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Small New Jersey Church Rises to Meet Huge Challenge
by Alicia Williamson, Gateway Church of Christ
I don’t think anyone could have been fully prepared for the “Frankenstorm” that slammed the East Coast in the fall of 2012. Super Storm Sandy affected twenty-four states, from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin. New York and New Jersey suffered particularly severe damage when the storm made landfall during the night of October 30, 2012 with sustained winds of eighty-five mph and a storm surge over thirteen feet in places. In the midst of the raging storm, in the dark of the night, families and friends huddled together and prayed that they and their loved ones would make it through. Leaders and members of the Gateway Church of Christ began to pray for God to lead them to the place we could best serve those who would surely be in need of help.
Gateway Church of Christ is a small church of about fifty people, started through a church plant in 2011. It meets at the Senior/Community Center in Holmdel New Jersey. Gateway has worked to be active in the Bayshore area and surrounding communities in New Jersey to share the Gospel of Christ. The church has members who live in several different communities in the surrounding area, some as far as thirty miles away from the meeting place. While the people of the Gateway church are always looking for ways to help others, they had no idea when this storm hit how God would use them for his work.
About five miles from Gateway’s meeting place is the small coastal town of Union Beach, New Jersey, a working-class town of roughly 6,200 people. This town of less than two square miles of beachfront sits along the Bayshore of northern Monmouth County. The people in Union Beach have the will, but not the resources which more affluent towns around the area have to recover fully from the storm. In the aftermath of Sandy, it was found that 90 percent of the town had been under water. Of the 2500 homes in Union Beach, 2000 were damaged, with 175 homes completely washed away. Many in this small Monmouth County Borough discovered they had lost most everything they had. This is where God has led the Gateway Church of Christ to serve.
Through the Grace of God, within a couple days after the storm several things began to happen. The leaders of Gateway were made aware of the tremendous need in Union Beach. At the same time, the wheels were set in motion for Churches of Christ Disaster Relief to send a tractor trailer full of $90,000 worth of food, water and cleaning supplies to Union Beach. Volunteers from across the country began to make plans to come help. With the flood of relief supplies and donations, it soon became apparent that there was a need for a center of operations. The Borough Hall in Union Beach, therefore, became a hub of activity. Lead Evangelist of the Gateway Church of Christ, Carl Williamson, teamed up GiGi Liaguno-Dorr, owner of Jakeabob’sBay, a favorite local eatery that was also lost in the storm, to organize recovery efforts for the town.
It has been just over six months since Sandy brought devastation to this area and recovery still goes on. In the time since we have been working in Union Beach, we have seen great things that God has done. He has provided a team of volunteers that have an unending willingness to give of themselves, many of whom have spent countless hours sharing their time because they just want to help those in need. Because of our involvement in Union Beach, Gateway Church of Christ has been asked to expand our recovery efforts even into surrounding towns. This, in turn, has allowed us to touch even more people’s lives. Our work in the Bayshore Area has allowed us to encounter two groups of people: the volunteers and the people in need. With both groups we have an opportunity to share the gospel. Although we have spent the majority of our time these past months serving people’s physical needs, we have also become a group to whom people have become willing to listen. Many in the community are recognizing the love of Jesus through Gateway and our sister churches who have helped in the relief efforts here. God has also changed us! None of Gateway’s members suffered the devastating loss that swept over the Union Beach area. We came to realize that even though we had to deal with the loss of electricity, some for almost two weeks, we lived in a community that had a gas/grocery store shortage. We have seen the complete devastation of a town of people and that taught us, once again, to place our trust on God. Without knowing it, all too often we tend to continue to trust in stuff, in our own knowledge, and in our own abilities instead of God. This experience has reminded us that God is in control.
To date, we have received over one million dollars in supplies which we have given out to those affected by Sandy. We have also received monetary donations of just over $270,000 which include donations from individuals, churches, nonprofits, and businesses. It has been amazing to see how God has allowed the Gateway church to be a place where funds can be securely given directly to those in need. Deacon Cliff Gray has organized churches and individuals who have experience with working on sheetrock, plumbing, electrical and general contract work. He has brought together groups from various backgrounds, both Christian and non-Christian to further help those in need.
Gateway is still actively involved on a daily basis in Sandy Relief efforts in the Bayshore Area of NJ. We believe that God has truly been bringing the right group of people together to help the families who are in need of physical, emotional, and spiritual help. We have been able to tell people about God’s love for us all and led several in studying the Bible. Some have even started attending Gateway regularly. We are so thankful for the way God has been answering our prayers to bring people assistance and to help them have hope, even when things seem hopeless.
We have been blessed to hire ten employees through a Work Force Development Grant. Each day these workers help organize and distribute in-kind donations such as appliances, sheetrock, furniture, mattresses, and building supplies. They also work at organizing volunteers to help rebuild/restore homes in the Bayshore Area. Our most recent focus has been more on volunteer efforts then distributing supplies. Gateway has hired a full-time contractor with money given by so many during these last few months. Jim Rude is actively involved in making sure that volunteer teams do their work correctly and have all the supplies that they need. Joe Tamburello is the manager over our calendar and he stays in contact with work crews to make sure we have work orders for each group. We also have several other employees that work with either clerical work or managing volunteers on site.
Lead Evangelist Carl Williamson and deacon Cliff Gray are actively involved in the big picture items of making sure that Gateway stays in touch with grant writing, township/volunteer coordination, connecting volunteerism with evangelism, and growing Gateway’s connection to the community. We have been able to be part of opening a new park in Union Beach where Gateway has provided the resources for a “Garden of Hope and Healing.” This opportunity has been paid for specifically from grant funds. Gateway has also helped several businesses, especially Jakeabob’s Bay Restaurant, to reopen. Owners, Gigi & Wally are actively coming to church and we are encouraged by their faith that has grown significantly from this storm. They in turn have been able to demonstrate their faith to the community they so love. Carl was able to be part of blessing both the playground and the restaurant.
Gateway is in the process of purchasing a home in Union Beach to renovate for volunteers who are in the area from out-of-state to have a place to stay. The home is on two lots and we will be seeking to sub-divide the property to further help with volunteers or possibly help a homeowner get back into a home. The $75,000 needed for this project was donated by the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ Disaster Relief.
Youth at Gateway have been reaching out to members of the community through a letter writing program and church members have been actively studying with residents in the Bayshore. We believe that God will draw those who will respond to Gateway so they may learn more about His amazing love. Bob & Pam Vazquez are one example of a family who never had gone to church before the storm, but now Carl has been studying with them every Wednesday morning. They are eager to learn more about God’s love!
We are still using the funds that have been donated to Gateway from various individuals/churches around the country to fill in the gaps between what is needed and what is currently being provided for. As an example, we have received $150,000 for Keansburg and Highlands from a grant to help rebuild homes so we do not use church funds for those two towns, so we can use donated funds in towns where we do not have a grant. The same is true in relation to appliances. We currently have a great working relationship with a group called “Jersey Shore United.” They have grants available for individuals who are put into the system by a church pastor/minister. We have people on staff putting in these applications for Gateway. JSU has $500,000 for appliances and most of their applications have come from Gateway. We are using donated funds when necessary but if there are other funds already provided in the form of grants, we are able to help individuals in the community get access to those funds. It is amazing to see how God has allowed a small church of fifty people to be the distributor of such great amounts of money and resources. We truly believe that God is continuously answering our prayers.
There continues to be a great need of funds to continue the work that we are doing here in the Bayshore area and we are still desperately in need of volunteers. If you can help in either of these ways, please contact:
Carl Williamson (questions about donations) 615-856-3315
Joe Tamburello (volunteer opportunities) 732-803-7273
Gateway Church of Christ
19 Reids Hill Road
Morganville, NJ 07751