It has been seven months since the storm. The images are less vivid, its fading from memory and no ones wondering where their next meal will come from anymore. But the Gulf coast is still very much reeling from Katrina. Two weeks ago I became the first to utilized the new Cre8tive Group Missions Trip BenefitÃ¢â€žÂ¢ (except for Andy I guess, whose trips showed the need for such a policy). I went with another group of 75, again mostly students from Asbury College plus the wonderful addition of my hot fiancÃƒÂ©e Jen.
Arriving back in Pass Christian, it was remarkable both how much work had been done and how much work there was still to do. One house would be mere weeks away from being ready to be lived in again, while the one right next to it had not even been touched since the storm, still filled with rotting fridges and mounds of mildew that were once called “couches.Ã¢â‚¬Â What an amazing psychological strain for those who are living in town; those who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives. If and when they get everything back in order, they still have to drive by the devastation each time they go to the nearest grocery store a town or two away. The remaining residents have gotten used to living in a trailer with less space than my office.
So what did I learn? People need hope. People everywhere, in every situation, need hope. Seven months after a major hurricane, they need hope to fight off depression. Hope that things are going to get better, that life will return to normal, that they will one day live in a building that doesn’t have wheels. So what if I helped build a couple sheds, cleaned up a yard and painted a house? In the grand scope of things, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really not all that much progress. But, what we really did was build a little hope, show them a little love to know that they’re not forgotten about, and get to know the residents of a little town where we’ll likely celebrate our anniversary some year.
So right now I am just 7 hours away from leaving on my second trip down to Pass Christian, Mississippi, to continue chipping at the relief we were able to take a part in three months ago. I am very much looking forward to it again. One thing that was a highlight of the traveling part of the trip itself was this great Bar-B-Que place Joe B. had heard about on the Food Network. Dreamland, down in Alabama somewhere. So we found out where it was and stopped. We had three vans full of hungry folks and we were excited to get some Bar-B-Que.
We got seated on not the prettiest of patio’s we had ever seen. We could tell this place was local, with a capital “ocal”. On the tables were loaves of Wonder Bread and styrofoam containers of their home made sauce. We assumed we were supposed to dip and snack for something like an appetizer. They soon took our “Proud to serve Pepsi” drink ordersÃ¢â‚¬Â¦sweat tea for most. When the waitress returned, we realized we hadn’t gotten any menus yet. She said “We don’t have menus. Cause we only serve ribs. Ribs. No chicken, no beef, no pulled pork, no baby back ribs. No sides, no fries, no beans, no cole slaw, no corn breadÃ¢â‚¬Â¦” Well you get the idea. “We only serve ribs. You can get them in three sizes, a plate, a half rack or a full rack. It’s cheaper to slit a full rack than get two half racks.” So we were kind of shocked, and I was more shocked when no one in the group really had any problem with that. Seems like everyone likes ribs enough to get them. So we quickly count the number of people we have and divide by two, and we order that many racks. It was good stuff too!
As we were making our way out of the restaurant some of us naturally stopped in the restroom, we had a long car ride ahead of us. As we were getting in the car, one of the other guys asked if anyone had noticed the bathroom graffiti. And now I normally try to keep my eyes away from whatever nastiness is written on those walls, but some thing caught my eye. The bathroom graffiti wasn’t your normal dirty graffiti. It had words like “Ribs” and “Bar-B-Q” in it. Turns out it was all along the lines of “Dreamland is the BEST”, “I love ribs”, “Dreamland Bar-B-Que is awesome”. Wow, now that’s saying something!
On monday, the students from the trip shared a little bit about the trip in Chapel at Asbury College. A lot of good stories, prayers and fashion.
Caroline, one of the girls in my group, shared about two people, Keith & Michelle, we met while down there. She sums up their story very well. If you have six minutes and some speakers, take a listen.
Our first full day in Mississippi was Sunday. We needed to get the trip off on the right foot and since half of us were staying at a church there was no way we could pass up on the service.
Our home base for the entire week was The First United Methodist Church of Pass Christian. All the girls from our group were staying there. A great guy by the name of Mike Zimmerman had come down from the Mercy Center in North Carolina to lead, and most of all organize, a variety of projects for the stream of groups that would be helping in Pass Christian. Now this was a small church to start with, but luckily the Lord spared it from the worst of the storm. It had only two feet of water inside during the hurricane, and that may sound like a lot but compared to everywhere else that was the least amount of water I heard about. All of the walls, including the interior ones, were made of cinderblock, so besides having the carpeting pulled up, half the pews and everything in the extra rooms destroyed, it was a working church. But because there are so few people who are living in Pass Christian, now the already small church only had a handful of parishioners showing up for sunday services. So it was about a dozen locals and 80 of us from Wilmore on sunday morning.
And it really got to me. Seeing the locals who had been through so much, having virtually everything they owed destroyed, still there praising God, its was truly something and brought a tear to my eye. The songs were good, and there were ones I had sung so many times before, but I saw them in a new light. “On God the solid rock I stand”, has such a literal meaning and makes Matthew 7:24-27 more than a parable. “It is well with my soul” cause it sure ain’t well with my house. To believe that “great is thy faithfulness” when you look outside and couldn’t really object to a non-believer thinking “how can God be good if He let this happen?” Truly amazing and reminded me of a similar reaction I had this past Easter. Commonplace songs breaking through the monotony of routine.
Thursday morning, being Thanksgiving, we had another service. It was in the next town over, Long Beach, were the destruction was even worse. To illustrate my point, we drove by a sign for a “Kangaroo” (how the sign was still there I don’t know) but someone in my van asked what’s a Kangaroo? It was destroyed so bad we couldn’t even tell it was a gas station.
After the service we were ready to get started. There is something about meeting the people who’s town you are going to be helping. It pushed me over the edge and not made me willing to “just take it easy before tomorrow”.
As for the work on sunday (which the trip was not about, something you’ll hear more about later)? The one time I needed the measuring tape I brought, I didn’t have it with me. I built some shelves at a distribution center and got eaten alive but what we would soon dub “F’ing Gnats”. Did anyone knew gnats bite? Well I sure didn’t, but I did end up finding the big dipper on my arm.
Last week I went with about 79 or so others, including over 60 current Asburians, to Pass Christian Mississippi.
The first thing you may notice on a drive to the Gulf Coast is how many trees are down. Mississippi, like much of the eastern United States, includes plenty of roadside forests. I was about 100 miles away from the coast and started noticing lots and lots of trees down. Now, my family lives in Central Florida and had three hurricanes travel through their county (Osceola) in 2004. Well they are in the middle of the state, so they only experience catagory 1 winds, but last Christmas when I went down to visit, it noticed lots of damage and lots of trees down. But nothing comes close to what I saw in Mississippi. I knew it would be bad because of how many trees where down an hour or so away from the coast. Now the group traveled down in 9 vans and we stuck in groups of three, which we affectionally refereed to as “Triads”, but back to the story. My triad was the last one in, and it was already dark when we got there, but as we were driving to the Church we were meeting at you could tell that past the darkness that there was some significant destruction.
When the sun rose the next morning, and really the rest of the week for that matter, we had to continually pull our jaws off the floor. A doll in the dirt, a house that had been turned into an parallelogram, a school bus that looks like it was blown up, an entire house sitting on train tracks, slabs on concrete that used to be the foundation for a house, tombs on their side, a car under a house and countless more things that nearly brought me to tears. Now keep in mind, this trip started over two and a half months after the hurricane finished, but it looked like it could of happened last week. I can’t imagine what it really did look like one week after the storm.
Last Christmas in Osceloa country Florida, almost every house was damaged in someway, or at least severe tree damage. In this town, almost every house was completely uninablitable. In fact I did not notice anyone living at their home, the closest I saw was a trailer in their front driveway. And to think we weren’t even in the worst of it. We were in Pass Christian, the towns on either side of this one, were so bad that you had to have a special pass to get in. It wasn’t open to volunteer groups like ours just showing up. And to think that we were in one of the smallest towns in the area. I think criticism of FEMA, the Red Cross, Bush or who ever you want to point fingers at for a slow response are unfortunate. The destruction is so broad and major that I can’t imagine where to start. There are not enough employees, volunteers or housing to go around to handle the significant portion of the population of this county affected by the storm. They could have cleaned off every trailer lot in the country and it wouldn’t even come close. The relief might have been slow, but how to you find places for hundreds of thousands of people to stay in a day or two. Feeding them all would be hard enough. Its a crappy situation, but its amazing what has been done to this point, and amazing how much still needs to be done before the area actually looks like people live there again.
Check out My photo gallery, Asbury College’s Photos (of which I took a couple) and WilmoreToThePass.com for some early pictures and updates of what we did during the trip. I will be posting more pictures and stories in the weeks to come.