Rebuilding Houses and Lives

Rebuilding Houses and Lives

May 4, 2006

Hurricane Katrina caused major damage along the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico in August of 2005. Beyond the flooding and storm debris, lives were changed forever. Today, months after the storms, reconstruction is slow, some families are still separated, litter and rubble remain, and cleanup work is not yet complete.

Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, Dr. W. Jay Moon, opened the door for North American Baptist Seminary to help a small community get back on its feet by pairing with First Baptist Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

In late December, a small group of students, accompanied by some of their family members, made an initial trip to the devastated town. The ten individuals gutted two houses in four days. Although the labor was intensive, the team felt rewarded for being able to serve God and make an impact in the lives of others--one project at a time.

The first house the team worked on belonged to an elderly woman named "Glo." Water levels during the storm went over her house. Having evacuated prior, Glo's life was spared. When she returned in mid-December to live in a government-issued trailer, she found her house filled with mud. To the surprise of the seminary's crew, the mud in Glo's house was so thick that it was still wet. After two days� work, her home was stripped to the studs and is now being rebuilt.

NABS student Mark Johnsen, who took his wife and two sons, ages 11 and 14, along on the trip shared that they "went with open hearts allowing them to be changed." He admits that working with people who have lost almost everything, but still have smiles on their faces, makes a person reprioritize his or her life.

The team also worked with a middle-aged mother named Stella who stayed out the storm in her attic. She worked alongside the team and was very grateful for the labor and the compassion. In two days her home became ready for reconstruction.

Thirty-three individuals returned to Bay St. Louis during the week of March 4-12, 2006. Led by Professor Moon and Johnsen, a group of NABS students and staff were joined by members of Hope Community Church in Sioux Falls to help eleven different families with everything from clean-up to reconstruction.

To maximize time, the team divided into groups each day. Even though the needs of each family were different, the excitement and appreciation returned to the group were much the same. One woman showed her thanks by frying fresh-caught catfish and serving it with homemade potato salad. Another family shared their military meal packs with those who were helping them rebuild.

Master of Divinity student Andy McVey recalled the excitement in the eyes of the woman whose house he spent his entire week sheetrocking and taping. He plans to send a framed picture of her and a few of the group members to hang on one of her new walls.

In the midst of helping victims sort through personal belongings, tearing down walls, and aiding in reconstruction, relationships formed and lives were rebuilt. David, the deacon at First Baptist in Bay St. Louis, said that the team's "service, dedication, and patience were noticed by many...your group left a lasting bond with our church."

Even though Stella is still waiting for reconstruction of her home, she is thankful for everything she has received and is pleased with her life. Since the December trip, Stella has started to attend church again. In fact, she accepted Christ and is now active in a Bible study group at the church.

Each participant experienced the work of God in some way, realizing that he or she was not only rebuilding houses but also rebuilding lives. As Judy Harms, March trip participant and Special Events Coordinator for NABS, said "I am not the same person I was before we traveled to that devastated area. What I saw and experienced has had a profound effect on my view of mission work."

Under the direction of Professor Moon, North American Baptist Seminary will continue to send groups to the Bay St. Louis area as long as there is interest within the student body and greater seminary community.