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JOE LAGUARDIA: God is working through churches to aid Sandy victims

Last week, I traveled to Staten Island, N.Y., in order to network with churches and assess how we can help families ravished by Superstorm Sandy. My church was kind enough to send me and Dr. Darrell Smith, director of Global Environmental Relief (www.global-er.org), to the area, the place of my birth and home to most of my family.

At the time of this writing, I am still in New York, so I simply want to share with you, dear reader, some things that I did and saw while I was there.

I hope that it will give you a glimpse of how God is empowering churches to respond to the deepest needs of storm victims. We met with five churches and did one missions project, and here are some excerpts from my missions journal:

Thursday: We met with the Gateway Cathedral, the very church in which I grew up, located near the Outerbridge Crossing. Gateway is a hub for donation collection and distribution to individual families and smaller churches.

They are a part of a larger collaborative partnership called the Staten Island Association of Evangelicals, and is one of five larger churches in the S.I.A.E overseeing relief efforts in five different regions of the island.

Afterwards, we drove to the New Dorp and Midland Beach communities, among the hardest hit areas in Staten Island and only minutes away from my family. Getting there was no easy feat, and we accidentally drove over the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn at a toll price of $13. Expensive mistake.

When we finally arrived, we noted the immensity of the devastation. We drove around one house that was obviously not supposed to be in the middle of the street. For many homes, the flood line was nearly 10 feet high.

I've been in these neighborhoods so many times, and I still can't imagine the amount of water needed in order to reach that far inland. New Yorkers couldn't imagine it either, and countless lives of people who failed to evacuate were lost.

Although the news has reported many deaths, there are untold hundreds more dead who were undocumented immigrants and marginalized people groups.

Later that day, we met with the pastor of a Southern Baptist church only 10 years old. The pastor told us of his long term vision for relief efforts, including a fully-staffed, relief base in which counseling, volunteer team coordination, and distribution efforts will take place over the long haul.

His passion was inspiring, and his congregation of 300 stand poised to reach Staten Islanders for years to come.

Friday: We had an early meeting with New Dorp Baptist Church, a small Conservative Baptist Association-affiliated church helping members and neighbors alike. They are transitioning to what local pastors are calling "phase 2," which is to help displaced people find long term housing and resources.

New Dorp also hosts an academy where my nieces attend, and I visited my niece's third grade class to talk about our efforts. Later that day I learned that, after I had left, a student passed my niece a note that said, "Can your uncle come to my house and help rebuild it?"

Later, we spent time with folks from the Salem Evangelical Free Church moving shelves into giant storage containers. They, like Gateway, are responsible for relief efforts in the fifth, northernmost region of the island.

Like the other churches we met, Salem's folks told amazing stories of God's faithfulness throughout the storm. People came as far as California to pitch in and help. The presence of churches and mission organizations, from Southern Baptist relief teams to electric company trucks from Alabama, continue to make an impact.

The Gospel is making a difference on this little island, and I will always be moved when I hear a New Yorker -- with a heavy accent more fitting of the mob movies on the big screen -- praise God for all the things God is doing here.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.