Kennedy at Seminary

Friday, September 23, 2005

Back from Mississippi

Where to start?
I wish I had pictures to show you from Biloxi, but I don't. Tons of images are swimming around in my head. Trees fallen everywhere. Buildings that looked like, well, a hurricane had hit them.
After all, Biloxi took a huge hit from Hurricane Katrina. From my understanding, the hurricane caused water to flood New Orleans, but the actual storm pummelled Biloxi.
I went with a group of 11 seminarians and two girls from nearby Illinois. We spent much of our time there cutting down trees that had fallen in people's yards or were bent dangerously over roofs. I'm not much of a chainsaw guy, so I hauled wood to the curb. Debris and trash lined the curbs. Everyone had to clean up their yards and their houses.
We also helped tear out water-damaged drywall. In some houses, you could see where the water had gone four feet up the wall. By the time we arrived in Biloxi, the water was gone. No standing water.
While in Biloxi, we stayed at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. That was our home base, I guess. From there, our method in many cases was to go to neighborhoods and ask residents if they needed help with anything. Sometimes, the pastor knew of members who needed serious help with their homes or property.
The pastor's name is Eric Holler. He's 28 years old. Only a couple years removed from seminary. I got to talk with him one-on-one and even helped lead worship Sunday morning. (I'd never before led worship wearing holey shoes and ratty blue jeans, but that was all I brought.) I have never seen anyone show more grace under pressure than Eric. I admire him so much for the way he always kept his composure and for his humble spirit. He had a wife and daughter staying somewhere else (Georgia?) while he got the house fixed for them to live in it again.
I spent a good amount of time in what I think was the fellowship area of the church, which had been turned into a distribution center to get food and clothes to people who lost everything. I talked with people who came through there. For the most part, people were very open about sharing their experiences. One lady told me her daughter had died the year before. Now this. But she was holding her head high. She told me she had faith in God to see her through.
I got the chance to share the Gospel with some people. I told some people all the clothes and food they were taking was a free gift to them, just like God gave us His Son as a free gift. One of the relief pastors there, Rev. Gugel, suggested I say that.
I heard a lot of people say, "I'm a survivor." Interesting phrase. It sounded more self-reliant than God-reliant. It wondered about the spiritual condition of those who said it.
I'll never forget the last place we cleaned up. A retired FBI special agent and his wife had big-time tree damage in their huge yard. He said someone quoted him $14,000 to have it all cleaned up. Our group came and did it for him in one morning for free. He was so thankful. He hugged each person and got all of our addresses. He told us that he would stay in contact with each of us, and he'd never forget what we did for him.
The trip was a great time to bond with my sem friends. Three of them were real good friends with whom I went to school in Austin. I had some other good friends go. Others, however, I didn't know as well. This was a good opportunity to make some new friends.
I was appointed to lead morning and evening devotions each day. In the morning, we had worship time with a short message. In the evening, we debriefed. People shared their thoughts and experiences from the day. We had some candid discussions about faith and what's really important in life.
I shared with the group about walking through some houses that were ripped to shreds. Only the concrete slabs of the foundations remained, in some cases. One house had plasma screen TVs broken all over the ground. So many expensive possessions were ruined. And here I was, dirty and sleeping on a church floor, but I was truly happy because I enjoyed the people I was around and I knew God was using me for something important.
If you have any questions about the trip, please ask. There was more to it than I can write now. My field work supervisor, Pastor Schwab, has asked me to speak about my experiences at all four church services this weekend. I'm real excited about that.
God's peace.

2 Comments:

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:56 AM  

  • wow, that sounds like an amazing experience! I would love to hear more if you have the time/opportunity!

    By Blogger Miss Emilie, at 6:35 PM  

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