National News

Houses of worship and relief in times of trouble

By J.A. Salaam -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Dec 14, 2017 - 3:02:48 PM

What's your opinion on this article?

Deric Muhammad (left), a Muslim community activist and Pastor E.A. Deckard (right) of Greenhouse International Church have teamed up in relief efforts. Photo: Deric Muhammad/Facebook
When television evangelist and motivational Pastor Joel Olsten received a backlash from reports that people were not allowed to enter his mega church for shelter in Houston, during Hurricane Harvey the incident blew up on social and in mainstream media.

Reactions varied, including anger and disappointment, and critics questioned the role and responsibility of places of worship regarding congregants and surrounding communities during times of trauma and disasters. Several places of worship have taken the lead in the aftermath of weather-related disasters to be places of shelter, sanctuary and safety.

“I believe the church should always be on the front line during times of natural disasters. As a matter of fact, I believe the church should always be visible and active whenever there are needs in the community. The Bible says we should love our neighbors, therefore serving our neighbors should be our act of ministry during times of disaster,” said Pastor E.A. Deckard of Greenhouse International Church, located in Houston. 

Pastor Deckard and his congregation have worked diligently in relief efforts not only for survivors of Hurricane Harvey but in prior flooding events that have plagued the city. His church has joined efforts with local activist Deric Muhammad, who is a Muslim, and with members of Muhammad Mosque No. 45 of the Nation of Islam.

Working across religious lines to assist those in need is important, say activists.

Since Hurricane Harvey carved it’s destructive path through Texas, several Texas National Guards units were given room and board at the church in Port Neches during their efforts to get essential supplies to storm victims. Photo: U.S. Army National Guard Photo/Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Houston
We repay God by the way we serve and assist others during their times of need, explained Pastor Deckard.

“When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, as a pastor I knew we had to open our church doors 24/7 and serve our neighbors until there were no more needs left. I also believe during times of natural disaster all houses, and people of faith, should come together in unity and serve the community in love,” declared Pastor Deckard.

Pastor Jamail Johnson of The Word Church of Houston, Texas, agrees. “I believe the church has a responsibility to the communities they reside in, period. Natural disaster or not, we have a continued responsibility to offer aid and assistance to our community. Granted our efforts should increase during catastrophic times, but they shouldn’t just be starting,” he told The Final Call.

“See, I believe it’s an indictment on anybody of belief, any religion you profess, to have a street address in a neighborhood and neglect addressing the issues of the neighborhood. If we remain in place, we very well can help our people deal with their storms before a hurricane comes,” said Pastor Johnson.

Historically the church played a significant role in the Black community as a place of refuge in times of trouble. Before the Civil War, “freed” slaves belonged to bi-racial congregations controlled by Whites, many of which required Black members to sit in the back of the church during services. With emancipation, Blacks withdrew from those institutions to create their own churches. They pooled their resources to purchase land and erect church buildings. During the civil rights movement, the Black church was pivotal for planning, meeting, strategizing and mobilizing. It was a place of spirituality and practicality. Today, religious institutions can have a similar effect especially when struggle and disaster arise.

“The role of houses of worship is to minister to the whole man, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically and economically to handle the traumatic effects of the disasters during and after,” said Student Minister Dr. Abdul Haleem Muhammad, Southwest Regional Representative of the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

“We must encourage the congregation to provide food, clothing, shelter, transportation and finances to those in need. We must become advocates on behalf of the least of us. And we must push the authorities to help the people and plea to Allah to have mercy on His elect as they suffer through these trying times,” he said.

Members from the Nebraska Air National Guard 155th Medical Group deployed to provide Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas September 2-9 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Forty-four Medical Group personnel deployed to Texas to provide assistance and relief medical triage capabilities as a CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives) CERFP (Enhanced Response Force Package). The Nebraska National Guard thanked the First Baptist Church of Port Neches for their gracious hospitality during their deployment to Hurricane Harvey Relief. The church provided housing, showers and extra bathrooms, laundry service, and fed the Nebraska military and some of the Texas National Guard deployed in the area, as well as provided for area residents in many ways. Photo: U.S. Air Force Photo/Technical Sgt R. Denise Mommens
Various religious denominations have joined a nationwide effort to aid and assist with disaster preparedness for victims of natural disasters.  Muslims from the Nation of Islam in the seventh region, which encompasses Florida and the Caribbean, collaborated with other community organizations in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in disaster relief efforts. They helped to collect food, clothing and other supplies for people in hard hit areas. Some churches have joined other initiatives to lend a helping hand.  

“It’s our duty to help those in trouble. Many churches don’t have defined responsibility during natural disasters, except they are partners in N.V.O.A.D. (National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters). Not all religious houses are part of us and some have their own way of helping. This is a collaboration under the American Red Cross, in which the roles are defined to assure services are given equally,” said Pastor David Peay, director of Community Services for the Southeastern Conference of the Seventh Day Adventists.

“We have the Church of Brethren (child care), United Methodist (collect financial donations), Baptist and Mennonites (clean-up), Church of the Latter-Day Saints (personal comfort kits) and Seventh Day Adventist (staff warehousing and distribution),” he explained.

For more information, visit