After Harvey, ‘churches have done far more than the government’

The Christian Chronicle

Two months after the storm, Texas minister reflects on disaster relief and lessons learned.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

BEAUMONT, Texas — Tony Williams is tired.

However, he insists he’s not burned out.

Two months after Hurricane Harvey, the Westgate Church of Christ — where Williams serves as the preaching minister — remains active with disaster relief in this southeast Texas city of 120,000.

“It’s tiring, but I think it’s something we can continue to do because the need is great,” Williams said. “And I think the cause of the kingdom is blessed through being able to reach out in this way.”

Technically, Harvey was a tropical storm, not a hurricane, when it reached Beaumont. Nonetheless, the rain — 26 inches in 24 hours — proved devastating as thousands of structures flooded.

At first, the 150-member Westgate church focused on distributing food and emergency supplies, including tractor-trailer loads full of items provided by Nashville, Tenn.-based Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort.

Later, the congregation shifted to housing and feeding Christians who came from across the nation to help gut, clean and restore deluged homes. To coordinate the volunteer teams, the church turned to the Churches of Christ Disaster Response Team, known as DRT.

Read the full interview.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.



18 vans, 150 volunteers, 465 miles, one goal: to help Harvey victims

The Christian Chronicle

‘These people are amazing,’ says an Iranian immigrant grateful for the love shown after his family’s home flooded.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

HOUSTON — The homeowner was shirtless and sweating.

He was still angry — he admitted that much — over the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey two months ago.

But he was curious, too, about the strangers who showed up in white vans in his neighborhood and raked trash and debris from his barren yard.

“They came all the way down here for this?” he asked, intrigued that these Christians drove 465 miles to serve victims of a storm that dumped a record-breaking 52 inches of rain on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

A slight smile formed on the man’s face.

“I usually tell people from Oklahoma to head north,” he joked.

These days, though, southeast Texas can use the help — even it comes from across the Red River.

Emotional scenes of boats rescuing Lone Star State residents from flooded homes have faded from television screens. But for thousands who lost possessions and livelihoods, needs remain immense.

That’s why the Edmond Church of Christ — a 1,200-member congregation north of Oklahoma City — felt compelled to send help.

Read the full story.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.


After Hurricane Harvey, hope for heroes and victims

The Christian Chronicle

‘Do not let your spiritual life go while you’re helping other people in the name of Jesus,’ a Houston minister urges his congregation.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

HOUSTON — This one was personal.

When I traveled to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coastto cover Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the churches I visited were new to me.

The resilient Christians who survived Katrina became special to me. However, I didn’t know them before the storm.

Hurricane Harvey is different.

In my time with The Christian Chronicle, I have made frequent trips to Houston: I have come here to report on churches — black, white and brown — joining together to show unity in Christ. I have come here to report on the model inner-city works of the Impact Houston Church of Christ. I have come here to report on a growing congregation of Vietnamese immigrants — a story I hadn’t even finished before Harvey beckoned me back to Rocket City.

This one was personal.

David Duncan, minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, is one of my best friends. We attended Oklahoma Christian University together in the 1980s. But we didn’t really become close until 1999 when we roomed together on a mission trip to Vitoria, Brazil, where David and his wife, Barbara, had spent a decade as full-time missionaries.

Read the full column.

This column appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Catholic faith moves ‘Mattress Mack’ to shelter Harvey victims

Religion News Service

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

HOUSTON — Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale was kicking himself the morning after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, for closing his furniture stores while some people could still shop.

Known to millions in America’s fourth-largest city because he stars in his own zany television commercials, McIngvale had closed all three of his Gallery Furniture locations on Aug. 26.

“A lot of these small retailers up and down the street were open, and they were doing a lot of business,” said the fast-talking entrepreneur, whose antics have included promising to refund customers’ money if the Astros win this year’s World Series.

Little did McIngvale know that Houston quickly would become a disaster zone — and that he, driven by his faith, would emerge as one of the battered city’s most beloved heroes.

On the Sunday after the storm hit land, the 66-year-old entrepreneur rose early to attend Mass at Houston’s Assumption Catholic Church.

But he couldn’t get out of his driveway. The storm that would dump a record-breaking 50-plus inches of rain on the Bayou City had him blocked in. He was stuck at his house for three hours before he could leave.

The flooded cars on the freeway made him realize the extent of the disaster, as did the “hundreds of calls and emails and texts of people wanting us to rescue them” that greeted him at his original Gallery Furniture location.

When he settled into the store, McIngvale — who can display both his cantankerous and compassionate natures nearly simultaneously — pivoted from selling furniture to rescuing and housing fellow Texans trapped by floodwaters.

His faith, he said, moved him to help.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Faithful mobilize shelters for Harvey flooding victims

The Christian Chronicle

‘The church was just so overwhelmingly warm and friendly,’ one evacuee says. ‘It just made me cry.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

BELTON, Texas — In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, strangers became like family.

Christians motivated by their love for Jesus opened their hearts — and their church buildings — to men, women and children fleeing a storm that flooded tens of thousands of homes and caused at least 82 deaths.

“I couldn’t put it into words. They’ve treated us like we were royalty from some foreign country,” retired Army Col. Chuck Emmerich, 81, said after spending four nights in the Belton Church of Christ gymnasium, about 200 miles northwest of Houston.

“They’ve treated us just like family, really,” added Emmerich, who was using a walker after stepping on glass during his evacuation and requiring treatment at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood.

A police boat rescued Emmerich, his wife, Marjorie, and their mixed-breed terrier, Mejia, on Sunday, Aug. 27, as floodwaters rose in their Houston-area home.

When the Pearland, Texas, residents went to bed about 10:30 p.m. that Saturday, Aug. 26, there wasn’t even a puddle in their yard, Emmerich said. But when he got up to go to the bathroom about midnight, his feet squished into wet carpet.

“We’re flooding!” he told his wife.

Read the full story.

Related story: In a small Texas town, a church becomes a hub for Harvey relief (reporting from La Grange, Texas)

These stories appear in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Morgan Freeman hears Katrina survivors’ ‘Story of God’

The Christian Chronicle


Morgan Freeman hears couple’s ‘Story of God’: Hurricane Katrina survivors share faith on National Geographic Channel series.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

God doesn’t play favorites.

Charles Marsalis stresses that message at the Hollygrove Church of Christ, the New Orleans congregation he and his wife, Angela, planted in a high-crime neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina.

“I’m just plain ol’ Charles,” the minister said. “I’m not going to treat anybody differently, no matter who you are.”

Not even if you’re an Academy Award-winning actor named Morgan Freeman — in the Big Easy to interview Marsalis and his wife, Angela, for the National Geographic Channel series “The Story of God.”

“Some of the folks, including one of my sons, was watching me to see how I was going to react,” the father of four said, referring to Freeman’s presence at a Sunday worship assembly. “My son said, ‘Pops, you never called this man out one time.’”

Of course, the actor who played God in the box-office hit “Bruce Almighty” and its sequel, “Evan Almighty,” was impossible to miss. So were the cameras that filmed the congregation singing “Shelter in the Time of Storm.”

Marsalis did address Freeman when the star jokingly took money out of the collection plate. “Boy, you about to get whooped in the church,” the minister said he told him.

This story appears in the May 2016 edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, survivors keep counting blessings

The Christian Chronicle


‘God allowed us to make it through’ (reporting from New Orleans): At the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Christians who survived keep counting their blessings.

NEW ORLEANS — Ten years after Hurricane Katrina waged war on the Gulf Coast, Christians in hard-hit New Orleans are looking back — and ahead.

Frank J. Harden, an elder of the Louisa Street Church of Christ, recalls fleeing 260 miles west to Beaumont, Texas, as the “storm of the century” raged toward the Crescent City.

“The Lord was with us, trust me,” Harden said. “I mean, every move we made was the right move.”

In the Lone Star State, the Harden family — Frank, wife Annastasia and daughters Jennifer and Frankie, then 13 and 11 — found fellow Christians willing and eager to help them and other Louisa Street members.

“All of the Churches of Christ got together to help us,” Harden said, specifically mentioning Beaumont’s Ridgewood, South Park and Westgate congregations. “Oh, man, they really, really, really took care of us. I mean, we didn’t want for anything.”

Flooding during Katrina claimed the home of Yolanda White, then a member of the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ.

White and her family escaped to Grand Prairie, Texas, where they showed up the Sunday after the storm at the Freetown Road Church of Christ.

Related column: The vivid faces of Hurricane Katrina.

These stories appear in the September 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

In the Big Easy, despair meets hope

The Christian Chronicle


In the Big Easy, despair meets hope (reporting from New Orleans): In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, church planters see God at work in a ‘dark and difficult part of New Orleans.’

NEW ORLEANS — Charles and Angela Marsalis survived the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina by escaping to the balcony of their home congregation, the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ.

Later, the couple returned to Hollygrove — the high-crime New Orleans neighborhood where both grew up — to share Jesus with boys and girls on the front porch of a relative’s hurricane-damaged home.

From those studies emerged the planting of the Hollygrove Church of Christ.

On a recent Sunday, the congregation celebrated its fifth anniversary with a standing-room-only crowd filling the 100 or so seats in a small, red-brick church building.

A siren wailed in the background as the back door opened and another worshiper squeezed into the assembly.

“You better keep God in your life because people are getting killed in their own home or robbed in their own neighborhood,” church member John Ellis told the congregation. “We need the church in the neighborhood and the neighborhood in the church.”

Too often, despair in the form of drugs, gangs and prostitution besets Hollygrove.

This story appears in the March 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

The Spiritual Toll — Katrina: Five Years Later

The Christian Chronicle

The Spiritual Toll — Katrina: Five Years Later: Beyond physical losses, hurricane’s path of debris left some New Orleans-area churches facing unexpected challenges (reporting from Mandeville, La.). Page 1 lead.

MANDEVILLE, La. – In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ organized a mammoth relief effort that encouraged Christians across the nation.

Yet the long-term ramifications of the nation’s costliest natural disaster proved less inspirational for the once-thriving congregation.

Five years later, the church in this suburb just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans deals with the physical and spiritual debris: loss of key members scattered across the nation, turmoil after the storm that contributed to a church split and questions over the shrinking flock’s future.

“There’s certainly the disaster that goes beyond the disaster,” said Stan Helton, minister of the Tammany Oaks church for a little more than a year. “I mean, imagine trying to restart a congregation with elders who are just totally worn out from trying to get their own houses built, helping as much as they can, managing chaotic processes at this building.”

Since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005 — killing more than 1,800 people and wreaking an estimated $81 billion in property damage — the spiritual toll has been high.

Raving about Jesus: A ministry for teenage girls (reporting from Nashville, Tenn.). Second Front.

Five years after Katrina, stories of hope emerge (reporting from Gulfport, Miss.). Inside Story.

Not the Big Easy: Reaching New Orleans with the Gospel (reporting from Harahan, La.). National.

Chasing his dreams: Gallimore anchors news, preaches. People.

Little children, big opportunity in New Orleans

The Christian Chronicle


Little children, big opportunity in New Orleans (reporting from New Orleans). Page 1 photo.

Sermon titles you won’t soon forget. Inside Story.

They survived storm, and now they know why (reporting from New Orleans). Page 8.

Woman named Daphne puts her love into action (reporting from Bayou la Batre, Ala.). Page 9.

PROGRESS IN THE BIG EASY: REBUILDING THE CHURCH: Churches reopen, look to future (reporting from New Orleans). Page 9.

‘Tidal wave of God’s people’ needed to help New Orleans churches rebuild

The Christian Chronicle


‘Tidal wave of God’s people’ needed to help New Orleans churches rebuild (reporting from New Orleans). Page 1.

In ‘Big Easy,’ life after Katrina anything but (reporting from New Orleans). Inside Story.

In their own words: Volunteers reflect on Katrina. Currents.

A conversation with Kevin Bethea (reporting from Baltimore). Dialogue.

No lights, but plenty of blessings as Texas church deals with Rita

The Christian Chronicle

No lights, but plenty of blessings as Texas church deals with Rita (reporting from Jasper, Texas). National.

Fatigue, funding concerns strain disaster agencies. Page 1.

Outward focus fueling growth at universities. Page 1.

A conversation with Charlie Middlebrook. Dialogue.

From cable TV to coffee shops, ‘amenities arms race’ is waged. Partners.

Faithful offer hope, help after Katrina

The Christian Chronicle


Faithful offer hope, help after Katrina (reporting from Mandeville, La.). Page 1.

Dallas church, like others, opens hearts, wallets to victims (reporting from Dallas). National.

Faith amid the fury (reporting from Baton Rouge, La.). National.

Once again, Yelton in the eye of the storm (reporting from Gulfport, Miss.). Profile.

After 25 years, Mack Lyon keeps SEARCHING for the Lord’s Way (reporting from Edmond, Okla.). Currents.