Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Preach the Gospel . . . (and if you must, use words.)

Forty of us descended upon Camp Katrina the last week of October from five different states. We all preached the gospel.

The 12 and 14 years olds crawled into an attic to blow in insulation. The 70-something guy installed a shower door. About fifteen of us dug a 200 foot long ditch to connect two mobile homes to the sewer main. A few middle-aged women cleaned filth and bugs out of a worn-out trailer home. Others hung and “mudded” drywall, mowed the lawn, rewired electrical boxes. Some held their tongues when the third building inspector didn’t agree with the second building inspector who didn’t agree with the first building inspector, and they had to re-do the work for the third time.

Camp Katrina is located on the Gulf of Mexico and took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Waveland and the surrounding communities are on a small section of land wedged between the Gulf and St. Louis Bay. A “tropical depression” is truly a depression – the weight of the atmosphere literally pushes the water down under the storm. When you push water down, it has to come up somewhere – and in Waveland, the waters rose in St. Louis Bay first, then rose in the Gulf and came crashing together in the middle of Waveland. The water stood at between 20 and 30 feet for as long as fourteen hours.

We noticed a lot of dead trees with the tops broken off about 20 to 30 feet up. We were told these trees were underwater, which stabilized the base of the trees, and what was still above water snapped off at the water line.

The devastation of the land was overwhelming, but the human suffering continues. Most of the businesses in the area have never reopened. There are concrete slabs or posts standing on overgrown lots with For Sale signs everywhere. There are no jobs. Their homes are destroyed. And many of them have been cheated out of their money to rebuild their lives by unscrupulous con men posing as contractors.

We met Dave and Cheryl. They paid to have their home raised and restored. The home was raised, 13 feet instead of the required 8 feet, and the contractor disappeared. No steps. No walls. No electricity, no water, no sewer, and now no money. They have been sleeping outdoors on a twin mattress under their home. The volunteers erected stairs so Dave and Cheryl could get into their home. Dave and Cheryl joined us for the shrimp boil that we had on Thursday night, and I saw Cheryl without her coat for the first time. She was as malnourished as anyone I have ever seen, including my trips overseas.

What would you expect from Cheryl? Bitterness? Anger? Despair? You might expect these, but she didn’t show any of them. She was a joy, always welcoming and smiling. She told us how she had been reading her Bible every day, and spending a lot of time praying. And praise God, she only had one beer yesterday! But she went out and bought Halloween candy for the volunteers. Cheryl, who has absolutely nothing, spent money buying candy for us. Amazing!

I could tell you story upon story. Nancy, who has just been diagnosed with cancer. Catherine, who waved her arm at the road next to her house and flatly said that all those people had died in the storm.

I could tell you so many more stories. But perhaps you should consider coming to Waveland someday, and hearing them yourself.

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