"We see that as His providential hand, and we're just going with it," said Ray Parascando, pastor of the only Southern Baptist church on Staten Island.
Members of Crossroads were first on the scene in the neighborhood when morning broke after the hurricane cut a deadly path across the Northeast. Next door to the church, which meets in a theater on New Dorp Lane, is a pizza place owned by an Egyptian whom the church has been trying to lead to the Lord.
"He had some dough left over and we said, 'We'll buy you out. Make the pizzas,'" Parascando told Baptist Press. "We took 25 pizzas down and we were passing them out to folks, walking up and down the streets, handing out water."
Church members handed out food and water on the streets until FEMA and the Red Cross arrived a few days after the storm, a slow response that has drawn criticism. Staten Island's assemblywoman mentioned the church by name on CNN, citing their swift response.
"We were the first on the scene, and we're thankful that God put us there," Parascando said.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers also arrived en masse on Staten Island, and Crossroads is using its connections with the local government to pass along information about needs for tree removal and mud-out, the pastor said.
In the aftermath of the storm, Christians may be tempted to offer reasons for why such a cataclysmic event happened, Parascando said.
"Rather than try to ascertain what is hidden on purpose to us, we need to focus on the 'What do we need to do?' mentality of 'How do we need to contribute to the hurting people?' and 'How might the Lord use this to bring honor to Him and to draw people who are lost to Him?'" he said.
"That's how I'm looking at it. People try to play Monday morning prophet. They did the same thing with 9/11. Don't focus on that," Parascando said. "Focus on 'What do we need to do to help folks? What do we need to do to further the Gospel? What do we need to do to love on people and meet practical needs?'
"Our church took that to heart and got right in there from Day 1 and hasn't stopped. Our church has become a distribution center. We've received thousands of supplies and have put thousands of supplies out," he said.
Parascando said Crossroads is sensing a call from God to establish a long-term relief center on Staten Island.
"The people are going to be hurting long after the cameras go away, long after the attention and the national spotlight and the helicopters stop flying over and FEMA rolls back out," the pastor said.
The church aims to secure a facility next door to the theater where it can meet the needs of local residents for at least six months. Needs in the months to come will be "far beyond material," he said.
People on Staten Island already were hurting before the hurricane came along, Parascando said, citing the weak economy. "You have compound suffering," he said, noting that one of the goals of the relief center will be to provide food to fill the cupboards of people who have lost much in the storm.
"Secondly, we want to provide medical help. We've linked up with different organizations who are already administering on our premises tetanus shots and flu shots," the pastor said. "This has been a huge help. This has been well-received."
A third component of the center would be spiritual, Parascando said.
"Right before the storm happened, we've been having sadly enough a series of suicides -- young people jumping on the train tracks and taking their lives," he said of Staten Island.
"Just the Saturday before the storm, I was sending a letter out to the church family letting them know that we're going to set up a bullying ministry. As I walked out to stretch my legs in front of the church, all I saw was ambulances up by the train station.
"A 35-year-old woman jumped. I've seen some things in my 34 years, but they pulled her up and she survived because she got scared once the train was coming. It hit her, but she survived," he said. "I saw the look of hopelessness in her eyes, and I thought back to what the Lord said in Matthew 9: The people were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then Jesus said, 'The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.'
"I just said, 'People are helpless here.' Staten Island is the third least evangelized area of the northeastern corridor. That's why it's so hard to start a church here."
In just one week, Parascando said he has seen the power of partnership, referring to the way churches have pooled their resources for disaster relief. He hopes people also will be moved to help Crossroads get the relief center off the ground and even to contribute to the relief fund the church has established on its website.
"Pray for God to bring revival, for Him to use this, for Him to glorify His name through this because people need it," Parascando said.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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