AG churches, ministries respond to massive disaster
By Christina Quick
Editor’s note: Numerous churches, ministries and districts have provided support following the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A full report on relief efforts in the wake of Katrina will appear in the October 30 issue of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. An update on the aftermath of Rita will be published in the November 13 Evangel.
As the Gulf Coast continues to dig its way out from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, the Assemblies of God remains focused in an ongoing effort to share Christian love and compassion with those affected by the disaster.
Before the August 29 storm ever made landfall, Convoy of Hope prepared to roll with truckloads of ice, water and food. During the past several weeks, Convoy has given away millions of pounds of relief supplies at distribution points across the affected region.
Kary Kingsland, U.S. disaster director of Convoy of Hope, says some storm refugees were overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers who brought help to their communities.
“A father arrived at one of the Convoy of Hope sites trying to provide for his family and without any baby supplies for his infant,” Kingsland says. “He came to get food and water for his family, but when we told him to wait while we got diapers and baby items, he broke down and wept.”
AG churches across the country quickly rallied to provide aid for hurricane victims. Congregations of all sizes collected offerings and supplies, opened homes and church facilities to evacuees and sent volunteers to the devastated region.
The AG Louisiana District office in Alexandria received numerous offers of support — so many, in fact, that volunteers were brought in to answer telephones in the days following the disaster.
“The outpouring of compassion has been unbelievable,” says Melba Balentine, executive secretary for Louisiana District Superintendent Douglas Fulenwider. “It seems the entire church family has been touched by this tragedy.”
The district office, which is located approximately 200 miles north of New Orleans, was not damaged by the storms. However, at least 35 Assemblies of God churches were located in the hard-hit region in and around New Orleans. A number of those facilities were severely damaged or destroyed. Some pastors’ homes were also flooded or blown away.
At least two New Orleans churches that were destroyed had no insurance because they were located in areas where insurance is unavailable, Balentine says.
None of Louisiana’s church leaders were injured in the hurricane. Most left the area ahead of the storm after checking on church members to be sure they were safe, Balentine says.
One New Orleans pastor, who had evacuated to another city, learned that his church was flooded when he saw news footage of an object protruding from the water. He recognized it as the satellite receiver that was fastened to his church’s roof.
The Assemblies of God School of Urban Missions campus in New Orleans escaped damage. However, classes were canceled for the rest of the semester. Many of the students and staff members volunteered in the relief effort.
About 400 Assemblies of God adherents initially took refuge at the Louisiana District campground in Alexandria. Local church members brought food to help feed them.
In Mississippi, numerous AG churches sustained damage, according to District Superintendent Walter Davis.
“Most of the churches in Katrina’s path were either destroyed, flooded or suffered damage,” Davis said in a message posted on the district’s Web site. “Church parsonages were swept away. Pastors as well as laypeople lost their homes. We have been dealt a severe blow. However, our people are strong, full of faith, and confident God will again show himself to be our present help in time of need.”
The Mississippi District office, located in Jackson, received minor damage and went several days without power because of the storm. District employees and volunteers fanned out to help deliver supplies and gasoline to church leaders in harder-hit regions.
“This is going to be long term,” says Mississippi District Youth Director Raymond Mizelle. “Many of our churches will need to be totally rebuilt. We also have countless laypeople who lost homes and jobs and have no income coming in. It’s going to be really tough here economically.”
The Assemblies of God Benevolences Ministries Disaster Relief program will assist with church rebuilding efforts. In addition, the Louisiana and Mississippi districts have organized programs in which pastors and church staff members are “adopted” by congregations that will help pay their salaries until these leaders can regain some financial footing.
It will likely be months — or even years — before life returns to normal for many people along the Gulf Coast. But even in the most difficult circumstances, compassion and hope are evident.
“This is an opportunity, not a defeat,” says Chris Buckel, Chi Alpha pastor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. Buckel helped care for 40 friends and family members displaced by the storm. “God’s plans do not change because of a major storm,” he says. “God is still on the throne and Jesus is still Lord.”