Joel Osteen opens Houston megachurch to those seeking shelter after social media critics slam televangelist for not offering to house people in need
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Houston: As devastating flooding from Harvey continued around the Houston area, the city’s Muslim community stepped up: turning mosques into 24-hour shelters and bringing in diapers, water and food from their own homes.
M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston — an organization that represents 21 Islamic centres in the area — said in a phone call that four of ISGH’s member mosques are now open as round-the-clock shelters.
“This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others,” Khan said. “When you give, you don’t give only to your own family. … You give to anybody who needs help.”
Khan explained that the ISGH had the idea to offer mosques as shelters to anyone who needed refuge. The problem, he explained, was that many of the roads weren’t passable.
Luckily, Khan said, “we have a pretty good networking and communication system.” With just a few phone calls, volunteers showing up to local mosques with bottled water, sleeping bags and supplies.
As of Tuesday, Khan said, four mosques were operating as fully equipped shelters, staffed and stocked by local volunteers. In fact, there were so many volunteers from Houston’s Muslim community that Khan began sending them to help in city shelters and at Houston’s convention center.
“We have truckloads of supplies coming,” Khan said. He added that the ISGH had put together a list of 50 doctors from the Muslim community who were willing to be on call and offered it to the city of Houston.
Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch to those seeking shelter from floodwaters Tuesday after social media critics slammed the televangelist for not offering to house people in need while Harvey swamps the city.
“Houstonians, Texans, are generous people, gracious people. We like to help others in need. That’s what you’re seeing here today people stepping up and you know and helping these people that have been displaced,” Osteen said after opening his Lakewood Church to displaced Houstonians seeking shelter.
Among those who came to the 16,000-seat former arena that was the longtime home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets was Jack Bullman. The 56-year-old Long Pine resident sat with a baby blue towel hanging around his neck, trying to dry off and get warm.
“Usually a hurricane comes by and you get hit with the surge and the rain, but here it’s lingered so long there’s no doubt that it will be catastrophic,” Bullman said, adding that he had just rebuilt last year after another flood. “All that hard work, right down the tubes.”
Bullman was evacuated from West Houston Medical Center, where his mother was in intensive care after having a stroke. With floodwaters coming, the hospital spent two hours finding a place for him to stay, then gave him a ride to the church.
The church had announced on Twitter late Tuesday morning that it was receiving people who need shelter. Osteen announced the move himself shortly after, adding in a tweet that he and wife Victoria Osteen “care deeply about our fellow Houstonians.”
The move followed a day of online criticism from those who claimed the church closed its doors while other places of worship, including several mosques, opened theirs to people who needed help.
A fleet of panel trucks, Mercedes coupes, SUVs and pickups descended on the church. Out came bags of donations – jackets, strollers, bottled water, pants, dresses, stuffed dolls, sheets, pillows – that volunteers piled in a mountain in the church’s lobby.
The church’s decision to open up as a shelter came after a church Facebook post and a since deleted Instagram post Sunday by Lakewood associate pastor John Gray that said flooded highways had made the church inaccessible.
“For the people spreading lies about my church. If WE could get there WE WOULD OPEN THE DOORS,” Gray’s comment read. “As soon as the highways aren’t flooded please know @lakewoodchurch will do all they can alleviate the pain and suffering of as many people as possible. Love y’all! #CantStandLiars.”
Don Iloff, a church spokesman and Victoria Osteen’s brother, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that floodwaters had rendered the building mostly inaccessible before receding Monday afternoon, but he said the church wasn’t closed. Three people who showed up at the church on Sunday spent the night there before being taken to a city shelter.
“You can’t change your life because of Twitter haters,” he said. “You need to do what you need to do.”
Lakewood Church served as a shelter for about 5,000 people displaced during Tropical Storm Allison at its previous home in 2001, when more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain were dumped on the city. It moved to the arena formerly known as The Summit and the Compaq Center in 2005.