HOUSTON — A film director scouting for a locale that can double as a war zone could easily settle on the Wimbledon Estates neighborhood.
Destruction has come to define this community in recent days. Massive piles of debris, ruined furniture, floorboards and water-logged drywall are stacked high outside most homes. Families here are among the seemingly endless list of victims of Tropical Storm Harvey.
Rebuilding Wimbledon Estates will be a long, difficult process.
But for a few moments Sunday afternoon, many homeowners — along with friends (both old and new) who have been helping them muck out their damaged homes — enjoyed joyful relief.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made an unexpected visit to their storm-weary neighborhood. He was wearing a yellow Mormon Helping Hands T-shirt over his white dress shirt to blend in with volunteers and cleanup crews.
The church leader didn't call for a meeting or ask people to organize around him in orderly rows. He simply chatted with anyone who stepped forward to say hello. He shared handshakes, gave a few hugs and offered plenty of encouraging words.
President Uchtdorf said he traveled to Houston on Sunday to represent the church's First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostle, who are concerned for any and all hit hard by Harvey.
Looking out for others, he said, is what Latter-day Saints are doing worldwide.
"We serve God by serving our fellow men," President Uchtdorf said while looking over the Helping Hands work crews cleaning up Wimbledon Estates.
Earlier in the day, he stood in front a large group of Latter-day Saints gathered for a sabbath-day service at the Cypress Texas Stake Center and extended a charge to service-minded people across south Texas: "Let's go out there and do the work."
More than 800 people, many donning Helping Hands T-shirts, were gathered for that meeting in north Houston. Similar meetings were held across Texas prior to church members serving in their own neighborhoods and communities.
President Uchtdorf was joined by Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé; Elder J. Devn Cornish, of the Seventy; and Elder Daniel W. Jones, an Area Seventy.
President Uchtdorf began his remarks by speaking of the love the First Presidency has for Texas church members.
“We love you and we bless you,” he said, before adding with a smile, “We are not here to get in the way.”
The LDS Church leader spoke of the beauty many members have shown as they have cared for others. A few have served even while floodwaters have damaged their own homes.
“But you turned around and went out and helped others,” he said.
Service, President Uchtdorf added, is the true sign of faith.
He noted that many were wearing Helping Hands T-shirts. But he said, “A helping heart is what is most important.”
President Uchtdorf noted that much of Houston looks normal from the sky. But on the ground, there is much trouble.
“This is true in our spiritual journey,” he said.
President Uchtdorf spoke of his personal love for those who serve. When he was a young boy in war-torn Germany, he was sustained by the love and service of others, he said.
“The world has hope for the future because of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
President Uchtdorf concluded his remarks with a blessing on all who serve, saying they will be blessed as they bless the lives of others.
In his remarks, Bishop Caussé said the First Presidency was anxious to be with church members in the Houston area as soon as possible after the storm hit. He told the members gathered in the Cypress Texas Stake Center that “many people will be blessed by your efforts.”
Bishop Caussé recited the third verse of his favorite hymn, “Master, the Tempest Is Raging.”
“Master, the terror is over. The elements sweetly rest. Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored, and heaven’s within my breast.”
He acknowledged that these are troubled times and there are many waves in this world, “but we are on the right boat and with the right pilot, even Jesus Christ.”
In his brief remarks, Elder Jones said all who labor on this special Sabbath day “will be highly favored of the Lord.”
Following the sacrament service, President Uchtdorf and the other visiting leaders made stops in key areas of Mormon interest in Houston — including Wimbledon Estates, where several LDS families live.
President Uchtdorf also made a walk through the flood-damaged Houston Texas Temple with the temple president, Marshall Hayes. The waters have receded at the temple site, but evidence of Harvey's destructive power still remain on the temple grounds and throughout the edifice.
The group also visited the temporary logistical center of the Red Cross in Houston. The LDS Church enjoys a well-established partnership with the Red Cross and has donated money and provisions to help deliver relief to folks impacted by Harvey.
"I'm so glad you could come," said Charles Blake, the Red Cross coordinating official for Hurricane Harvey in Texas, welcoming the guests. "I honestly believe the LDS people are the best prepared people in the country. You are feeding the body and feeding the soul."
Sunday was hot and busy for the visitors from church headquarters, but it was time well-spent, said Elder Cornish. The First Presidency, he added, wanted to have a presence in Houston as soon as possible to support and lift the people.
"I'm here in delighted support of what prophets do."
Houston resident Jason Godfrey works as a disaster and relief coordinator in his Mormon stake. Over the past several days, he has dispatched hundreds of volunteer crews to homes in need throughout his city. But listening to the words of President Uchtdorf and the others, he said, offered spiritual repair at a challenging moment.
"No one doubted that the church leaders cared about us, but to have President Uchtdorf here and listen to him express his appreciation for what's going on is very meaningful," he said.