Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch opens doors as shelter

Posted August 30

FILE - This April 24, 2010 file photo shows Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen at Dodger Stadium during his "A Night of Hope" in Los Angeles. Osteen said in a statement to ABC News on Aug. 28, 2017, that his Lakewood Church would open as a shelter for Hurricane Harvey victims if needed. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

— 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 who needed shelter. Dr. Essam Girgawy volunteered to work in an area for people who need medical attention.

"I'm a physician and this is what I do for a living, and whenever there is a need I come," he said.

One evacuee he treated was Allen Manuel. "Yeah, I was mainly concerned about my medicine — I hadn't taken it in 8 days — for high blood pressure," he said.

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.


Associated Press video journalist John L. Mone in Houston and writer Patrick Mairs in Philadelphia contributed to this report.


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  • Linda Tally Sep 2, 6:54 p.m.
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    The unfortunate truth is that people sheltering inside this megachurch are in worse condition than those wading through the filthy water outside. The place is positively teeming with fundamental slime.

  • Ralph Savary Aug 29, 6:44 p.m.
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    Just another snake oil salesman who got rich off of the poor. They should ALL lose their taxes exempt status.

  • Jack Ruth Aug 29, 3:09 p.m.
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    Lets be fair. He was open for business to receive donations, but the church was inaccessible for off the street traffic due to the flooding. Oh, the flooding just went down this afternoon. Did he part the flooding waters buy raising his hands???

  • Softly Softlybeep Aug 29, 1:10 p.m.
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    So he gave in to pressure. Meanwhile, people with far fewer resources are doing whatever they can to help--going out in their own boats, sheltering neighbors, donating to the Red Cross and Salvation Army. For shame.

  • Nicolle Leney Aug 29, 12:59 p.m.
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    View quoted thread

    He only did it because he was getting so much criticism.

    Jim McIngvale, who owns MattressMack, had already opened up his furniture stores as shelters. Amazing guy.

  • Scott Patterson Aug 29, 12:54 p.m.
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    Only after he was roasted on Twitter for being a one of those "Christians" ... the ones who wont open doors or wallets... but hey he sent prayers!!!

  • Kelly Paris Aug 29, 12:25 p.m.
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    So, he'll let people into the church AFTER shelters fill up? Why does this guy have to wait? Something wrong with this.

  • Jerry Sawyer Aug 29, 10:47 a.m.
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    He is almost as good as Earnest Angley😊He used to sell " Sin Soap". He gives Christianity a very bad name.

  • Matt Wood Aug 29, 10:24 a.m.
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    Hey Osteen, they shelters are already over capacity!

  • Catherine Edwards Aug 29, 9:17 a.m.
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    That church needs to do some giving back to the community.