Monday, December 18, 2006

People still on my heart

There is much on my heart still from our trip to the Coast to build the two foundations, for Stacey and her kids and Florence. One day, Jim took Sean and I off the work site and sent us to visit some families on his list. I was profoundly moved by several things I heard and saw.

The first was the desperate condition of one woman. She was actually in the hospital and our visit took place in her hospital room and then we went to her home to see where it was. I was deeply concerned for her that if we rebuilt her home on her lot, we would be putting her in a very dangerous neighborhood. Her son who lived next door, had razor wire all around his compound. I saw the need, not just of a home but a safe place for her, a place for a future. I was struck by the courage and Preservice of the folk we interacted with. One lady had lost her home in a previous hurricane and now was facing another lost. Yet her demeanor was peaceful and she looked forward to rebuilding and having a home again. She was living in her third (!) trailer since the storm. The other two were not handicapped assessable enough for her to use the bathrooms. Stacy was another testimony to courage and Preservice. She lost everything, has a child with health issues, yet has not given up but his working for her and her kids future. It was awesome. I was struck by the great loss, thriving towns who once had downtowns, with now only about half the residents they had before. Yet there is courage and strength. I was very impressed with everyone who pulled up stakes and moved into the storm area right away and began making adifference for people. Go guys.

- Bruce (Atlanta, GA)

Still processing...

I am still processing what I experienced during my volunteer time in Pass Christian and Delisle.

When people ask me “what was it like” the 2 things that immediately come to mind is the complexity of the situation and the gratitude of everyone we encountered. Whenever residents discovered you were a volunteer there was this immediate outpouring of thanks and acknowledgement. This happened time and again (in Kimball’s, at worksites, in the library, at church, even in the dollar store). As soon as you mentioned you were a volunteer – boom, the thanks was there. I learned that the residents of the area are truly grateful for the help, do not take it for granted and do not want to be forgotten.

Besides interacting with other talented volunteers, I had the tremendous opportunity to do a variety of different things - from basic labour (I was definitely not as skilled as the construction and plumbing folk I was teamed with) to friendly visiting. What I most valued about my time was that the human dimension was an important part of the equation. There can be a lot of vanity in volunteering – ‘wow look at the house we built’, ‘look at the lumber we unloaded’ and I am as susceptible to that thinking as any other. However, I appreciated the fact that we were encouraged to visit, befriend and assist the variety of people we encountered. Since the loss of ‘community’ in the area is as great a legacy as any physical damage that has been sustained this aspect is important.

The things I remember most are the small civilities: getting jumbalaya at a worksite, being invited for cake and a visit, taking a couple of local gentlemen for their regular meal at Katrina’s Kitchen, interacting with the different volunteers at the library….hearing everyone’s individual story. That was the best part. And it was a privilege.

-Maureen (Ontario, Canada)

“You won’t be prepared for what you are about to see”

The words of Jim Sullenger, co-founder of Restoration Point Foundation, as he spoke to me by cell phone when I was exiting I-10 in Gulfport heading in to Pass Christian. I thought back to what my 16 year-old son said after he had been to Bay St. Louis earlier in the summer with his church youth group. He came back to say, “Dad…it looked like it happened yesterday”. In reality it happened 13 months before when I arrived September 22, 2006. Certainly 13 months, millions of federal dollars and all the volunteer help I heard about had made great strides to make Pass Christian whole again. But I was not prepared for what I was about to see…..and to live for the next few weeks.

I drove west on US 90, where the concrete road was heaved into uneven slabs and it made me think there was more to come. And there was. I arrived around dusk and Jim immediately put me to work, putting shelving into Patsy and Leonard’s closets. He didn’t want to assume I had any real construction experience, which I didn’t, so I liked Jim’s approach right off the bat.
I came to appreciate the approach to the ministry of Restoration Point Foundation as the week went on and we talked about the struggles they encounter, the vision they have and their Christian ideals that are lived every day.

I found in Pass Christian the ideals Jesus lived; helping fellow man, especially those without, those in true need, those who seem to be left behind. I also found a wonderful ‘can-do’ attitude. I realized this when I was tossed the keys to a back hoe that had to be driven 10 miles out in the country to a construction site. Never having driven equipment like this, I hopped up, figured out how to start it and drove away behind Jim’s pickup with his flashers going.

That is what so many people I met there are doing. Helping in ways they know and working to figure out ways to help they’ve never done before. Restoration Point is a case in point. Jim and his co-founder Erin are talented and wonderful people, but had they done what Restoration Point is doing? No……..but they saw the need and dived right in. Ask the people of Pass Christian who they have helped if experience is important. No. It’s in the doing for them all that is important.

The people…….the people helping, living it every day touched me in ways I have only imagined. Randy of Randy’s Rangers, Conrad of Lagniappe Church, Jim, Erin. All people who were living their lives elsewhere in the U.S., all immediately touched by the horror of Hurricane Katrina and all going to Mississippi in hopes of helping those less fortunate.

The common theme of these people is “Lord, they need my help, help me find a way to go and stay TO help them.” And He is providing a way. Believe me, it is a day-to-day existence for them, but they are being given the sustenance of a life of Christian living and knowing they are helping. All of these people are Angels on earth. They deserve more than thanks, they deserve all of our help, all of our prayers and our continuing support.

I was in Pass Christian, Mississippi from September 22 through October 2, 2006. I stayed days longer than I had intended, as the need doesn’t diminish, the hopes of better lives for the people increases with the help of people like Jim, Randy, Conrad, and Erin, and, the real and visible Love of Jesus Christ grows each and every day there that groups like Restoration Point Foundation continues their work.

I am helping in some small way, working to assist Restoration Point Foundation in securing new sources of funding, building Restoration Point Foundation through development of an Advisory Board, trying to help them make contacts that strengthens and solidifies their efforts to help all those in true need in Pass Christian. And more importantly, in some small way, reach out and touch more people who can help build a future for those in need who have called Pass Christian home.

- Bo (Charlotte, NC)