North America

Churches rally to help flood victims of Hurricane Harvey

More than 40 die from the storms that hit Texas and Louisiana last week

Refugees at Joel Osteen’s, Lakewood Church. Credit: joelosteen.com

Widespread flooding reaching 1,000-year thresholds or more has devastated the city of Houston and the shorelines of Texas and Louisiana, drawing thousands of helpers with dozens of churches opening their doors to help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Stung by criticism that his Houston-based Lakewood Church, the largest in the city, that can seat 16,000 and one of the biggest in the country, was not open to flood victims, Joel Osteen who was “just praying”, did an about-face opening the doors of his mega church to shelter those who needed sanctuary from the storm.

It was an embarrassing moment for Osteen who wrote, “Dear Houstonians! Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding!” The post received backlash on social media when photos were posted that seemed to contradict those claims. Its doors are now open and receiving anyone who needs shelter, said Osteen later. According to the church’s website, it has begun fundraising for Hurricane Harvey victims.

But the true heroes of Hurricane Harvey are the hundreds of small boaters, individuals and church groups who dropped everything and came from as far away as Louisiana to help people in dire need of rescuing from rooftops of homes, roads and cars stranded in raging flood waters.

Churches stepped into the breach, throwing open their doors to the stranger regardless of race, color or creed. There are 1566 churches in Houston.

Houston’s First Baptist Church, led by Pastor Greg Matte participated in relief efforts, providing food and shelter to those in need.

“It’s like a war-zone in Houston, it’s incredible. There’s people rescuing people, which is amazing. I’ve heard of three or four boat rescues just from our own church members,” Matte said.

The pastor noted that his church is usually the one that sends help to people in other places, but they are the ones now that need help. “It’s a weird thing to be in a place where you’re receiving rather than giving,” Matte continued.

Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, a former faith adviser to George W. Bush and pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, announced that his church would house those affected by another round of evacuations.

Houston Controller Chris Brown, said that churches have been helping in various capacities, depending on their ability and circumstance in relation to flood damage. “Some have been volunteering while others have been donating clothing and other supplies. Others have opened their doors to shelter stranded residents,” he said.

Various Christian churches, charities, and relief organizations are on the ground helping thousands of people affected by the historic flooding in Texas caused by Tropical Storm Harvey. At least 40 people have died during Hurricane Harvey’s massive assault on the Texas coast and Houston.

Rescuers have begun a block-by-block search in Houston to find anyone who may have been left behind.

One church group, Convoy of Hope shared stated that it served “more than 1,000 families” at its distribution site in Victoria on Monday.

“The team is operating their distribution site from a 9,000-square-foot tent in Victoria, Texas, and will set up a drive-through point of distribution today,” the group said on its website.

Several Roman Catholic groups, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services and Catholic Charities USA, have also said that they’ve been mobilizing to help as many people as possible affected by Harvey, Catholic News Service reported.

“The effects of this storm continue to put people in harm’s way, with horrific scenes playing out all around, such as those of people trapped on their rooftops as water continues to rise around them. Many dioceses of the Church in the United States have been affected; many others will be as the storm continues,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who’s also the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, one of the hardest-hit areas.

DiNardo added that additional storm damage and flooding is expected in coming days, along with high winds and tornado warnings.

He asked for prayers for relief workers and volunteers who are out in the dangerous conditions, and asked God to “have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey.”

Both Anglican Relief & Development Fund and Episcopal Relief & Development are raising money for victims of the hurricane.