There are still plenty of Katrina needs

Published 2:09 pm Friday, July 14, 2006

I attended a church music conference recently, and a couple of the folks there were from the Mississippi and Louisiana Coasts. On Saturday morning, we were all a little early and one of the instructors was a little late, so the Coast folks had the floor, as the rest of us listened, sometimes in awe, sometimes in tears.

Katrina ain’t over, even as we talk about new hurricanes and seasons.

One music minister had been at a large Coast church less than a year when the hurricane hit. “We had 600 in Sunday school in August,” he said, “and last Sunday, we had about 200, but 20 or 30 were from North Carolina and Virginia. Our church is the rally point for mission groups coming from other states. They call here, schedule their arrivals and tell us their specialties, if any. They give us a number to be housed and fed, so we make arrangements. Then we send them where they need to go, to do what they need to do. Many homes have yet to be mudded out, for instance.”

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He got a faraway look in his eyes as he mused, “You know, I went there thinking I was accepting a call to be a music minister. Turns out I’ve been a whole ‘nother type minister for the past ten months! Our church wasn’t hurt too badly in Katrina, and my own house only had a water leak in the den; no flood damage at all. Immediately after the storm, we mudded out the family life center, and turned it into a warehouse. Trucks would come in daily, sometimes hourly, in the first few weeks when they could finally get here. Never did a truck show up, that there weren’t people enough to unload it, to stack and sort the stuff in the proper aisles, and to bring people in the other door who needed things we had just unloaded. It’s still working that way.”

He wiped at an eye. “We have mission teams coming in every week, and the calendar is currently full through October 2006! Most teams are from North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, but folks from Indiana and California are coming too. Though many of our people have moved away — in some areas, I’d guess two-thirds to three-quarters — the work of clearing and cleaning still has to be done. We still have folks in our church whose homes still have trees on them, or have yet to be mudded out. FEMA trailers are still being delivered; you have to understand that before a trailer can be set on a lot, that lot has to have electrical, gas, water, and sewer connections. There are still whole sections of towns that don’t have electricity yet, and most sewers were washed clean out of the ground! So, a family might have applied for a FEMA trailer back last October, but their lot just got sewer connections last week. The trailer is then delivered to the lot, but the lot owner many times has departed for somewhere else, where the family can start over. Yet when a neighbor tells the truck driver that no one is there, the driver just shows the delivery order: someone else is responsible for pickup.”

He wagged a finger, “But you can’t blame the FEMA folks for that. Mostly, the people who left are giving up because they can’t get any satisfaction from the insurance companies. The national media is still so focused on New Orleans, but the majority of people there were renters. Yet between New Orleans and Pascagoula, most folks were homeowners, whose homes are either gone or too heavily damaged to live in again, and they have no financial recourse.” He grimaced. “I wonder what the banks are going to do? Foreclose on empty lots? Sue for the unpaid mortgage on an owner who now lives in another state, who got out with only the clothes on his back? No one knows yet what the financial implications are going to be for the whole Mississippi-Louisiana Coast.”

Then he brightened: “But I’ll tell y’all this: it’s not governments who have taken care of the people, be it federal, state, or city. It’s churches! Church people from every state in the union have been in our town, what’s left of it, doing what they can to help folks put their lives back together. It might be a power company from Michigan, or a medical unit from North Carolina, or a police company from Kansas, but they are all people, who pray with us every morning before leaving for work! God bless the folks who are still coming to the Coast, showing God to us every day in so many ways! Please, thank them, from us who are still on the Coast.” God Bless America! Amen.