An Oklahoma City United Methodist church has partnered with a Baptist church from Houston to provide assistance to tornado victims — one of the latest examples of churches crossing denominational and state lines to come to the aid of metro-area storm victims.
The Rev. Semaj Vanzant, senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, said a distribution center for those affected by the May tornadoes has been set up at his church at 1006 NE 17. Vanzant said the center was opened through a partnership with Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston.
Recently, volunteers from the Houston church brought a 50-foot semitruck packed with donated items to the Oklahoma City church. Volunteers from the Texas church joined volunteers from Christ United Methodist and St. Luke's United Methodist to unload the truck and set up the distribution site. Church volunteers then spent time sorting and organizing the donations in different rooms of the sprawling church.
Teens from the God Squad, a United Methodist summer missions group, also were on hand to help spruce up the church by creating a prayer garden in a courtyard area and aiding other volunteers in setting up the disaster relief center.
“It's really this ecumenical move here,” Vanzant said.
“You can definitely feel the energy and excitement.”
He said the partnership with Wheeler came about through his friendship with one of the Houston church's associate pastors who talked to the church's senior pastor about the need for disaster relief items. Lekesha Barnett, Wheeler Avenue Baptist's minister of singles and young adults, led the 13 Houston-area volunteers who visited Oklahoma City. She said the distribution center fits within the mission-minded focus of Wheeler Avenue's senior pastor, the Rev. Marcus D. Cosby.
Barnett said the church held a donation drive, and church members as well as others in the community surrounding the church donated items ranging from food, diapers and clothing to rakes, wheelbarrows and other tools.
“One of our pastor's vision points is to have a worldwide commitment, so we do mission work in Africa, and Wheeler Avenue was also extremely active when Hurricane Katrina victims came to Houston,” she said. “Jesus said we are to be witnesses in all parts of the world.”
Jerrie Newsome, one of the volunteers from Houston, said she came to give back because she was aided by Wheeler Avenue church members when she fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“Houston opened their arms up so wide to us we were not going to go back home,” she said. “I came to help the people here.”
Vanzant said other individuals from Houston and New York — both places where he once served in ministry — sent monetary donations for the ecumenical effort.
Vanzant said church members are trying to get the word out to tornado victims that the distribution center has paper goods, baby items, first aid items, cleaning supplies, tools, shoes, toys and clothing.
He said he expected a group from New Orleans and another from Washington, D.C., to bring donations and help work at the site.
“It is a picture of what the church is supposed to do. We are to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Vanzant.