The raging floodwaters that devastated Houston a year ago may have long since receded, but they left a mark that remains visible—not only in the many ruined homes that still stand empty, but also in how Foursquare churches that responded to the crisis have emphatically embraced the messy opportunities in disaster ministry.
Marking the recent anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, local pastors and Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) National Coordinator Jason Reynolds celebrated the impact they were able to make in the wake of the massive storm. That included seeing two new congregations started and offering a token of hope to families rocked by tragedy.
Life Church (Angleton Foursquare Church) in Angleton, Texas, which served some 15,000 meals to victims and first responders in the weeks after the storm, and helped clean out and restore around 150 homes, is due to soon start on construction of a dedicated disaster relief building that will house equipment and provide accommodation for relief volunteers.
“Living here on the Gulf, it is going to happen again,” Senior Pastor Cere Muscarella states frankly. “There is just no way to escape it. I have been here 33 years, and Harvey was the fourth or fifth storm that came in. This next time, we are really going to be ready.”
Meanwhile, at Life Church (Katy Foursquare Church) in Katy, where they ministered to those who had to flee their homes and hosted teams that came in to help with cleanup, “we have shifted our culture,” says Senior Pastor Sam Rudd. Readying for the future, they are adding a bathroom and shower room to their facilities to be better able to accommodate disaster victims or volunteers. “Crisis is an opportunity God can use to usher in His kingdom,” Sam explains. “It is not a burden to be part of that; it is a privilege.”
For Jason, the almost $650,000 that was donated for hurricane relief response in the U.S.—including south Florida—was a major signal of Foursquare’s commitment to crisis ministry and of FDR’s role in supporting, helping and resourcing local churches in their efforts.
The financial aid and prayer support that flowed from churches, not only across the country, but also around the world, “affirmed that this is part of our DNA as Foursquare,” he believes, also pointing to a lot of inquiries at this year’s Foursquare Connection from pastors wanting to know more about how they could be involved with FDR.
“Aimee Semple McPherson was very well known for the way she responded to disasters through the Commissary at Angelus Temple,” Jason adds. “When you hear about people being born again, and people being baptized as a result of how we try to be Jesus’s hands and feet in a time of need, you realize how we are making a difference, not just in the moment, but for eternity.”
One of the new congregations that sprang from Foursquare’s Harvey response is among a Khmer community in Rosharon whose farming enterprise was wiped out by the storm. Life Church Angleton provided meals along with its sister fellowship, La Vida (Angleton Hispanic Foursquare Church), and Rosharon Bible Baptist Church, a Cambodian congregation in the area, where La Vida meets.
“Buddhist people don’t respond as much to the message of the cross, which they consider harsh, even bloody, but they do respond to people being compassionate,” explains Cere. “People started asking questions, and we were able to share that we were doing what we did because of the compassion of Jesus, and they started listening and getting saved in the street.”
After meeting separately for a time, the new group of believers was folded into the existing local churches, as happened at Life Church Katy, where a number of Spanish-speaking people were touched by the church’s ministry.
Among those new members is a single mom who has since been baptized along with her children and immersed herself in the church’s discipleship program, and who regularly brings someone new to church with her. “It’s been an amazing thing to watch this chain reaction of the transformation in her life and her kids’, and now the other lives she is touching,” says Senior Pastor Sam Rudd.
While Life Church Angleton—which has also recently been designated the official kitchen for disaster response initiatives in southern Brazoria County—and Life Church Katy wound up their full-on Harvey efforts some time ago, Gulf Coast (Hitchcock Foursquare Church) in Hitchcock has continued to host teams at its Highland Creek Camp & Retreat Center. Around 24 Foursquare and other teams have worked out of the facility in the past year, including a group of more than 100 who were part of the Eight Days of Hope outreach that brought in thousands of volunteers from across the country.
Gulf Coast Senior Pastor John Elliott was especially pleased to recruit one of the most recent teams the church hosted to help roof the home of a family he had met in yet other heartbreaking circumstances. Their son was one of the 10 victims of the high school shooting in nearby Santa Fe, Texas, in May, when John was one of the first pastors to get to the scene to offer comfort.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, but it was a real encouragement to them,” he says of the house work. “Sometimes disaster ministry is just about giving someone a dose of hope.”
Though the impact of Harvey may not be as visible, a year on, its impact continues to run deep. Many people are still living in temporary accommodations or only partly restored homes, while, according to Cere, bad weather leaves many people fearful of another storm. And so, opportunities for ministry continue.
John Elliot and the others involved in Harvey efforts emphasize that effective disaster relief outreach requires being open to the Holy Spirit’s guiding and accepting that things won’t always go smoothly. “If you are looking for sanitary Christianity, relief work is not the right place,” John asserts.
Though Life Church Katy came through some operational challenges, “it was still a blessing because we connected with people we would never otherwise have ever seen,” says Sam. Along the way, at one stage agreeing to let the campus be used as a tent city if needed, “we’ve become much more open to being messier and not needing to be as polished,” he adds. “We still strive to do things with excellence, but we had to decide what kind of church were we going to be.”
Underscoring the “absolutely foundational” help FDR gave Life Church Angleton and others responding to Harvey, Cere urges all Foursquare churches to assess their readiness to meet needs in a crisis situation.
“No matter where you live, there is going to be some kind of disaster, and you just need to be ready, and know that as part of Foursquare, you will never be alone,” affirms Cere. “With every one of these events, our whole organization is getting better at preparing for the next one.”
Foursquare Disaster Relief has a general U.S. relief fund so that donations can be released quickly once disaster strikes. Donate to this fund so FDR can take help and hope when people need it most.