District mission teams find Mississippi still in shambles

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

District mission teams find Mississippi still in shambles

Feb. 15, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0441}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

GAUTHIER, Miss. — Cars, boats and debris still line the streets nearly six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi neighborhoods. Photo courtesy of Orange Park United Methodist Church, Photo #06-308.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, many communities are still in ruins. The North East District of the Florida Conference is making the rebuilding of homes and lives in those areas one of its missions.

The Rev. Will Clark, pastor of Orange Park United Methodist Church and the district's disaster response coordinator, said the district has set a goal to send one or two teams a month to the hardest hit areas to provide relief. That includes South Florida, where many neighborhoods are also struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Wilma hit late last October. Clark said he's looking for people to serve as leaders of teams to head to that part of the state.

"We first find team leaders, then build the team around their schedule," Clark said, adding some churches in the district have already sent teams to communities in South Florida independent of the district's efforts.

Two district teams went to southern Mississippi in December to work on homes severely damaged during Katrina.

"They did general cleanup, hanging drywall. Then, some kept the family members company," Clark said.

It was a harsh awakening for the teams as they drew closer to their destinations — the communities of Gauthier and Van Cleef, both suburbs of Ocean Springs, Miss.

"It was terrible. The closer to the coast we got, it was horrible," said Terry Rollen, a member of Orange Park United Methodist Church and leader of the team that went to Gauthier, Miss., about 20 miles inland. "The houses on the water were torn off their foundation. The roofs of houses were in trees."

Six people formed that mission team, with Gauthier United Methodist Church serving as their host.

The team stayed in town for one week, working on the home of one family. They didn't just find a house in severe disrepair, however; they found a homeowner in despair. "When we met the lady of the house, she had puffy eyes, was disheveled. She'd lay in a bunk in the corner of her house," Rollen said.

Gayle Ruth Dolan joined Rollen's team because she couldn't afford to send money for hurricane relief. Still, she wanted to help.

"I didn't expect to see much damage in Mississippi, but I saw roofs on top of foundation, with no house in the middle. It was unbelievable," she said.

While all of the team members did basic construction work, Dolan spent part of her time comforting the homeowner. "I knew she needed someone she could vent to and trust. I sat with her for hours at a time and just listened," she said.

Team members transformed the house in a week. They shored up the ceiling, which had fallen in, fixed the framing and restored the sheetrock. "By the time we left, the lady of the house had a sparkle in her eyes. She had hope," Dolan said.

GAUTHIER, Miss. — People whose homes were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Katrina continue to live in whatever shelter is available, including tents, until they can find suitable places to live. Photo courtesy of Orange Park United Methodist Church, Photo #06-309.
The desire to help families is the main reason people sign up to join a mission team, according to Clark. There are 82 churches in the North East District. Clark encourages members of smaller congregations to join members of larger ones to form teams. Insurance is available for team members, and they receive basic construction training from Habitat for Humanity.

Clark said the teams receive gratitude from the homeowners whose lives they help rebuild. "One man said that as hard as it's been for them, if this is what it takes to get people to respond and help one another, he'd go through the hurricane all over again," Clark said.

Another team returned to the region in early February. More teams are slated to go to southern Mississippi in March, April and May.

"I felt like the 'Mississippi mud queen' when I got through," Dolan said. "But I hope to go back."


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.

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