John never imagined he would be homeless and sleeping on the beaches of Galveston Island. Just a few years ago, he was a manager in a chemical plant just outside of Houston. A painful divorce led to illegal drug use, which then led to his arrest and the subsequent loss of his job. He’s out of prison now, but his home was destroyed by Hurricane Ike. It wasn’t exactly a happy Thanksgiving for John, until a group of volunteers from New York, Colorado, and Houston showed him somebody really does care!
Times Square Church in New York City was one of the first churches to contact Somebody Cares America to find out how they could help with Ike relief. First sending an assessment team that included mission team coordinator Kate Conlan-Hughes, Times SquareGulf Coast who had lost so much. has since sent two teams of laborers with plans to send more. This particular crew was comprised of 30 individuals—from over a dozen ethnicities and with ages ranging from the early 20s into the 60s and 70s—who all felt the call of God to sacrifice their holiday and serve the people of the Gulf Coast who had lost so much.
SCA arranged the team’s local transportation and lodging, then sent them out as three teams of 10 to three different SCA sites: the C4C Relief site in Galveston; Camp Good News in Hitchcock; and Oak Island Baptist Church in Oak Island.
Two of the teams were in Galveston on Thanksgiving Day with plans to serve turkey dinners at the relief site. When the crowds were less than expected, they decided to pack up meals and take them to the streets. During the last delivery trip of the day, the first stop led them to a cluster of homes in a poor Hispanic section of town that still has no electricity. “We thought we weren’t going to have Thanksgiving dinner this year!” they said. “Thank you so much!” They asked for prayer for their families and for safety, and were directed to the C4C camp to get water and other items they needed.
Just a few streets over in a more affluent section of town, the team delivered meals to a man working with his son, his son-in-law, and a friend to rebuild his home. “I was BOI—born on the island,” the dad said. “I’ve been here for 75 years, so I’ve seen a lot of storms. But this one…” he said, then hesitated. “This one was hard.”
Across the street, Felice and her young daughter were visiting a friend. The team gave her meals, took some photos, shared some laughs, and prayed for her. Before she left, she told one of the team members, “I was having the worst Thanksgiving. You guys made my day.”
Heading back to the camp, the van made one final stop when someone spotted two men sitting on the seawall. One of them was John, and the other was “Bean.” Visibly broken, Bean cried uncontrollably as team members listened and comforted him. After confessing that he had been considering suicide earlier that day, Bean prayed to Jesus to save him. The team was then able to contact his sister in Houston so he could arrange for her to come get him the next evening. “I can’t believe so many people care about me,” he kept saying.
As the New York team ministered to Bean, staff members from the SCA office and C4C talked with John. They gave him Doug Stringer’s Who’s Your Daddy Now? booklet and pulled out a box of toiletries sent to SCA by a youth group at New Hope Church in Vestal NY for Ike relief. John gratefully accepted soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush, some hand towels, and a flashlight. As he spoke of his past and his drug problems, they told him that if he could come to the C4C camp, they could make some calls and get him into a rehabilitation program for his drug problems. “If you can get me into a program, I’ll be there,” he said. Less than 24 hours later—with the help of C4C volunteer staff members Terry and Cynthia Owens—John was off the streets and sitting in the office at Houston’s Victory Family Outreach, where he signed up for the six-month program and thanked God for a new beginning.
As the teams reflected on the events of Thanksgiving Day before retiring for the evening, the general consensus was that although each had expected to serve hot meals to thousands of people in a serving line, they knew it had been God’s providence for them to be out on the streets of Galveston, literally rescuing lives.
“WE CAME TO SERVE THEM, BUT THEY’RE SERVING US!”
As these two teams served on Thanksgiving Day in Galveston, the third team had traveled to Oak Island, a small fishing community that was largely forgotten until Somebody Cares heard of their plight and sent immediate assistance to Oak Island Baptist Church. Now, the church is truly the hub of the entire community with a food distribution tent, a kitchen for hot meals, a shower trailer, a washer/dryer tent, and much, much more. A large portion of this was provided directly by SCA or indirectly through connections within our network of relationships.
“We could never have done this without Somebody Cares,” said Darlene Pagels, wife of the church’s music minister. “At least 60-70% of all the resources we have here are because of you, and 90% of all the volunteers have come through Somebody Cares. God truly sent you here ‘for such a time as this.’”
Churches from The Woodlands TX had contacted SCA volunteer coordinator Martin Dale with the desire to provide a turkey dinner the day after Thanksgiving, but ladies from the Vietnamese population in Oak Island insisted on making the meal on Thanksgiving Day. Arriving just in time for lunch, the Times Square team was treated to fresh noodles with vegetables and pork, shrimp fried rice, home-made egg rolls, and won-ton soup. “We came to serve them, and they’re serving us!” they said.
“That’s just the way they are,” said Pastor Eddie Shauberger. “Our Vietnamese neighbors are the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. They’ve lost everything, and they’re still happy.”
Prior to Ike, the Vietnamese population of the community never really interacted with the church. Now, they come to help with the meals or in the distribution tent, and many of them come to church services. One of them, Hugh, said he never attended the church before but now he comes regularly, even though he can’t understand the songs or the teaching very well.
“But you know,” he added, “I’m beginning to understand things now.”
“I wasn’t a very good pastor before,” Pastor Eddie says. “I took care of my flock, but I’ve learned that God wants me to be a pastor to the whole community. People who don’t even come to church come by now and ask for prayer. That’s the way it should be.”
Sitting only three feet above sea level, Oak Island is the picture of Ike’s “ground zero.” What was once street after street of homes and yards is now an unrecognizable jumble of debris, slabs of concrete, and just the frames of homes that had their entire contents washed away in the tsunami-like storm surge. Clothing hangs in treetops like flies caught in a spider web, and sheets of metal from mobile homes and rooftops are entwined throughout the wooded areas.
“We found other people’s belongings in our home,” said Mark Pagels. Some of the debris on Oak Island came all the way from Bolivar Peninsula, across the inlet. Sheds and even entire homes were lifted off their foundations and dropped in other yards, he said, and some homes have totally disappeared. Mark’s own home was pelted so hard with water and debris that entire sections of brick are missing. “We found our piano down the street, and we have no idea where our sofa and loveseat are.”
SOWING SEEDS OF LIFE
Miraculously, no deaths were reported in Oak Island directly from the storm, but the aftermath of Ike has opened the gate to an even greater tragedy: suicide. Overwhelmed with the loss of life as they had known it, some residents have taken their own lives since the passing of the storm.
While the Times Square team was cleaning debris out of a yard with a severely damaged home, team leader Kate stepped on a nail that pierced through her boot enough to injure her foot. One of the other team members went to the house across the street to ask for a first aid kit.
“A man answered the door and gave me the first aid kit,” Nancy said. “His nickname was ‘Frog.’ Then he began apologizing that the yard we were cleaning was such a mess. He said the house belonged to his brother-in-law who had committed suicide, and the family was so distraught they hadn’t been able to deal with the thought of cleaning the yard.”
Eventually, Frog did come out to help the team, then later the mother of the young man who had taken his own life. Some of the ladies on the team had the opportunity to pray for Frog and for the mother. Her son was only 22.
“I was feeling guilty about leaving my 22-year-old son home alone at Thanksgiving,” said Patricia from the Times Square group. “Yet God allowed me to pray for a mother who doesn’t even have a son any more.”
Pastor John Elliott from the Good News Camp and Gulf Coast Foursquare Church sent construction teams faithfully to Pearlington, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina to rebuild churches. He had told the team during orientation that “three to four months after Hurricane Katrina hit, people began having thoughts of suicide. So be prepared.” People might look OK on the outside, he said, but inside they are overwhelmed and desperate.
Two young mothers had brought a group of neighborhood kids to the church’s turkey dinner the Friday after Thanksgiving where they all got Somebody Cares bears along with brand new windbreakers donated by First Baptist Church of Plano TX. One of the mothers and her daughter are living in a tent, and the other mother and her son are living in their car.
“God says He doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” one of the moms said. “I guess our suffering makes us stronger and brings us closer to Him.”
“Sometimes you go on mission trips and they stick with you forever,” commented one member of the Times Square team. “This is one trip I will never forget.”
The needs in Galveston, Oak Island, and nearby communities such as Freddiesville are tremendous. As this article was written, evening temperatures in the area were dipping into the 30s. People desperately need shelter, blankets, and warm clothing. Your gift of prayer, time, finances, and resources will help us continue rescuing lives not only in the areas devastated by Ike, but in other locations across the U.S. and around the globe. Please consider donating online today DONATE HERE! Thank you for caring!