Congregations extend a hand, spread
gospel after tropical storm
(August 19, 2001)
As the water in Houstons worst
flood kept rising, Ruby Bylers home looked more and more like
a hotel. The three-bedroom second floor represented the highest ground
in her neighborhood. By the end of the evening on June 8, a total of
32 guests had made their way to Bylers residence seeking sanctuary
from the storm.
Volunteers put together Convoy of Hope care packets to distribute
in flooded neighborhoods.
Byler welcomed all who came calling:
a 3-month-old baby, a teen-age girl with a broken leg, a partially paralyzed
man. By the end of the evening, some had to crawl through windows because
the floodwaters prevented the front door from opening. Byler, a widow,
found dry clothes for all as well as enough pillows and blankets so
that everybody could comfortably bunk down for the night upstairs. They
snacked on cookies, crackers and Gatorade. She had never seen some of
the visitors before.
"I wouldnt have turned
anybody away for anything in the world," says Byler, a member of
Lindale Assembly of God. "The Lord sent them here. I didnt
do anything out of the ordinary."
The flooding, which came as a result
of as much as 26 inches of rain in 10 hours from Tropical Storm Allison,
damaged 30,000 homes, led to 22 deaths, and caused an estimated $2.1
billion in damage.
The standing water downstairs in
Bylers house ruined her antiques. But she takes it in stride.
"God is good," she says.
"All of us in the house survived."
Unlike most victims, Byler had flood
insurance for her home. Few residents, even those who had lived in Houston
for more than half a century, had ever seen anything like the storm.
For Houstons Assemblies of
God churches, the disaster has provided an opportunity to put the gospel
North Central Assembly of God co-pastor
Larry Emerson and many of his congregants have spent the ensuing weeks
ripping up carpet, tearing up floors, cutting out drywall and ripping
out insulation. A total of 47 North Central Assembly families
nearly one-third of the congregation had homes damaged by the
"I can count on one hand the
number of families in the church who had flood insurance to cover their
losses," Emerson says. "There had never been a need before."
Emersons father, Paul, who is co-pastor of North Central, was
one of six A/G pastors who lost virtually all their belongings in the
flood. He had to flee to his attic to escape the rising waters.
The A/G churches in the area received
clean-up assistance the following week from Convoy of Hope in Springfield,
Mo. Randy Rich, vice president, says COH delivered 31,000 pounds of
cleaning supplies to churches. Congregation members then made care packets
of supplies and went door to door distributing them.
"Its been a good witness,"
Emerson says. "The Lord can take a bad situation and turn it into
Congregations have made sure the
immediate needs of families are met. For example, North Central A/G
held a fund-raising barbecue on June 30 to help flood victims. In the
meantime, many people moved in with relatives or into recreational vehicles
or motels. Thousands of people had vehicles destroyed by the flood,
but insurance covered the loss of many of those.
No A/G church in the region sustained
major damage from the storm, but it did flood the South Texas District
office. Water had not been a problem since the district office formed
in 1954, but 14 inches of water poured into the building. District Superintendent
Joe Granberry says the office sustained $107,000 in damage to furniture,
kitchen equipment, computers, files, carpeting and walls.
"We didnt have flood
insurance but we will in the future if its feasible," Granberry
says. He says many members of local congregations will have to borrow
money to repair their homes.
"We have solicited donations
from our congregation and had a tremendous response," says Lindale
Assembly of God Pastor Randy Meeks. "Our priority is single mothers,
widows, poor people." Thirty families in the congregation sustained
"Only three of the families
had any flood insurance," Meeks says. "Many assumed they had,
but they didnt." Work crews from the church have been busy
repairing damaged homes as well as buying furniture and appliances for
the worst hit.
The night of the rising water, the
Lindale Assembly gymnasium became a shelter for 150 stranded residents.
"Our people have enjoyed discovering
one another," Meeks says.
Greens Bayou Assembly of God became
one of the busiest refuge centers, in only the second week of service
for Pastor Mike Allard. National Guard trucks and helicopters brought
300 families from the flooded bayou to spend three nights at the church.
"The Wednesday before, I had
preached from Isaiah 58 about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked,"
Allard says. "I talked about Convoy of Hope someday coming to our
church. The next week they were here."
Thirty families at Greens Bayou
had flood damage, with 15 of those homes destroyed. Greens Bayou members
distributed COH disinfectants and detergents to 600 families.
"Its really drawn us
closer together," Allard says. "When people lose their belongings
its almost like a death. They dont know what to do. Everything
they own is out in the yard, and its all worthless. All they have
is the church."
That faith is what sustained many
Christians in the crisis. Widow Eunice Delaney of Christian Life Center
kept praising the Lord as the water rose in her home. She climbed a
chair and sang worship songs for hours, watching her television set
and other belongings float by. As the water approached her neck, rescuers
in a boat came in to whisk her to safety.
"She lost all her belongings,
but she had peace," Christian Life Center Pastor Richard Rodriguez
Several of the churches report that
newcomers have been attending because of the outreach efforts. Certainly
the disaster will have an impact beyond the summer as people cope with
lost possessions, rebuilding and financial strain.
For Ruby Byler, the flood of 2001
also changed her summer vacation plans. "I was going to go on a
cruise, but Ive seen all the water I want to see."