How can we forget the wrenching media images of people on rooftops in their flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans waiting for rescue? The chaos and confusion in the emergency rescue efforts of local, state and federal officials? The waste and destruction in New Orleans and throughout the Gulf Coast communities between the Texas coast and Pensacola, Fla.? Devastated homes and businesses rotting and molding in the hot sun?
That was Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating natural disaster ever to occur in the United States, reaching the U.S. on August 29, 2005. The storm attacked a geographic area the size of Great Britain, killed over 1,800 people, caused billions of dollars of damage and displaced millions of households.
Christians from all parts of the United States and Canada, including Moravians, responded to this disaster by sending volunteers to bring repairs and restoration to homes and communities throughout the Gulf Coast area. In fact, the slow, steady response of Christians throughout the world over the past seven years is a story about Hurricane Katrina commonly overlooked by the media. One set of statistics reveals that over 900,000 Christian volunteers have traveled to Mississippi and Louisiana and contributed millions of dollars in labor, services and substance.
Initially, Moravian volunteers worked with Lutheran and Episcopalian Disaster Relief groups based at Camp Victor, a staging facility housed in an old warehouse in Ocean Springs, Miss. Through this Spring, Camp Victor housed, fed and equipped volunteers who offered assistance in the form of willing hands, hearts and feet for the hard labor of cleaning up.
Although the city of New Orleans received most of the media coverage in the immediate aftermath, the suffering was severe and intense in most of the cities and towns on the northern Gulf coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. In fact some of the smaller towns, like Waveland and Bay St. Louis, were totally destroyed. Most Moravian teams focused their efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Mark Ebert, Director of Moravian Volunteer Resources for the North American Board of World Mission, had a vision of establishing a permanent residence for volunteer teams. A home base would simplify housing arrangements and other logistics involved in bringing outside volunteer groups into the disaster areas to provide aid. A modest home in Ocean Springs Miss., much in need of repair after flooding, was purchased by the Board of World Mission and repaired by volunteers, and became the Mississippi Mission House. Equipped with two sets of bunk beds in the garage and each bedroom as well as heavy-duty plumbing, it was readied for group living.
To date, more than 65 Moravian congregations from the Northern and Southern Provinces have sent more than 300 volunteer teams to work on Katrina projects in the Ocean Springs area. Many of the congregations became repeat participants, with an average group size of eight people. The house has also served as lodging for volunteer groups of other denominations working in the area. It was opened in January of 2006 and served until July of this year.
Under the recent management of Weldon and Joannie Harris who have lived in the house as servant leaders, this anchor of ministry has served many neighbors in Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, Gautier and Moss Point in countless restoration projects. Based at the Mississippi Mission House, three complete homes were built by Moravians with Habitat for Humanity.
Some of these homes belong to what Jesus would describe as “the least of these” folks who had no insurance and no resources to fund the repair of their homes. About $500,000 was raised and spent for Katrina Relief.
Moravians were and are just one group of Christians that responded in the name of Jesus to the suffering in the Gulf area. How thankful and grateful we can be to be among those who can declare with confidence that the Spirit of God called us and we responded.
In Luke 17:10, Jesus says,“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Yes, Moravians have responded in large numbers to help those in need, and yes, we can feel good about what we have done; however, as brothers and sisters in Christ we have only done what we should have done. We can be thankful that we have been instruments of His love, and perhaps, brought some of those we helped to the knowledge of Jesus as Savior.
Lillian Britt Shelton is a member of Friedberg Moravian Church.
For more read Moravians on a Missionippi trip.
From the September 2012 Moravian Magazine