Seven years ago I, along with most of the country, watched the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and wanted to help. With the benefit of a connectional denomination, we quickly found how we could help, Antioch UMC in Laurel, Mississippi was coordinating clean up in their rural area about an hour north of the coast. I was blessed to be working at Flat Rock Homes at the time and attending Strongsville UMC and between the two we quickly assembled a crew to head there.
Our work was largely tree clean up, getting the things out of yards and driveways,
On our final day we went to the coast and visited Waveland, where the eye of the storm came ahead. On the drive from Antioch to the coast, we saw growing piles of debris. Downed trees started to give way to blown over dilapidated barns and an occassional missing roof. The piles of debris grew in size frequency as we got closer. But right up against the beach, within say a mile of the Gulf of Mexico, there was no debris. There were roads, trees and the stilt foundations that houses used to rest on. But there was no debris.
Occasionally the top of a tree was broken off, about 30 feet in the air. That damage was not from the wind, but from something floating on the storm surge, perhaps a house or a garage floating on the water 30 feet deep. That same storm surge lifted houses from their foundations and floated them away.
A few miles to the northeast was Bay St. Louis. An idyllic resort town just across the bay from Gulfport and Biloxi, BSL had the kind of damage we expected. One of the very few structures still intact was the United Methodist Church. Just a few blocks from the beach it was on the lee side of the tallest building in town, the County Courthouse. The courthouse shielded the church from the terrible winds, leaving it alone.
It was relief central for UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Out of the courtyard of the church volunteers were connected with homeowners who needed a hand. Fresh water was distributed. And those flood buckets we’ve always heard about were handed out.
If Christians are truly the hands and feet of God, this church was God’s dispatch center.
Looking back on it, I think the folks in Waveland were the lucky ones. Their mess, their troubles were washed clean away. It was the folks in Bay St. Louis who had to clean truck loads of mud out of their houses one bucket at a time. They had to deal with the mold and the stink and the clean up.
In a natural disaster of the scale of Katrina, there are clearly no winners and losers. Only opportunities. Opportunities to help, opportunities to be helped. Opportunities for all of us to be the kind of people we always hoped we would be.
For a week, seven years ago, I had that opportunity. What a great experience.