God-sightings five years after ‘the storm’
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – Be on the lookout for God-sightings.
That was the suggestion made by Pastor Chris Thore of New Beginnings Moravian Church to members of his mission team on their trip to the Gulf Coast. What is a “God-sighting?” It’s a moment, sometimes fleeting, sometimes sustained, where one can recognize God’s handiwork.
Over the next six days, we were not disappointed.
In the early morning hours of April 30, a Saturday, nine members of New Beginnings packed a car and the Moravian Disaster Response truck and started the 10-plus-hour drive to Ocean Springs, Miss., for their first churchwide mission trip.
Our accommodations? The Moravian Mission House, with hosts Weldon and Joanie Harris. Located in the Pinehurst subdivision, this was one of 100 houses flooded by the storm surge of Katrina. It’s a comfortable ranch house with plenty of sleeping space and a great area for unwinding as a group after a productive day.
Our first day in Ocean Springs dawned bright and beautiful. We decided to have our own worship service on the beach. We chose a quiet section of Front Beach, and each of us took a part of the liturgy. What a wonderful way to begin a day – and anticipate the week ahead.
Following worship, we picked up debris that had washed onto the shore, leaving the beach better than we found it.
After an early lunch, we stayed in town for the Heritage Celebration – the re-enactment of the arrival of the first Europeans to the area in 1699. Some of us walked Front Beach, meeting locals and hearing their stories, before and since “the storm.” Others took a nap on the grassy hillside overlooking the beach, and still others enjoyed Icees while listening to the local singing talent. Hard to believe that the place we were sitting had been under 35 feet of water.
Monday morning dawned overcast, but we headed to Camp Victor early. Built by volunteers for volunteers following Katrina, the camp can house 220 volunteers, and to date, more than 60,000 have stayed there. The walls and T-shirts shout out the story of all the different people/churches/organizations that have come together to help rebuild. After eating a delicious breakfast, assembling our lunches and getting orientation, we gathered the necessary tools and materials and headed to the nearby town of Moss Point.
Three houses were on the agenda. One was near completion, and we were able to finish up the punch list so the building inspector issued a certificate of occupancy. Others had started renovations to the second home, and we found the third house at the very start of rebuilding. During the next three days, we completed carpentry work, spackled, painted, laid carpet and tile, assembled cabinets, repaired a roof and replaced windows.
We were very fortunate to meet the homeowners and hear their stories. Although the neighborhood has its problems and they have been displaced since 2005, they spoke of their blessings and their gratitude.
One young man actually came “home” to help his ailing mother following “the storm.” Another homeowner, Anne, visited us twice while we worked on her house. She described the day she was laughing at the water in her backyard, only to be called by her husband to come see the water rushing in their front door. In the five years since Katrina, has lost several family members, including her husband, aND dealT with unscrupulous carpenters, who asked for payment upfront and never returned.
We are hoping Anne will worship with us this August when she visits friends in Charlotte.
Don Mason, a New Beginnings member and seasoned mission volunteer, said, “I’ve always felt considerable personal satisfaction when I have actively assisted someone with needs ... It becomes even more satisfying when the person for whom you are working reflects on her thankfulness and offers the story behind her plight. Sending a donation cannot personalize, measure or mirror the appreciation that was offered to us for our efforts.”
Team member Paddy Wigney added: “It’s the people, the families ... They need to know that we care about them. It’s not about the buildings or the neighborhood or the mundane tasks we are asked to do.”
Putting a face and story with the home crystallized the purpose of our mission.
At the end of each day, we would either enjoy dinner out and experience the delicious local Cajun and creole fare or relax at “home” with a home-cooked meal, like Moravian chicken pies (made by our own Women’s Fellowship) and Moravian slaw (made by one of the mission team members). Congregation members sent delicious desserts with us, including the biggest pound cake I’ve ever seen, compliments of church member Hazel Jaro. In addition to keeping us well fed, they lifted us in prayer.
Chris kept them in the loop with his nightly blog. After a bit of down time, we’d gather and share our god-sightings for the day, and team members took turns leading the evening devotion. It was a perfect way to end the day – in prayer, reflection and sharing.
The team accomplished a lot on this trip, and truth be told, we were the ones truly blessed by the experience.
New Beginnings’ Vice-Chair Tom Tucker shared: “Meeting the homeowners and witnessing their resiliency really hit home. They were examples for me of how I need to live my life. They were very grateful for what they have and more focused on the relationships in their lives than things. I have much still to learn on my journey.”
We also got to know our fellow mission team members outside New Beginnings’ walls, and believe me, nine people to one bathroom?
We learned it’s not whom or how you help but that you help. Don Mason said it best: “… Truly God was at work within us: speaking, listening and directing.”
Janet Kauffman works as administrative assistant at New Beginnings Moravian Church in Huntersville.