A Silver Lining

Churches Respond to Hurricane Ike

Mike Lynch and Larry Waldner pray with John Gordon after providing him with a hot meal and an ABS Bible. Photo by David Singer

Thousands of people along America’s Gulf Coast still struggle to pull their lives together. But the victims of two devastating storms this hurricane season are neither alone nor forgotten.

On the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina came Hurricane Gustav, battering the citizens of Baton Rouge, Louisiana again. Two weeks later America’s third most destructive storm of all time, Hurricane Ike, hit the Galveston, Texas area.

Within hours of these hurricanes making landfall in September, Operation Compassion and other Christian relief organizations, in partnership with the American Bible Society (ABS), were on the scene at more than 100 sites along the Gulf coast providing food, water, and hope from God’s Word.

Ready for Next Time

Learning from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, ABS anticipated the need to have Scriptures ready for the next emergency. ABS had Bibles and other Scriptures stored with the relief supplies kept ready by Operation Compassion. As a result, more than 350,000 Scripture materials that included American Bible Society Bibles in Spanish and English and special Scripture Portions were provided to victims in the initial weeks following the storms. Now the Bible Society is following up with 500,000 additional copies of God’s Word that will help solidify new relationships formed between churches and the victims to whom they’ve ministered.

One of the most important recovery tools for victims is the Scripture Portion called “God Is Our Shelter and Strength, — which was created for catastrophic disasters. It includes information about what to do within 72 hours after a disaster and how to be prepared in the future.

Other Christian relief organizations, including Convoy of Hope and Otra Onda, a Hispanic ministry to youth in the Houston area, manned by thousands of volunteers from churches in the stricken areas as well as from across the country, are aiding in a vast recovery effort.

Return to a Broken City

Lack of water and electricity following Hurricane Ike hampered relief efforts in many affected areas. Residents of Galveston, ordered to evacuate prior to Ike making landfall, were not permitted to return to their homes for more than a week. Roughly 45,000 of the city’s 57,000 residents fled Galveston Island, along with hundreds of thousands more from nearby sections of the Texas coast.

As people returned, authorities were warning that Galveston was a “broken” city; still, citizens were anxious to hurry back to see what, if anything, was left of their homes. In the midst of this pain the church community drew together. For weeks Operation Compassion and other church relief agencies provided families without electricity with warm meals, water, food, items for personal hygiene, cleaning supplies and tools.

Sharing God's love
Pastor Bob Gibson of San Leon Community Church and Delores Burnett of the American Bible Society share with Carol Reich the assurance of God’s love. Carol felt “watched over” during Hurricane Ike. Photo by David Singer

Rev. Bob Gibson, pastor of San Leon Community Church said many of the 4,800 people in his unincorporated bayside community had been all but forgotten by government agencies. Although his church building still stood, the interior had to be totally gutted. The Sunday school building now sat about 50 feet from its footings. A large white tent served as a worship space on Sundays while housing many newly- homeless citizens during the week. The church served as the local distribution center for water, food and American Bible Society Scriptures. Pastor Gibson says church attendance at San Leon had grown since Ike, in part, because people had nowhere else to go.

He says, “Praise Chapel, also damaged by the hurricane, is helping us get back on our feet. It is amazing how God provides everything you need even when it looks impossible.”

Rev. Tracy Stone, pastor at Praise Chapel in nearby Webster, says his congregation was committed to helping rebuild San Leon Community Church. They were already providing relief supplies, food and Bibles donated by ABS.

Who Is My Neighbor?

While grateful for the English and Spanish Scriptures his church received in ABS’s first response efforts, Rev. Gibson is particularly pleased to have received Vietnamese Bibles from ABS for the large Vietnamese-speaking community of San Leon. One church member, whose house had not sustained serious damage, Kay Khanh Pham, has dedicated one of the rooms in her home for prayer and Bible study with her Vietnamese neighbors.

group praying
Pastors Bob Gibson (center) and Tracy Stone (2nd from left) and ABS staff member Dolores Burnett (left) pray with Kay Khanh Pham and neighbors, giving thanks to God for sparing Kay’s house form serious damage during Hurricane Ike. Photo by David Singer

Within hours after the storm had passed, Pastor Gibson ministered to another Vietnamese woman named Carol whose house stood on the bay a few blocks away. Because neighboring houses had been devastated while hers was spared serious damage, Carol said, “I felt that someone was watching over me, but, as a social worker I spent my life helping others. Now when I was in need, there was no one to help me; then Rev. Gibson came to help.”

When Pastor Gibson prayed with Carol that God would provide, he had no idea how. In less than an hour a team from “God’s Pit Crew,” a faith-based disaster relief ministry, unexpectedly showed up to help. That answer to Rev. Gibson’s prayer has left Carol open to consider the Gospel.

A Warehouse of Relief

Eddie and Cynthia Shanberger, volunteer pastors at Oak Island Community Church, have used the shell that remains of their church building to warehouse relief supplies made available to the surrounding community. Worship services there are also held in a tent used to shelter storm victims during the week. Otra Onda provides ABS Bibles and Scripture Portions in Spanish and English for this critical relief effort.

“Every pew is filled every Sunday,” says Cynthia. “We give out ABS Bibles at every service.” Explaining the generous response of the church community to the devastation, she says, “People didn’t really understand what a loving God we served before this hurricane. We pray and care and give hope while the government only gives hopelessness. We’re seeing a loving God through the love shown by his people.”

One storm refugee found God at Oak Island Church and has returned for both physical and spiritual food. Marya Cabrera, says, “The Hurricane turned my world upside down. I lost all the material things I had. Describing the mix of mud and oil that had enveloped her world,” she says, “But I knew I had God with me. This Church is providing clothes, groceries, and meals.”

“God will bring us through in his timing. I just wish his timing was now. That he suffered for us I know. I must walk by faith, not just by sight. Now I’m living with cousins in Hitchcock while we wait for a FEMA trailer. There are eight of us living in a house that felt crowded with four. If I were not close to God, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Blood and Fire, Bibles and Hot Meals

Using a Church of Christ in Hitchcock, Texas as a base, Mike Lynch and Larry Waldner brought a ministry team from several churches in Minnesota. They also towed a smoker to prepare hot meals and brought two pallets of ABS English and Spanish Bibles. In four weeks they had delivered 27,500 hot meals to people who were still without electricity.

Mike says, “There used to be 357 homes on Oak Island. Of the 50 still standing following the hurricane, they had to bulldoze 37.”

“When we deliver the meals, we give the Scripture resources ABS provides to those who need them most. Since last Saturday we’ve delivered 1,600 meals and we prayed with more than 20 people who came to Lord. We’re giving them the Word of God to stand on. We’re going out into the community and bringing people into the churches.”

Showing Up

The Galveston Bible Church, though ravaged by the wind, rain, and floodwaters of Ike, has become another base for relief work. Coordinating the work is retired farmer Arnold and his wife Julie. Members of the Evangelical Free (EFCA) Church in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, they had been doing reconstruction as part of EFCA’s emergency response ministry in New Orleans for the three years since Hurricane Katrina. They were on their way back to New Orleans, after a brief return home, when the EFCA diverted them to Galveston. Julie is managing emergency food distribution in an old mill-working shop recently donated to the church.

Carrying groceries and cleaning supplies to car
At the emergency food distribution site run by the Galveston Bible Church, Raquel Lara, director of operations for Otra Onda, helps Gloria Avellano (front) carry groceries and cleaning supplies provided by ABS partner Operation Compassion to her car. Photo by David Singer

Arnold directs volunteer crews coming from as far away as Alaska. He laments, “We can house and feed up to 50 volunteers, but the most we’ve had is 30. Right now we have only seven and there’s so much to do — lots of people need help. I’ll be here until April,” he says.

“The work teams go out with Bibles and Scriptures provided by ABS. Teams pray with homeowners at the start of a project and at the end of each day. Yesterday three volunteers from Iowa cancelled on me. I would be heartbroken to have to tell some homeowner the work we had promised them wouldn’t get done. I went out on the sidewalk and began to pray for workers.” With a satisfied grin Arnold boasts,“An hour-and-a-half later three guys from California show up unannounced.”

Carrying a bag of groceries from the Galveston Bible Church food distribution site, Galveston evacuee Lynn Dawson says, “I left a town with people and came back to a disaster. But God has shined his light on us; he brought a joining together of people to feed and help one-another. My apartment has been condemned yet I give thanks to God for people he has sent to help.”

Through ABS, thousands of supporters have been alongside these Christian soldiers, helping minister the hope only found in God’s Word. The American Bible Society is not just about providing Bibles. It is equally important that ABS is sensitive to the willingness of individuals to receive Scripture Portions in their time of need. ABS provides New Testaments to those who express a desire to understand God’s message on a deeper level. And, to those who commit to a local church by participating in a discipleship program, ABS gives Bibles. The American Bible Society’s mission is all about helping people grasp the meaning of the Gospel through God’s Word.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

Help us share God's Word where needed most.

Give Now

Sign up to stay in touch with how God is changing lives with his Word!


Subscribe Now

Sign up to stay in touch with how God is changing lives with his Word!