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In the span of just seven weeks, the Lord took ALERT’s ministry to new heights never before imagined in their 11-year history. It began as Hurricane Katrina was lashing the Gulf Coast. Before Katrina finished cutting a path of devastation through the gulf states, Texas’s State Operations Center asked ALERT to put their emergency responders on standby and await word on where to deploy a disaster team. They knew that citizens and government officials on the Gulf Coast would face enourmous needs as a result of the storm.
After Katrina made landfall, government officials realized they had an unfathomable disaster on their hands, triggering dozens of requests for ALERT’s assistance. ALERT’s initial response to the disaster was multifaceted. A team of ALERT medics immediately deployed to the New Orleans area to relieve wearied medical personnel and provide desperately needed patient care. ALERT men deployed to an evacuation shelter located two hours south of Big Sandy, Texas, where they assisted the Red Cross volunteers in taking care of the evacuees.
Our first deployment for STEP (Skills Training for Emergency Preparedness) became available at the evacuation center located in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Emergency officials in Houston requested ALERT’s assistance at the enormous evacuation operation taking place at the Astrodome complex. When ALERT arrived, the men were enlisted to handle crowd control, security, evacuee care, and logistics. In addition to those tasks, men set up sleeping quarters, unloaded buses, and did what they could to keep things in order amidst the chaos at the Astrodome. Despite working 14–16-hour shifts, the men found time to talk, pray, and counsel with evacuees; hand out tracts; and share the Gospel. During the deployment, the men saw a number of people accept Christ as their Savior!
As ALERT men were working diligently in New Orleans and Houston, an additional team, including ALERT Reserves, was deployed to a small suburb south of New Orleans. Working with the FriendShips ministry, the team coordinated with the mayor’s office to plan outreaches to the areas of greatest need. Base camp was set up next to FriendShip’s vessel to provide clothing, toiletries, supplies, and hot meals, while additional ALERT men went through town repairing roofs.
A couple served by the men was particularly touched, commenting, “The young men from the ALERT program epitomize what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matthew 25:40). They completed the work on our home in about two hours and then sang ‘Amazing Grace’ as our tears flowed. Thank you for developing such a fine organization. We will never forget the ALERT folks.”
With ALERT men serving in disaster zones across the southeast, ALERT Cadet Units from Tennessee and Indiana stepped up, sending fathers and sons to Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi to assist with disaster relief efforts. The Cadets and fathers were involved in a number of operations, including search and recovery, medical assistance, and debris cleanup.
The pleas for ALERT’s help kept coming. The Emergency Operations Centers in Marion County and Forest County, Mississippi, along with the mayor of Abita Springs, Louisiana, made urgent requests for assistance. These deployments carried a very specific and special mission—to come to the aid of widows and the elderly. The ALERT men coordinated with local officials and churches to find elderly citizens and widows, get to their homes, and take care of debris removal and yard cleanup.
An especially grateful elderly woman who received help had this to say: “I want to thank you for the assistance I received after Hurricane Katrina from your organization. I could not afford to hire anyone to help me remove the trees and place tarps on the roof. A group from ALERT came to my home, fixed my roof, and cleared trees from my yard. Words cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel towards ALERT. I had never heard of your organization before but you can be sure that you all are in my prayers. Truly, these men are living God’s Word and are under His Hand. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
ALERT men, officers, and Cadets had been busy serving the needs of hurricane victims for several weeks all over the Southeast in various capacities when another devastating storm hit—Hurricane Rita. With Rita bearing down on Texas, ALERT men who had deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi returned to Big Sandy and were reassigned to open a shelter in southeastern Texas and to help elderly and infirmed evacuees with their medical needs. As Rita powered through Texas, ALERT sawyer and medic teams deployed to towns in Rita’s path of destruction, while several ALERT officers assisted the Jasper, Texas, Emergency Operations Center.
Meanwhile, an entirely different disaster relief ministry was taking place on the ALERT campus. When Katrina struck Louisiana, ALERT opened the campus to house and feed families displaced by the storm. As Rita barreled toward Texas, families from Beaumont, Jasper, and Port Arthur headed to east Texas, prompting ALERT to accept however many families the Lord would send to Big Sandy.
Two days after Rita pummeled Texas, the coordinator of the Texas State Operations Center asked ALERT to house a large number of evacuees. The next day, displaced families began arriving en masse, swelling the numbers being housed and fed at ALERT to more than 1,000 people. Working in conjunction with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, ALERT accepted the large group of displaced families who were facing a dire situation. Many had no home to return to, and those whose homes weren’t completely destroyed would be without power and running water for weeks.
The families faced other issues, such as lack of funds, transportation, and the means to communicate with friends and family. Many who arrived in their own vehicles did not even have the cash to fill up their gas tanks. Those without transportation desired to leave by bus, but they simply couldn’t afford the fare to get to more permanent housing.
As soon as the displaced families were settled into the shelter, ALERT personnel and staff families went into action, doing everything possible to meet immediate needs. The ALERT staff was blessed to be able to provide phones, phone cards, Internet access, and transportation to medical clinics and pharmacies, as well as access to social services. Through the Lord’s provision, ALERT purchased airfare, bus tickets, gas cards, personal items, food, and clothing, and even provided laundry services for the victims.
“If it weren’t for the Salvation Army feeding everybody and the ALERT Academy helping us a great deal, this would never have worked,” said a Red Cross volunteer. “ALERT has given us 200 percent, and they’re still doing it. They are bringing in supplies all the time and just being a help to everyone. They’re even doing people’s laundry. Who else do you find who will do that?”
An evacuee from Port Arthur was extremely grateful, saying, “I think all these people helping us have been very sweet and kind and very, very helpful … . These are beautiful people.” She went on to say, “I wish I never had to leave them, and I could take them home with me.”
All the glory and praise must go to the Lord. When the disaster struck and calls for assistance started coming in, ALERT’s Disaster Relief Fund was stretched. An ALERT staff member commented, “We knew the Lord would provide if He wanted us to serve, but we truly had no idea the level of support that would be made. He opened His storehouse, making it possible to serve in such a large capacity.”
God has shown Himself strong and faithful by meeting ALERT’s needs through the kindness and generosity of hundreds of donors! Individuals, churches, ministries, businesses, and families in the local community, across the United States, and around the world have opened their hearts in a big way. The gifts and donations to the ALERT ministry have been nothing short of miraculous.
ALERT’s continuing desire remains to answer the Lord’s call to do good works and to be salt and light in the communities they serve. Please continue to pray for the safety and protection of those involved in this ministry and the Lord’s continued provision.
Copyright © 2002–2011, William (Bill) Gothard. All Rights Reserved.