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Hurricane Ike’s strike on Texas churches particularly painful

(UPDATED 9-17-08) — Thousands of U.S. church members face the grim task of rebuilding lives, homes and church buildings after Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes.
The immense storm — which formed in early September and roared ashore in Galveston, Texas, on Sept. 13 — pushed several feet of water into coastal communities well before the rain and Category 2 winds struck the barrier island. From there, Ike surged into Houston and its suburbs, then pushed upward into east Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and beyond.
Millions of evacuees in the most at-risk areas heeded mandatory orders to leave and sheltered with friends or inside church buildings throughout Texas. As of Tuesday, efforts were ongoing to rescue those stayed behind in hardest hit zones, as well as restore power and city services to those further inland.
More than 240 congregations and tens of thousands of church members sat squarely in Ike’s sights, according to information gathered from the directory “Churches of Christ in the United States.” With members scattered and many areas still inaccessible, the task of accounting for individuals and assessing damage to homes and church buildings is daunting, church leaders say.
Collectively, a few hundred church members worship at two congregations in Galveston. Reports indicate the Broadway church was flooded with 5 feet of water. No information is yet known about the Avenue K congregation.
Crystal Beach, which sits on the Bolivar Peninsula, was completely destroyed, according to news reports. Although no details are known about that community’s 20-member congregation, officials are unsure whether it will be possible — much less advisable — to rebuild there.
In the Galveston Bay area, heavily damaged areas with church members included the communities of Baytown, Texas City, La Marque, Bacliff, Hitchcock and Deer Park. In adjacent Trinity Bay, the Anahuac area was hit with severe flooding and heavy wind damage.
Moving just north and west, Christians in Houston and neighboring cities such as Pearland, Friendswood and League City experienced varying levels of discomfort and inconvenience from Ike.
Byron Fike, minister of the Clear Lake church in Houston, polled elders and other staff members about evacuating after Wednesday evening Bible study on Sept. 10. “No one was going anywhere, so I decided to stay put, too,” Fike said.
On Thursday, the point was moot: City officials ordered residents out, fearing that Ike had sinister plans for the community adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Fike and his wife drove to Abilene, Texas, and stayed with family as Ike bore down. Later, he learned that the Clear Lake building sustained roof damage and flooding but his house appeared to have withstood the storm.
Checking on some of the church’s 400 members by cell phone, he learned most sustained structural damage but were physically OK. His concern now is for their financial well-being, he said.
“We have members who are pretty low-income,” Fike said. “I’m concerned about our elderly, our hourly-pay workers who don’t get paid if they can’t work. They’ll all have trouble recovering from this.”
The story is much the same for congregations throughout Houston.  At the Memorial church, downed trees and power lines greeted the 125 or so who attended morning worship the day after Ike struck. Without electricity, the group met in a room lit by natural light and cooled by a slight breeze from open doors, minister David Duncan said.
Stories of resilient Memorial members showed the spirit of the congregation that morning: A woman in her 80s said she bathed in water collected on her back porch so she could come encourage other worshipers.
The Southwest Central church had substantial damage, said minister Steve Sandifer. Roofs on three buildings were damaged, flooding the congregation’s auditorium, library and five classrooms. The building never lost power, however, which Sandifer said allowed it to be a haven for those who needed to cool off or charge cell phone batteries.
“In spite of the damage, church members today were distributing ice and bread to their neighbors,” he said.
David Cady, minister of the Southeast church in Friendswood, stayed in town despite the mandatory evacuation so he and others could be in a position to reach out to those in the neighborhoods surrounding the congregation. He said the building sustained no real damage but — like the entire area — is still without electricity.
“We will not meet Wednesday to comply with the sundown curfew,” Cady said. “We are fortunate that we didn’t sustain major damage and look forward to helping our neighbors. There’s a great opportunity to be Jesus here.”
At the Sugar Grove church in Meadows Place, minister Tim Shoulders said many members are dealing with the more annoying aspects of Ike. Power outages, tree damage and the like.
“About half the people have power back on,” Shoulders said. “There are very few stores or gas stations open (but) everyone is helping each other.”
The Westbury church in Houston lost its roof, according to reports.
Heading east along the coast, homes and businesses in the Sabine Lake area were also inundated with water and shaken by hurricane-force winds. Congregations with members included Port Arthur, Orange, Bridge City and Pinehurst.
Don Yelton of White’s Ferry Road Relief Ministries in West Monroe, La., said the area sustained damage worse than that from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Half the families from the 7 th and Elm congregation lost their homes and another nearby congregation reported all 40 of its families were under water, Yelton said.
Flooding and wind damage continued up the coast into Louisiana, although no first-hand reports were available Tuesday.
Congregations who opened their doors to those fleeing Ike’s wrath tried not only to offer their visitors a safe place to sleep and warm meals, but also prayers, medical attention and help staying in touch with family.
Roughly 160 moved into the North Davis Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas, fanning out across the congregation’s Family Life Center. Doug Peters, senior minister, said North Davis serves as a Red Cross shelter in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“We are just serving in the name of Jesus,” Peters said of the 630-member church, where members signed up to serve and prepare food, play games with children and help with special needs guests, among other chores.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Peters preached on the subject of “Radical Hospitality” a few weeks earlier. He said the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives motivated members to reach out on this personal, extended level.
“Many who come in on buses are often under-educated and poor,” he said. “Middle class folks go to motels or to their families.”
In New Braunfels, Texas, a last-minute shelter at the Church Hill Middle School inspired local Christians to pitch in. For New Braunfels church member Lindy Dowdy, that included helping to deliver an evacuees newborn baby.
Dowdy, who teaches home economics at the school, recruited her family to help for five days at the makeshift shelter — cooking, organizing, cleaning and other tasks. Friday evening, she was called to the women’s restroom, where she found a woman ready to give birth, she said.
Dowdy, two other women and a psychiatrist worked to help the woman deliver a baby girl. Emergency responders arrived afterward and transported the new mother to the hospital.
“It was awesome, an experience I’ll never forget!” Dowdy said.
Organizations providing immediate relief and accepting donations include:
Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ Disaster Relief . Aside from funding, they are seeking chain saw teams to send to Texas and Louisiana coast.

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort
International Disaster Emergency Service
Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team
Disaster Assistance
Associate Editor Joy McMillon contributed to this report.

Filed under: Staff Reports Top Stories

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