The voice cut through everything — the chatter of volunteers, the rain still falling outside, the exhausted clatter of people settling into cots and trying to find food and dry clothes at the Lone Star Exposition Center in Conroe in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the catastrophic floods that have ripped through the region, all of it.
A small cluster of people stood in the middle of the expanse of cots assembled for the evacuees, and a woman, Victoria White, shook her head and took a step forward, as if to ballast herself against the sheer physical power of her own voice as she sang – to an audience of volunteers and people who may have lost everything – about Jesus Christ.
Seated on cots, many around the little group, composed of Marquist Taylor, a pastor, White, and a few friends and family members, did not seem to be registering what was happening, Taylor says. A volunteer captured most of this with her phone, which she posted on social media.
They weren't entirely sure how people would react to the performance they'd planned, a mix of gospel music led by White and preaching by Taylor. Initially, people just stared back at them as if they'd showed up to dance the tarantella and teach a few lessons in algebra.
On Monday night Taylor was sitting at home with his family trying to figure out what to do next. They had all come through the storm and the flooding unscathed, and now, hearing about the destruction and doing nothing, was making him stir-crazy.
Then he had an idea, so he called his friend Victoria White, a singer who works with him at Collide Youth Movement, an organization he has founded, and asked if she was up to go do some work at one of the shelters. White, who lives near Huntsville, eagerly agreed and Taylor got permission from officials running the shelter at Conroe's Lone Star Exposition Center to hold an informal service on Tuesday.
When they got to the center, people were still just arriving. Some of the volunteers were helping people get settled, while others were in the massive kitchen scrambling to get the evacuees some hot food. “I wasn't sure how people would react, but I told White to just start singing,” Taylor says.
She did and for a moment, as the first notes of “Spirit Breakout” resonated in the enormous space, people just sat there blinking. “I think everyone was wondering what on Earth was going on at first,” Taylor says.
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Then they started moving toward White. Some cried, some whipped out their cellphones and started recording, but most just sat there and listened. Of course Taylor used the moment to do a little preaching, but the audience seemed okay with that, maybe because the preaching brought comfort, or maybe because it came with the chance to hear White sing.
A volunteer posted a video of the performance on social media and it went viral. The video has already clocked more than two million views from Facebook alone, while Taylor's longer live video has garnered more than 100,000 views.
“It felt really good. Everybody was all together and as bad as things have been, for a second it felt like everyone believed it was all going to be all right,” Taylor says.