John Elliott and his wife, Patty, lived in a trailer for a year after Hurricane Harvey swamped their Hitchcock, Texas, home in 2017—all the while helping other victims of the storm get straightened out.
“I’ve just always felt that I was responsible for more than just myself,” says John, senior pastor of Gulf Coast (Hitchcock Foursquare Church) for more than 30 years. “I believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit activates the work of the cross, in the laying down of our lives for others. If you are full of the Holy Spirit, you should be able to sacrifice more.”
The Elliotts spent a day trapped in the loft of their home when Harvey hit, but soon after arriving at a local shelter, he was helping coordinate efforts to aid other storm victims, then organizing relief teams to go and clear out damaged homes in his community.
A former union carpenter well-suited to organizing hands-on relief teams who get to demonstrate the love of God in action, he emphasizes that such practical help needs to be twinned with spiritual sensitivity. “The church does best when things go worst,” he asserts, believing that helping others in crisis can be a supernatural doorway for the gospel.
Like the family of nonbelievers who all came to Christ after a teenage volunteer helping muck out their home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina prayed, and a missing heirloom wedding ring was found in the mud. “Going out into the community and getting our hands dirty has opened the door to many people we might otherwise never have known,” he says, from residents to first responders.
It’s not always possible to make everything right for someone, but cleaning out a home and making just one room habitable can be enough to give people a shot of hope for the future. And he makes sure someone on the relief team is available to just sit and hear the victims’ stories. “They need to be able to get this stuff off their chest,” he says.
“Going out into the community and getting our hands dirty has opened the door to many people we might otherwise never have known.” —John Elliott, senior pastor of Gulf Coast (Hitchcock Foursquare Church) in Hitchcock, Texas
First involved in disaster relief in the wake of 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina, John has since been a behind-the-scenes part of crisis response efforts to pretty much every major storm in the region. A certified Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) chaplain, he networks with a wide range of other relief groups outside of Foursquare.
For more than a decade, Gulf Coast Foursquare owned and operated Highland Creek Camp & Retreat Center. Sold earlier this year, the property was used to house relief teams following Hurricane Harvey.
Also a local jail chaplain, John was among a group of pastors who ministered to families following the high school shooting in nearby Santa Fe, in 2018, which left 10 dead and 13 injured. He drew on his experience of having lost a son, Elisha, in 2007, in reaching out to the grieving parents.
For Jason Reynolds, U.S. director of FDR, the Elliotts are “good examples of what it means to pastor a city. Although Hurricane Harvey wasn’t their first hurricane experience,” he explains, “they were directly impacted as the storm heavily damaged their own home. But that didn’t stop them from serving their city with compassion. They found a way through prayer and relationships to serve with excellence while both rebuilding their home and rebuilding their city.
“In fact,” he continues, “I now invite John on calls to share his experience with other pastors who are going through similar circumstances. Then they can hear the voice of wisdom while they navigate their own personal crisis while serving their communities and keeping their personal health as a priority.”