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Churches gear up for meals & ministry at the Astrodome

HOUSTON (BP)–Hundreds of representatives from churches, synagogues and mosques gathered at Second Baptist Church in Houston Sept. 1 to prepare for the mass arrival refugees from Hurricane Katrina.

At estimated 18,000 volunteers were scheduled to be trained at Second Baptist Church Sept. 3-5 — training required to work in “Operation Compassion: Astrodome Relief” during the coming months. Included will be 1,000-2,000 volunteers from Second Baptist.

“We had representatives from all [Christian] denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, and Islam, Jewish synagogues, Muslim community, Baha’i, Buddhists, Hindu,” said Lisa Milne of the nearly 1,000 attendees at the meeting at Second Baptist.

Sagemont, First Baptist and other Houston-area Baptist churches also will be contributing significantly to feeding the 15,000-plus refugees to be housed at the Astrodome, organizers said.

Since the disaster did not hit Texas, there is no immediate federal, state or city funding for the work that will go on at the Astrodome. “That can certainly change over time, but we don’t have time to wait,” Milne said.

The Astrodome relief effort will be coordinated with United Way of Houston and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the third largest disaster relief organization in the country.

Jack Little, a layperson at Second Baptist Church and a former executive in the city, is chairing the effort at the church. Feeding of the evacuees was to begin Sept. 7 at an estimated cost of $4.5 million for three meals a day for a month, with 240 volunteers a day. Milne said the groups represented would work together to make sure the people are fed, and Second Baptist has committed to handle the first week of operation.

A similar meeting, but on a smaller scale, was held Sept. 2 along the Houston-New Orleans corridor of Interstate 10 in Vidor, near Beaumont, Texas. Montie Martin, executive director of the Golden Triangle Baptist Association, said many Southern Baptist of Texas Convention churches will be contributing to the relief effort.

Martin said he knew of nearly a thousand refugees being housed at various Baptist churches and the association’s camp.

“A lot of the people stop at the roadside park and don’t know what else to do and just camp out there,” Martin said. “Our churches are going there and getting them to come to our churches. Some of them are out of money and don’t know what else to do.”

Meanwhile, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards has proposed establishing “Churches of Refuge” across the state.

Richards offered the idea in response to evangelist Franklin Graham’s appeal, pleading with denominational leaders to create a mechanism whereby their churches could adopt at least one family each.

“This is one way we can be a caring witness for Jesus and be good citizens, too,” Richards stated.

Expecting that thousands of people could receive ministry through this effort, Richards encouraged interested Texas churches to contact him through www.sbtexas.com or call toll-free 1-877-953-7282 to participate.

“The mystique of New Orleans may never be the same. By the grace of God, maybe we can see lives that will never be the same because we share Jesus with them,” Richards said.

John Mark Benson, a music pastor at Sagemont, said the church is working to help place people in motel units and other available housing units “and ministering to them wherever they are. They need food and housing, and we want to do more than that.” At Sagemont’s Wednesday service Aug. 31, church members gave $38,000 for the relief effort.

In Mont Bellvieu, Eagle Heights Fellowship is hosting 66 hurricane refugees. For showers, a nearby truck stop is providing use of its facilities at no cost.

“We have a kitchen but not enough to do the cooking,” Eagle Heights pastor Scott Neal said. “The community is pouring out; [people from] the industry and refinery areas are calling and bringing meals. Right now, the food is overflowing.

“They are no longer evacuees, but family,” Neal continued. “We have 40 children in high school and younger and a majority of them are 10 and under. We took them to the Houston zoo. The school is sending a bus for them and enrolling the children tomorrow.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if they stayed here long-term,” Neal said.

Churches are finding ways to help even if they cannot house evacuees.

Perhaps the Texas church closest to Louisiana is First Baptist Church in Waskom, which is “walking distance to the state line,” said church secretary Angie Alton. The church’s pastor, Leland Crawford, and four other men took the church bus and van to help move nursing home patients from New Orleans to Texas.

In Longview, men from Macedonia Baptist Church went to Baton Rouge and Mississippi with chain saws to help clear debris with the Salvation Army and the power companies there. Meanwhile, other church members stayed at the home and prepared a Sunday lunch for the evacuees lodged in Longview.

In Tyler, Friendly Baptist Church had planned on ending its three-year debt-retirement campaign in September with a “Building for Kingdom Growth” victory celebration and final love offering. It has now postponed its offering emphasis until next year. Pastor Dale Perry, on the first Sunday after Hurricane Katrina hit, encouraged his church to instead give all offerings to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts instead.

Nassau Bay Baptist Church south of Houston is in the process of preparing a medical facility to process people who have illnesses which do not require hospitalization. Volunteers are being solicited to register, examine and possibly transport patients. The church also has been advised by a New Orleans government agency to anticipate an influx of children for foster care. Basic items such as diapers, children’s Tylenol and Pedialyte, toys and other supplies will be needed.

Aric Randolf, deaf ministry consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and pastor of New Life Deaf Fellowship in Fort Worth, is coordinating efforts to assist any evacuees who are deaf. Arthur Craig, a member of Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church in Houston, traveled to the Astrodome where he found several deaf people. Craig helped them contact friends in Houston, arranging for them to stay with them temporarily.

“Many of the deaf families have been split up and many of them are worried about their friends,” Randolph told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. Other deaf ministers helping with this effort include Silent Friends Chapel pastor Jeff Brewer, a mission of First Baptist Dallas, and Legacy Deaf Fellowship pastor Bob Barker of Plano.
Tim KcKeown is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Tammi Ledbetter of the TEXAN contributed to this article.

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  • Tim McKeown