Nation's Largest Megachurch Works with Partners to Aid Hurricane Victims

The nation’s largest megachurch is engaging its thousands of members to help Hurricane Katrina victims, as it continues to provide meals at local shelters, through partnerships with other aid groups.

In the weeks since Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, over 3,000 of the 30,000 Lakewood Church members in Houston have volunteered at shelters throughout the city in conjunction with other churches and faith groups while also creating a partnership with a national ministry to distribute supplies to victims in the hardest hit states along the Gulf Coast.

In the face of such hard times for so many, Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen was asked in a recent interview with U.S. News & World Report if it was hard to talk to victims about hope.

“It is,” the megachurch pastor said. “It's hard, in general, to see all that suffering. It's kind of oppressing, but I think more than ever we have to rise up and say, ‘You know what? There are going to be bright days ahead. You may not be able to see it right now, but just believe that God can somehow bring out the new beginning.’ So it's hard, but more than ever they need it; we all need it.”

Soon after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, Osteen received a call from Houston Mayor Bill White, asking if the pastor could organize his church help to feed some of the evacuees coming in to the city from affected areas for at least 30 days.

“Sure I’ll do it,” was his reply, according to WXIA-TV. And so began a campaign to raise funds. The cost would be $140,000 per day, with a goal of raising $5 million for a citywide interfaith relief effort called Operation Compassion.

Through Compassion, Lakewood has been working to recruit volunteers to help gather and distribute water, and non-perishable food items.

However the help provided by Lakewood Church has not only been limited to Houston. With his frequent travels to other parts of the country, the well known Pastor and best-selling author Osteen had to adapt to the circumstances.

Two days after the hurricane hit, he formed a partnership with Feed the Children Ministries to help collect and distribute relief items for victims. Then, during a worship event that had been scheduled in Atlanta prior to the storm, he called on those attending to help.

The event at Philips Arena had been expected to draw more than 36,000 people over two days. At the time, he asked that each person bring at least one item they could donate.

“I know the kind of people who come to our events; they are the most compassionate people in the world,” he said. The partnership with Feed the Children would then deliver the items to hard hit areas of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Until now, Lakewood Church reports that over 25 semi-truck loads of supplies have been distributed to affected areas, including help from people attending worship events in Washington, D.C., as well.

Within Houston, Lakewood Church has been contributing in other ways. On Sept. 7, it offered a worship service with Osteen and the church's worship team at one of the larger shelters in the Houston area, the George R. Brown Convention Center, which has a housing capacity of up to 7,000 people.

On the occasion, the Pastor told KPRC-TV that the suffering he had seen take place along the Gulf Coast was unlike anything he had witnessed before. On that day, he hoped to encourage the victims.

"It's one thing to give food, but their souls need to be taken care of," Osteen said. “They need to be given hope and encouragement. So many of them need somebody to talk to, get that off their chest and let them know God's concerned, and he's going to make a way for them.”

According to its web site, the church says it has already trained more than 1,000 crisis counselors to provide a "ministry of encouragement, hope and restoration to those in our city that have been displaced by the storm."

The church also reports that 3,000 of its members have been recruited to become volunteers for "Operation Compassion," a city wide Interfaith relief effort led by another of the city's megachuches, Second Baptist Church.

For Osteen, it's about giving hope to victims. At the Sept. 7 service at the George R. Brown Convention center he told KENS-TV, there's a limit to physical help

"We've just gotta do everything we can to help them get their feet back on the ground. But I feel like our place as a church, we can do as much as we can physically," Osteen said to according to KENS-TV.

Osteen told U.S. News that people have lost much but it’s important to help them be restored.

“It's one thing to take care of their physical needs, but we've also found that a lot of people, they need hope. They've had so much taken out of them; I feel like they need reflection, they need to be restored on the inside.”