At least three staff members at Pastor Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, had to be rescued from their homes while several others experienced flooding due to the impact of Hurricane Harvey.
"I know of about three staff members that have needed to be rescued. There may be more but I happen to know of about three of them that literally had to be pulled out of high water," Lakewood spokesperson Don Iloff, Osteen's brother-in-law, told The Christian Post on Monday.
While many flood rescue crews have traveled to southeast Texas from other states to aid in saving victims from a storm that has turned roads into rivers and already claimed the lives of at least eight people, Iloff told CP that in many cases, neighbors are rescuing neighbors.
"You know what is interesting is that a lot of the rescuing that is going on in this city is not just rescue crews, it's just people rescuing other people," he stated. "Everybody that has got a boat has put a boat in the water in this city."
Trevor and Amie McDonald, who run Lakewood's high school ministry, were among the Lakewood staff members who were in need of being rescued as flooding overtook their home in the Houston area. Thankfully, the husband of Lakewood Church staff member Shawna Collins — Sean Collins — was able to come to the rescue, Iloff explained.
"The very first rescue I heard of was staff members rescuing other staff members," Iloff said, recalling the Collins rescuing the McDonalds, who have two young children. "They were up to their waists in water. Another staff member got within two miles, had a boat and took the boat into where they were and got them into the boat and took them home."
Amie McDonald posted about the experience on her Facebook page on Sunday and posted pictures and a video of the flooding in the streets and in her home.
"It has been a day. A day of fear, anxiety, helplessness, sadness, tears and some more fear. But let me take a moment to brag on the goodness of God. Thank you God for the most amazing, prayer driven, loyal, and faithful friends on the planet," McDonald wrote. "There is power in prayer and I'm grateful we are surrounded with people that don't just say they will intercede for you, but actually do. My gosh, thank you. Thank you God for neighbors who look out for you."
McDonald explained that "two men with kayaks in our neighborhood saw our help signs in our window and loaded up my family, pulled us for 30 minutes in the pouring rain thru very dangerous water to get somewhere safe."
McDonald thanked God for sending the Collins family. The Collins family not only sheltered the McDonald family in their home but also fed and clothed them.
As for Osteen and his wife, Victoria, Iloff told CP that the Osteen family is safe but without power.
"I haven't talked to them in two days. I know someone made it over there and said everybody is OK. They are on pretty high ground," Iloff explained. "If you are not flooded, you are surrounded by water in this city. If you are not flooded, you now have waterfront property. "
Some on social media have criticized Osteen and Lakewood for announcing that they had canceled Sunday's services because of the hurricane, suggesting that the church is closed to those who need to access the massive arena for shelter.
However, Iloff told CP that there are currently about eight maintenance personnel inside the church who have been instructed to let anyone into the church who needs shelter. But to Iloff's knowledge, no one has come to the church seeking shelter.
"They would have to swim to get there," he explained, adding that there is a flood shelter set up a couple miles from the church at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Most of Lakewood's missionary efforts involving Hurricane Harvey will come in the aftermath, Iloff said, as thousands of homes and buildings have been damaged.
Iloff stated that not only will Lakewood's own missions programs be engaging in providing aid and rebuilding homes in the Houston area for years to come but Lakewood will also partner with the evangelical humanitarian aid organization Samaritan's Purse to conduct and raise funds for relief efforts in Houston.
"We have Joel's brother, Dr. Paul Osteen. He has already been talking to Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse. We have worked with them on various projects in the past and work with them quite often actually. We are going to be their main partner when they come into Houston," Iloff stated. "A lot of that is us providing volunteers, providing funds and that sort of thing."
"In addition to that, we are going to be working with the city of Houston," he added. "They will be wanting to do a major fundraiser by utilizing our sanctuary, cameras and services and will probably work with a local television station and we will do a large fundraiser."