Dear Friends & Partners in Ministry: August 29, 2006
I find it hard to believe it was one year ago that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, destroying the coastal communities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, and Pass Christian, and even locations further inland such as Picayune. I remember like it was yesterday how we were sitting in my office, connecting with some of our contacts in that area, when we got the news that the New Orleans levees were collapsing and the city was flooding. No one could ever have anticipated what the next few weeks would have in store for our city and our ministry, as a mass exodus from New Orleans resulted in 250,000-300,000 evacuees coming to Houston and thousands more to surrounding cities. Less than four weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit Southeast Texas. At times the needs seemed nothing short of overwhelming, but we saw the Lord move in powerful ways as His body came together and rose to the occasion like never before!
During the first two weeks of relief efforts, our Houston office alone personally assisted over 20,000 people. By the end of the year, we had helped over 113 other ministries with over $1 million in funding and over $4 million in material goods—food, cots, blankets, toiletries, diapers, formula, and medicine. This does not include over $1.5 million in gift cards that were distributed. Collectively, our Somebody Cares America network facilitated the distribution of over $30 million in goods.
The church of Jesus Christ responded with unprecedented generosity during this time, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. But the needs are still great, one year later. Rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and Southeast Texas still continue. Evacuees living in Houston still need assistance getting on their feet with finding employment and housing, paying utility bills, and getting school supplies for their children. Some are still working on their homes so they can move back in. Some have decided to stay because there is no reason to return.
Below are some one-year updates from a few of our ministry partners. Please continue to pray about how you can continue to help those in need, through sending hands-on assistance, donating supplies, or making financial donations to assist with rebuilding efforts and the cost of ongoing operations.
Truly, this past year has been “an occasion for our testimony” (Luke 21:13). We appreciate your continued partnership-we could not do what we do without your support.
Thank you for caring,
Founder & President
Somebody Cares America/International
Somebody Cares East New Orleans
Contact: Andrew Benson, City Cathedral
Please continue to pray for City Cathedral, our Somebody Cares affiliate in New Orleans East, as they have decided to shut down their relief distribution tent. “We will, of course, continue to minister to individuals who come in for assistance, but we have decided, after one year now, to close down the drive-through distribution,” says Andrew Benson, one of the elders at the church. Much work remains to be done throughout the city. People comment it looks like the hurricane hit a week ago instead of a year ago. The church continues to minister daily and assist those who are returning to the city.
“God used the drive-through distribution center as an incredible vehicle for ministry. We sometimes had 200-250 cars a day, and we prayed with every individual or family who came through. So many people would come back to tell us how the prayers we prayed were miraculously answered! Many of those people are now members of our church. Please continue to pray for us and all of the churches that continue in the tremendous task of rebuilding and restoration.”
Building materials, manpower, housekeeping items for people moving home, funding.
Somebody Cares Houston
Contact: Doug Stringer
Many evacuees have returned to New Orleans and are rebuilding their homes, others have remained. Some have settled in to the community and into churches. Many are still transitioning and looking for home and employment. Calls still come in daily from those who need assistance.
Somebody Cares Houston continues to minister to Katrina evacuees in a seniors apartment complex where we have held Christmas and Easter services and hold a weekly Bible study. We have helped them walk through their transition to make a home and community in Houston, and even helped some transition back to New Orleans by connecting them with our ministries partners in the city. Those who attend the weekly Bible study are learning to minister to others and share their testimonies to their neighbors. The apartments’ management recently said, “Of all the groups that come here to help our residents, we all like Somebody Cares the best.”
During relief efforts, many churches partnered with us and continue to help in ministry to evacuees. New Life Church, pastored by Dusty Kemp, is one of those churches. Dennis Arima was one of the church’s key relief leaders, and he gave us this one-year update: “We still have a local food pantry that is opened, but most of the families we worked with have moved back to New Orleans. We really tried to use the physical means of meeting their needs to open a door to meet their spiritual needs. We gave food, clothing, medical care, and support to all who came here with needs.”
“We currently have two families that stayed here with us at New Life Church, the Murphy family and the Brown family. Ms. Brown’s son Tony gave his life to the Lord at one of our youth meetings in January. He was faithfully attending youth until he returned to New Orleans for a visit, where he was shot and killed. Though a tragic loss to the family, Tony is in heaven today. His greatest need, which was to meet Jesus, was met. Praise God!”
New Life also assisted another family of 22. The family of Charles Scott (aunts, uncles, children, and grandchildren) was rescued from a hotel rooftop by helicopters. As a family, they prayed for God’s guidance and provision. They came to Houston by bus and ended up a hotel near New Life Church. The church helped meet their immediate needs and even went the extra mile to help them find a house and furniture. They are back in New Orleans now, but Mr. Scott still visits the church when he can. “If it wasn’t for this church, we could not have made it. The kids were able to go to school while they were here, so they didn’t miss anything. We praise the Lord for bringing us here.”
How it changed our church:
“This event brought a sense of community to the church and an awareness of what the church was created to do,” Dennis says. “We labored side-by-side, going out to the hurting and displaced at the hotels and motels, bringing food and hope to the families. We saw people come out of their shells and begin to do things they would never have done, reaching out in the midst of their own needs to bless someone else. It was good training for us to see that we need to be prepared for anything that may happen in the future so we can help others.”
Somebody Cares Picayune
Contact: Richard Hinojosa, Resurrection Life Ministries
“The hospital here was completely out of commission so we implemented a medical clinic to serve the community, which is still fully operational.
We are still doing disaster relief, and we have a few homes that have not been reached yet in the surrounding rural areas. But as a whole, Picayune is up and running and doing well. We actually feel like we came out better after the storm. It was difficult during the immediate crisis and right after, but we feel like the same storm that brought in destruction also brought in a lot of treasure, too.”
How it changed our church:
“We got to see the church be the church. It was one of my greatest times to be a Christian. We believe in networking and connecting with other churches and together doing things that we can’t do by ourselves. For so many years we talked about it, we tried to encourage other pastors, and other churches, and other cities to start to ‘mend the nets; and work together. I had seen it happen in Houston when I was part of the original Somebody Cares Houston advisory board. Who knew that after all those years of networking and building relationships that God would use it so we could be a tangible expression through Katrina relief! We were so glad we had invested time and energy to build relationships with people like Doug Stringer and others. When the crisis came, Doug was there! We rallied together! We got be a living epistle of Doug’s message of mending nets and working together. We saw the difference the church can make in the community, and we will never be the same.”
“The community began to see that what the government couldn’t do and what the agencies couldn’t do, the church could do. We were able to present a true picture of what the church is all about. Because of that, lives will never be the same. For example, a used car salesman in the community sat and watched what we were doing. After about two weeks, he came over and said to us, “You know I don’t have a very good name in the community, and I’m not much of a church-going man. But I’ve been watching you guys for the past two weeks and watching all you’ve been doing. If that’s what being in church is all about, I want to come and be a part of what you’re doing.”
Somebody Cares Jasper/Newton Counties
Contact: Pastor Charles and Beverly Burchett, First Baptist Church of Kirbyville
“We are still heavily involved in the recovery and rebuilding process. Setting homes on the foundations, putting on new roofs, and gutting the insides of homes. My son and his family of five are still living in a camping trailer almost one year after the hurricane.”
“Two weeks ago, one of the volunteer groups found a man who has been staying in his house with no electricity or running water since the day of the hurricane. We spent five days setting up work crews to remove the trees and set up a utility pole so he could have electricity. His house still needs a lot of work, but we got the initial work done so he can at least have lights and power to run his home. It is amazing that 11 months after the hurricane we still have story after story just like that one!”
How it changed the church:
“In March 2005, the Lord spoke to me that he was going to do something and that we needed to prepare. When the hurricane came, we understood what He meant, and we have been living out that word all year. This year has been one a taking what is spiritual and theological and making it very physical and personal.”
Volunteers, building materials, prayer, and funding.
Somebody Cares Southeast Texas (Beaumont/Hardin County)
Contact: Bryan & Angela Pressley
“We are working with area pastors who are rebuilding lives and homes. The process has been very slow, but we are making progress. We are still using grant money to distribute Wal-Mart cards to those in need. We are also re-roofing houses and helping families replace air conditioning units.
While passing out food to those in need a couple of youth came and asked us for food and shelter. They told us they had been staying and bathing down by the creek. They were hungry and tired. This broke our hearts, but we got the opportunity to give them food, shelter and the love of God. This is just one of the many stories of the lives that crossed our paths this past year. It is all worth it when you can help one life.
How it changed our church:
My family and I have been non-stop since the hurricane. It has been a long, hard journey and an emotional battle, but we still feel truly blessed. We have poured out so much of our energy and time to help families that were affected by the hurricane by showing the compassionate heart of Jesus to them. We truly know that this is what the Lord has called us to. Thank you, Somebody Cares America, for all your help to the local pastors and to us. We could not have done it with out you. Please keep us in your prayers.
Man-power for lifting and moving, volunteers to help remodel homes and put on new roofs, funding to continue the recovery efforts.