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.
Eugene Rideaux, 42, is a mechanic and member of Osteen’s church who showed up to help sort donations. The lifelong Houston resident hasn’t been able to work or do much since the storm first hit, so he was eager to get out of his dark house and help.
“When is it going to end? As soon as you think it’s clear it comes right back,” he said. “Whole neighborhoods under water, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s almost like life stops.”
Across the church lobby, volunteers were starting to process people…