CHRISTIANS IN THE NORTHEAST find blessings in wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Images of devastation appearing on TV sets around the world tell the story of what Hurricane Sandy did to the East Coast — but just barely, said Steve Aponte.
In the Rockaways, a peninsula on Long Island, N.Y., “the beach that once was there is now 15 to 20 blocks inland,” said Aponte, a member of the Long Island Church of Christ
Packed with small homes and low-income apartments, neighborhoods in the Rockaways house more than 2,000 people in a five-block radius, Aponte said. A blast of seawater flooded the lower levels of buildings and buried the boilers, leaving residents without heat. Weeks after the storm, thousands remain without power, desperate for food, water and warm coats.
“The Red Cross can’t keep up with it. FEMA can’t keep up with it,” Aponte said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Thank God for Churches of Christ. … My brothers and sisters down South, they’ve just been wonderful.”
Since the storm made landfall in New Jersey Oct. 29, Aponte, a retired manager for a utility company, has spent most days distributing truckloads of supplies sent by Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort
in Nashville, Tenn.
At least 75 members of the Long Island church, in partnership with members of other Churches of Christ across the region, have distributed clothes, food and cleaning supplies. They have mopped floors and shoveled mud — and snow, dropped by a powerful “nor’easter” that followed Sandy — as they’ve helped the Rockaways begin the journey to normalcy.
“We’re doing anything and everything we can for the people,” Aponte said. “It’s going to be a long haul.” ‘GET TO A HIGHER LEVEL AND HOPE’
Working alongside the Long Island church members are some of Sandy’s victims, including Cornelius Heyward.
Heyward, who has served as minister for the Far Rockaway Church of Christ
for 22 years, was in his home with his wife and three adult children when the storm hit.
“The water came up like a river,” Heyward said. “The surge was so quick that you couldn’t really respond … (just) get to a higher level and hope.”
After the storm, water in the house’s lower level came up to the minister’s shoulders. The family was blessed to have a generator and electric heaters to get through the night, Heyward said. They slept huddled together in two upstairs bedrooms.
Now the family’s furniture sits in the backyard as they wait for insurance adjusters. The minister’s library is ruined, and the family has lost three cars. But they are grateful for what they have, Heyward said, adding that their No. 1 emergency supply during the storm was their Bible.
“Thank God it wasn’t worse,” Heyward said. All of the Far Rockaway church’s 160 members survived the storm, which claimed more than 130 lives in the U.S.
“Our members, they took it well,” Heyward said. “Most of them had relatives they could go to that had heat.
“I was proud that they responded by saying God is still in control. All of them have hope.”
The church was renting a school building for its worship services as it constructs a new facility, scheduled for completion in the spring. The storm flooded the school, so members worshiped with other area congregations, including the South Jamaica Church of Christ and the Roosevelt-Freeport Church of Christ
, which planted the Far Rockaway church in 1977.
Recently, the school they were renting reopened.
“We’re looking forward to meeting this Sunday,” he said, days prior to the church’s Nov. 18 service. ‘A LOST WORLD IN NEW JERSEY’
About 50 miles southwest of the Rockaways, church members are cleaning up homes and distributing aid in another community hit hard by Sandy — Union Beach, N.J. The Gateway Church of Christ
in Morganville, N.J., about 10 miles inland, has become a hub for relief efforts, said Carl Williamson, who moved to New Jersey eight years ago with his wife, Alicia, to serve as church planters.
As the family rode out the storm, one of the couple’s two daughters, 4-year-old Elle, said, “Daddy, God is showing his mighty.” Her father agreed.
Now the Gateway church is distributing aid from Churches of Christ Disaster Relief. It’s also working with another group, Florida-based Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team
, and the Monmouth Church of Christ
in Tinton Falls, N.J., to help the people of Union Beach recover.
“The truth is that Jesus is what these people really need, but it is certainly hard to realize that you need God in the aftermath of such great devastation,” Carl Williamson said. “The food from disaster relief is creating an opportunity for us to spread the Gospel to a lost world in New Jersey, and it is also acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.” SUFFERING … FIVE MILES AWAY
In the Rockaways, kindness shown by church members has resulted in opportunities to share Jesus, Aponte said. Storm victims have asked for Bible studies and rides to church.
The people helped by the church aren’t the only ones noticing, added his daughter, Rebecca Young. FEMA staffers and New York politicians have expressed admiration for the churches’ relief work. Young set up a Bible study with a New York City police officer who provided crowd control as the church members distributed aid.
“My children, ages 12, 11 and 10, have been waking up as early as 5:30 a.m. to get their schoolwork done just so they can join me in this relief effort,” said Young, who homeschools the children and operates a Christian preschool in her home.
Her husband, Rob Young, is principal of a public high school in the Far Rockaway neighborhood that was damaged badly during the storm. The principal arranged for Texas church member Mike Baumgartner to use the school’s parking lot as a base of operations for his Disaster Assistance Mission
. From his mobile kitchen, Baumgartner and church members have served hundreds of hot meals to the community.
Church members are storing the truckloads of relief in a warehouse owned by the Roosevelt-Freeport congregation. The church’s minister, Walter Maxwell, “has been on call and ready whenever we have needed him,” Rebecca Young said. He’s also rallied volunteers to sort clothes and supplies.
“I find it hard to go on with my life as if nothing happened, knowing that only five miles away from me there are people who are suffering,” she added. Her heart breaks for one storm victim she’s met, Samantha, who is living in a damaged home with 11 family members.
Samantha recently traveled two hours by bus to attend Wednesday night service at the Long Island church.
“She was shivering cold when she got to me,” Young said. “I brought her hot food, and she and her 20-year-old daughter ate in my car before we went in to Bible class. … She said she wants to keep coming to church with us. I pray she does and that her soul will be won over through this tragedy.” FAITH IN GOD’S PROVISION
Even after distributing more than six tractor-trailer loads of relief supplies, more aid is needed, Steve Aponte said. The Long Island church also is running low on funds to rent U-Haul trucks and buy gas to get the supplies to the people who need them.
But he’s confident God will provide — as he’s done since the storm made landfall. Aponte recalled that, about four days after Sandy, in between truckloads, the church members had nothing to give out except clothes.
“I said, ‘Lord, you know what’s going on. We have no food to give these people. Just send people to us with diapers, baby food.’
“Within a half-hour, seven cars came, and all they had was food, diapers, baby stuff. I said, ‘How’d you know we were here?’ They said, ‘We got the word.’
“I’m telling you, I cried. God is so good, man. He’s just so good.” RELIEF FOR THE NORTHEAST: Contact these churches and ministries to contribute to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts or to learn about other ways to help. Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort Inc.
• (888) 541-2848 Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team
• (937) 308-2259 Disaster Assistance Mission
• (281) 881-1876 Long Island Church of Christ
• (631) 348-7322 Far Rockaway Church of Christ
• (718) 337-5102 Manhattan Church of Christ
• (212) 737-4900 Gateway Church of Christ
• (615) 856-3315 Monmouth Church of Christ
• (732) 747-5193