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Houston Church Gives $50K to TX wildfire victims—600 Miles Away

Church members gather at Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, Texas / Photo via social media

CANADIAN, Texas — Nearly 600 miles separate this small town in the Texas Panhandle from the vast metropolis of Houston in the southeast part of the Lone Star State.

The 800 members of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston likely wouldn’t even know Canadian existed if not for their preaching minister, David Duncan.

But Duncan, 56, grew up in the rural community and often shares memories of Canadian in his sermons.

So when the ranching and oil-and-gas town of about 2,200 souls got caught in the path of the largest wildfire in Texas history last week, Memorial members recognized the name on the news.

“It was kind of funny,” Duncan said Sunday. “Like, I bet half the church asked me about it today or called me or texted me during the week: ‘Isn’t Canadian where you’re from?’”

Indeed, it is.

But Houston has become home since Duncan moved to Space City to serve as Memorial’s preacher in 2006.

Houston experienced its own disaster in 2017. The Memorial church became a relief hub after Hurricane Harvey dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Since then, Memorial has strived to pay forward the outpouring of support it received from Christians across the nation.

Typically, that means the church will donate $5,000 or even $10,000 to help after a major storm or fire.

But in the case of Duncan’s hometown, Memorial’s elders decided on a different amount, Canadian Church of Christ preaching minister Jake Perkins announced Sunday.

“They’re sending our church $50,000,” Perkins told his congregation.

The 220 or so people in the pews cheered the news. Some of them must rebuild after the Smokehouse Creek Fire burned over 1 million acres, destroying as many as 500 homes and other structures, according to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Others in the congregation lost hundreds of cattle in the blaze.

In Houston, Duncan described the money set aside for Canadian as “so humbling.”

“I would tell you more,” he told the Memorial church, “but it’s hard to do publicly because it makes me a bit emotional.”

But before praying later in the service, Memorial elder Greg Hughes cited the importance of Canadian in Duncan’s spiritual formation.

“We wouldn’t have a preacher if they had not encouraged David to pursue what he did,” Hughes said. “So we need to be aware of what’s going on in Canadian as well as the whole Panhandle.”

Duncan was 7 years old when his family moved to the Texas Panhandle in late 1974 — nearly a half-century ago — for his late father, Raymond, to serve as Canadian’s preacher.

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“I remember it was a big deal to me to move there,” Duncan told The Christian Chronicle. “They had over 100 members, and they had elders, and I had never been in a church that big or with elders before. I thought we were in the big time.”

All these years later, Duncan still has fond memories of playing baseball, basketball and football outside the church parsonage.

But on Feb. 14, 1980, his world took a tragic turn: His father died unexpectedly at age 53.

David’s late mother, Avis, asked her 12-year-old son if he wanted to stay in Canadian or move.

“I said, ‘I want to stay,’” Duncan recalled. “I mean, it was hard to imagine losing everything at that point.”

For several years, Duncan and his mom struggled to make ends meet. They did manual labor such as cleaning the co-op store, the newspaper office and the church.

Through it all, Canadian members worked hard to help them, physically and spiritually.

“People befriended us, loved us, shocked us often with a $20 bill or a $100 bill,” Duncan said in a statement read by Perkins. “Occasionally, when somebody shook my hand, it would just be in my hand.

“And there was so much more,” the Houston preacher added. “People paid for me to go on the church ski trip. They played catch with me in the front yard and made sure I wasn’t out of place at the father-son campout that they had yearly. The men in the church once built my mom a carport while she was out of town for the weekend.”

Given that history, Duncan said it “selfishly” gives him joy to influence the Memorial church to help Canadian.

Perkins, the Canadian preacher, knows Duncan from their time serving together in the early 2000s on the ministry staff of the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma.

“It’s not the amount,” Perkins said of the significance of the Houston congregation’s gift. “I think it’s the heart.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle, where this story was originally published. He traveled to Canadian to report this story. 

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Bobby Ross Jr.

A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, he blogs about the intersection of faith and the media for GetReligion.