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When Tragedy Becomes A Gift

By Shannon Pugh

Cliff and his boys, Ian and Ivan, lived in Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston for all their lives. The boys are 17-years-old with special needs, and Cliff has been their sole caregiver since they were 3 months old. As Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, Cliff watched the water rise at their apartment complex, eventually they had to be evacuated by boat. They were taken to a shelter in Houston, and then flown by the military to Dallas. On September 1, they arrived in Dallas and were placed in the mega-shelter at the Dallas Convention Center.

It was there they met Ray Morris. Ray works with FEMA, but is also a father to a young man with special needs. He immediately connected with Cliff and became a friend, counselor, and respite provider to the family. Ray would walk around the shelter with the boys while Cliff filled out paperwork for assistance. Cliff took full advantage and got more done in the shelter than many people who DIDN’T have twin sons to care for!

Along with being a father to a child with special needs, Ray also “just-so-happened” to attend Irving Bible Church when he was in the Dallas area. He knew that IBC had a heart for families with special needs, so when Cliff mentioned that he wanted to re-settle in the Irving area, Ray got in touch with Shannon Miller, director of Arise, IBC’s ministry to those with special needs. By the time Shannon got in touch with Cliff, the mega-shelter had been shut down and they had been moved to the Tommie Allen Rec Center in Oak Cliff. They had no transportation, were sleeping in a room of cots with 120 other people, and they didn’t have clothes, pull-ups, socks, or shoes that fit. They were trapped there without any way to get to Irving, which is where they wanted to be. 

Thankfully, IBC had already been working to respond to families who had been displaced by Hurricane Harvey. Shannon was able to use the resources from IBC to help move Cliff, Ian, and Ivan to a hotel on September 25, exactly one month after the hurricane turned their lives upside down. They are now working to find permanent housing in the Irving area, and the boys are already attending school through Irving ISD.

Ian and Ivan are the absolute epitome of joy and exuberance! They smile 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And not just little smiles, it’s the type of full-body smiles that light up a room and make your whole day! When they see you, you get a huge smile, a squeal, and a big double hug. They love EVERYTHING, and although they can’t really speak, they get their point across with a mixture of repeated sounds and hand signals. School is “oo-oo-oo-oo”, Cliff is “pa-pa”, hamburger is “buh” (that’s a with a slapping motion. (For the record, their favorite hamburger is a Whataburger…they are already known at multiple Whataburger locations in Irving.) These incredible boys go with their incredible dad. Cliff is highly motivated to do what’s best for the boys no matter the sacrifices he must make. He is their greatest advocate, and they clearly respect and adore him. Cliff believes that the hurricane may have been one of the best gifts they’ve ever received, as it brought them to Irving, and into a supportive community with many more resources for them than Port Arthur had.

They have become regulars at IBC, and the church has fallen in love with them, embraced them, and come around to support them in a variety of ways. The first time Shannon met with them, she mentioned IBC and Ivan immediately started saying “ch-ch-ch” and making gestures like he was playing guitar. Then he pointed to the sky and said “Gah-gah-gah”. Every Sunday, Arise volunteers take Ian and Ivan into worship. The boys love every second of it! And although they can’t really sing along, that doesn’t keep them from participating. They stand and clap and point into the air for the entire 30 minutes. The boys praise God without inhibition – the way we were created to worship. And it is awesome to experience!

Cliff, Ian, and Ivan have been through a lot. But their faith, gratitude and joy has remained strong in all circumstances. Having them as part of our community is a gift and we know IBC, and Irving, will be better off with this family in it.

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