it was traumatic, the tornado turned out to be a great blessing for the Chavez family. “Looking back,” Henry says, “we can see how the tornado fit perfectly into the puzzle of our lives. Everything happened for a purpose.”

Events that followed the tornado helped lead the family back into full Church activity. When Henry and Mary had first met, neither one knew that the other was a Latter-day Saint. Mary had been baptized in her homeland of England, and Henry had been baptized in his youth. Because of a negative experience with another member, Henry had become less active soon after he joined. Mary attended church when she could, but her job as a nurse often kept her busy on Sundays.

“I thought members of the Church were hypocritical,” Henry recalls. “I would challenge my wife whenever she came home from meetings and whenever the home teachers left.”

After the tornado, however, Henry was touched when Church members came out to help, even members who were themselves less active. “People were really concerned about what had happened to us,” he remembers. “I could tell they were helping not because it was the right thing to do but because they cared.”

Brethren from the Chavez family’s ward showed up with their sons to help clean up the disaster site. In the ward where the family stayed after the tornado, members provided meals, washed salvaged clothes, loaned cars, and helped the family replace lost items.

“For me, the tornado was like a light bulb going on, a wake-up call from the Lord,” Henry says. “I realized that Church members might make mistakes, but overall, they are very good people. They were always there for us, but I never saw it until the tornado humbled me.

“I know a greater power is taking care of us,” Henry testifies. “My relationship with my wife and kids is so much better since we came back to activity in the Church. We pray, we have common goals, and we understand what we’re doing here and what’s going to happen. We’re blessed by serving and living the commandments together.”

[photos] Above: Houston is known for its dynamic glass and steel cityscape. Right foreground: Andy and Lorraine Ricker with their four children. Background: Oak trees shade many of Houston’s parks and streets.

[photos] Background: Houston’s ship channel gives access to the third-largest U.S. port. Above: Church member Randy Rhoads (right) works as a ship channel pilot for the Port of Houston. Below: Houston Texas Stake president Daniel Pereyra with his wife and six children. (Photo by Christopher K. Bigelow.)

[photo] Photo by Christopher K. Bigelow

[photos] Below left: Members of the new inner-city Houston Fifth Branch meet for Primary. Above: A baptism takes place in Houston’s Vietnamese branch.

[photos] Background: A rocket on display at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. (Photo by Christopher K. Bigelow.) Above: Church members employed by NASA sometimes work in the famous mission control center. Below: Members from many locales come to Houston and Galveston to study medicine and other disciplines.

[photos] Below left: Baytown seminary students meet early each morning at their teacher’s home. Above left: Stascia Cowden (left) and her roommate, Lynn Roe, both joined the Church while in high school. Above: An old strip mall now serves as a Church-supported charitable service center. (Photo by Christopher K. Bigelow.)

[photos] Background: An oil platform off Galveston. Below foreground: The Sara and Terrell Hunt family. Above: Sunnyside Branch members share a visiting teaching moment.

[photo] Photo courtesy of the Chavez family