Joel Osteen: Lakewood Church is open for evacuees
By Marvin Schrebe
Popular televangelist and pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Joel Osteen, is firing back at critics who claimed that Lakewood Church closed its doors to evacuees in Houston during the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey. Osteen’s Lakewoood Church has 606,000 square feet of space and many in Houston claim the church, which could have housed thousands, remained closed during the storm.
But church leaders say the church itself sustained flood damage as water spilled over the church’s flood wall and entered the building. Leaders at the church state that it would have been unsafe as a shelter.
Don Iloff, spokesman for the church told the Washington Post, “We were never closed. This is crazy. People are saying we locked the church. The church has been open from the beginning, but it’s not designated as a shelter.”
Iloff went on to say that water had receded by Monday and the church was then designated as a shelter. Vehicles were seen lining up outside the church as evacuees arrived there to be sheltered. By Tuesday hundreds of volunteers had arrived at the church to sort blankets, diapers, and other donations to ship off to George R. Brown Convention Center where victims of Hurricane Harvey have gathered in recent days. Lakewood had 100 air mattresses prepared on the second floor in anticipation of evacuees. Iloff’s wife Jackelyn said she didn’t know how many people the megachurch had taken in so far. The church also had a medical area set up with volunteer doctors and nurses ready to treat minor injuries and provide insulin if needed. Iloff said evacuees will be housed on the second floor as the first floor would be too risky. “We would be hesitant to put anybody on the first floor as long as there’s rain coming,” he said.
He added that Hurricane Harvey was expected to produce two more days of rain. Osteen was criticized Monday afternoon for not opening the megachurch to evacuees. “”Joel Osteen, as a pastor you have a huge obligation to show the love of Christ at this very moment. OPEN THE DOORS,”the Washington Post quoted fellow megachurch pastor Greg Locke of the Global Vision Church in Tenessee as tweeting on Monday.
Osteen was on CNN Tuesday evening defending his response to the storm. He has also spoken about it on his Facebook page. “We are working diligently with the city of Houston to mobilize our many volunteers at shelters around the city as well as various other points of need in and around the Houston area. In addition we are working with Samaritan’s Purse on major relief efforts.,” Olsteen posted.
“The problem with that building is that it’s prone to horrific flooding,” Iloff is quoted as saying by the Washington Post. “If that building starts to flood , it floods in an instant. If we had people on the first floor, you’d be writing a whole different story I’m telling you, it’ll be horrific.”
On Monday church officials announced that the church will be a collection site for supplies such as diapers, baby formula, and baby food for distribution throughout the Houston area. City officials have also expressed interest in using the facility as a command center although Iloff told the Washington Post he was not sure what that would entail.