Friday, June 30, 2006

Mission to Moss Point

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Like most of you, I've been fairly busy: working, going on a mission trip (more on that in a minute) and taking a summer French course at A&T (can you say, "Parley vu Francaise?"). I've been meaning to post more often this summer, but a look at the calender shows that this is the last day of June and that if nothing is posted tonight, the IVIC archives will have an embarrassing gap. (So, you're welcome, Akerman!) It's late at night and I'm very tired, so excuse me if I become incoherent.

Mission to Moss Point

Last week, I went with my church on a mission trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help the rebuilding efforts. My church had sent four previous mission teams down there starting last fall and established a fruitful relationship with a local church, Dantzler Memorial UMC in Moss Point, Mississippi, just north of Pascagoula. Sleeping in Sunday school rooms for a few hours each night, we woke up long before sunrise to do "reroofing" work on a local house. The heat and humidity were stifling even at 5 AM, and the work was difficult, more so than on any construction project I've worked on before. We found out the first day that it was useless even trying to get any work done past 2pm, the heat and humidity were so bad. I lost track of how many times I said, only half in jest, that I wished Katrina had hit cool Maine, instead of the sauna of Mississippi.

I went to Carolina Cross Connection, a construction mission and outreach trip, for four summers during high school. We helped build wheelchair ramps and did house painting and repair, lawnwork and coolsealing a roof for poor people and elderly shut-ins in the mountains of North Carolina. I thought I had seen devastation, the kind produced through the decades-long wearing down of communities and families by the perpetual tempest of poverty. It wasn't until I stood one evening on the beach in Biloxi and stared at the abosolute desolation around me that I truly understood devastation.

Actually, it defies comprehension. The area around Moss Point was hard hit, but there was very little visible damage left there. Along the beaches was another story. Almost everything was completely wiped out: trees, houses, gas stations, restaurants, hotels. Rubble littered the beaches where the 27-foot storm surge, the highest ever recorded, came ashore last August, with Katrina supposedly only a Category 3 storm at that time. I've seen the results of Cat 3 storms (Fran, for example, in 1996) and based on the Hurricane Hugo/Andrew-scale devastation, I strongly suspect the experts will soon posthumously correct it to at least a 4, as they corrected Andrew from a 4 to a 5 a full decade after it made landfall.

On Wednesday night, Dantzler Memorial invited all the volunteer groups staying at the church to a nighttime service. As the locals talked about what they had been through, they emphasized how grateful they were to their fellow Christians for helping them rebuild. New Orleans got all the attention, but the damage in Mississippi was at least as severe and, as numerous people said, the state and federal governments and Red Cross did nothing to help. The area is recovering due to the thousands of Christians across the country who have donated their time, their money, or their blood, sweat and tears.

The biggest sacrifices have been made by the locals who have opened their churches and their homes to the thousands of mission teams; the church we stayed at had even installed two makeshift showers after Katrina so that volunteers could rinse off the sweat after a hard day's work--this at a time when many church members were still waiting on their FEMA trailer and doing bucket duty every time it rained. Some of the older ladies of the church contributed by providing clean towels for the volunteers, which they washed at their own homes daily. The pastor told us of one church member, a 90-some-year old lady who got irate that no one had thought to ask her to wash towels; though she had bad arthritis and couldn't fold the towels, she could dump them in the washer.

This wasn't just about a bunch of Christians coming into an area and doing volunteer work; it was Christians from the area and from out of state working together to bring the Gulf Coast back on its feet. If there are those who are cynical and wonder what Christianity is all about, let them come to the Gulf Coast: it is there that the true meaning of Christianity can be found, not in any creed or article of faith, but in the actions of both the volunteers and the "victims," all slaving to help "the least of these." For truly, "faith without works is dead."

If anyone reading this can help out in any way, though your time or your money, please do so. Contact your church to find out what you can do to help. Katrina may have hit almost a year ago, but the Gulf Coast will be needing all the Christian charity it can get for many years to come.

Go forth into the world in peace,

Michael J. Smith