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10 years after Katrina, reflections on bridges built — and burned

The death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina is hard for me to capture in my mind, even a decade later.

Views | John DobbsI had been the minister for the Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, Miss., for several years when the storm hit. My family left our town under mandatory evacuation. I did not know if there was a church building to come back to — or if my home would still be standing.

As much as I regret the pain that so many had to live through, I know that God worked through Katrina to help us build bridges we needed to build.

Bridges were built in our church. As in all of the churches along the Gulf Coast, we saw the development of a new spirit of cooperation as we served the community. I know in Pascagoula we did some things together that I never would have guessed we were capable of doing.

Under the servant leadership of our elders, especially David Kilbern, our auditorium was set up with clothing racks. Each room became a place to store donated items. David’s wife, Elaine, led a dedicated crew of ladies who prepared meals daily for volunteers.

We worked together to organize and help community members find what they needed. Working and serving together in the name of Christ will build up the Family of God.

Bridges were built in our community. We were able to do cleanup, help with repairs and serve in a hundred different ways.

As people in need came to our church, we also listened. So many had exactly the same experience we did, but they longed to tell their story.

I sat with many people and just let them talk, tears coming down both our faces. I remember one lady in particular who said she didn’t want any help, but could someone just come and talk to her while she worked?

We set up a large tent in the back of our lot. Many people worshiped with us who had never done so before. Their cars were gone, flooded. They could walk up the street and worship with us. Many did.

Bridges were built with our extended Christian family. Not many days after the storm, donated supplies started to arrive. They came from so many states and from so many faith families that I couldn’t keep up with it.

Disaster response teams associated with Churches of Christ and Christian Churches helped, but so did Lutherans and Mennonites. Often at the end of long exhausting days, there would be gatherings in our church building where we would join together and worship our Lord. These were special times.

I remember one Christian Church youth group that had practiced a song and sang it for us a cappella. They were unaccustomed to this, but in their love for us they made the effort.

This was a new experience for us, and I’m sure it wasn’t always comfortable. But we learned that people of faith who love the same Jesus and read the same Bible can tear down the walls between us and just love one another.

Bridges were burned along the way, too. Not everyone who came to help was a genuine soul. Sometimes we experienced disappointment and were taken advantage of. Some churches, some Christians didn’t approve of our approach to loving and serving everyone we could.

I’m sure not everything we did was perfect, and mistakes were made. It was uncharted territory for all of us. But our goal of sharing the love of Jesus with our broken community was worth every challenge we faced.

I continue to be grateful for those I call “Katrina heroes.” They flooded down to the Gulf Coast to do all they could. I remember Marvin Phillips saying that every group should choose one city and just keep sending workers to that place to help them. Then he said, “I choose Pascagoula.” His visits and preaching were so encouraging.

If you came to help anywhere along the Coast, our gratitude knows no end.

A great challenge for all Christians is to continue to let God build bridges — not because of natural disaster, but because of supernatural passion. This is what God desires us to do, and we shouldn’t have to have a storm to make it happen.

That’s why I always love to hear about a new effort to reach out. You never know what hearts will be touched. Who is affected most: the servant or the recipient of service? Only God really knows the impact on the heart.

One particularly exhausting day I was sitting down and just trying to rest for a moment. I felt a hand on my shoulder. A brother told me that he was a minister of spiritual direction for his church (a Church of Christ).

He said, “I just want to pray with you for a moment.” He did, and as he did my spirits were lifted. That’s just one of the ways that it really wasn’t us building the bridges, but it was God all the time.

JOHN DOBBS, former minister for the Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, Miss., has preached for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La., since 2008.
• 2015:  At 10-year anniversary, Christians who survived keep counting blessings

• 2015:  Road notes: Bobby Ross Jr. on ‘The vivid faces of Katrina’

• 2014:   In the Big Easy, despair meets hope

• 2010: Five years later, Katrina’s spiritual toll lingers

•  2010:  Five years after Katrina, stories of hope emerge

• 2006: Surviving the storm: Charles and Angela Marsalis’ faith journey

• 2005: Faithful offer hope, help after Katrina

•  2005:  After Katrina, Yelton again in the eye of the storm


Filed under: Opinion Views

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