Pearson's fast pace carries into recovery phase


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

LAUREL — A day or two after Hurricane Katrina hit, Roy Pearson made it to his office at West Laurel United Methodist Church and began working to bring aid to his community.

He’s hardly slowed since. Pearson now chairs Pine Belt Restoration, Inc. (PBR), a group formed to facilitate long-term recovery for a four-county area.

Pearson and the group were formally introduced at a Jan. 17 news conference.

“We have tremendous problems in Jones, Wayne, Jasper and Smith counties,” Pearson said. “We are being told that we have between 5,000 and 7,000 families that do not have the resources to be able to make just ordinary, necessary repairs to their homes.

“We have lots of people who are suffering emotionally, spiritually and mentally. We’re very concerned about that.

“The other thing is we’re being told we have in our area about 25,000 displaced people who are living in temporary homes or with relatives and need help.

We’ve got a big job ahead of us.”

PBR consists of leaders from all aspects of the community, churches, businesses and elected officials. The group has three objectives:

Serve the citizens of Wayne, Jasper, Jones and Smith counties in Mississippi regardless of race, creed, color, gender, disability, nationality, citizenship, ethnicity or religious preference.

Provide long-term recovery aid and assistance including spiritual, emotional and physical resources for all ages including adults and children.

Discern long-term, unmet needs through needs assessment and recovery plan management.

Pearson said the group grew out of discussions held several weeks after the storm and actually began doing some of its work in October.

While Pearson serves as chair, other United Methodists sit on the Board of Directors, too. The Rev. Arthur Lewis, pastor of the Paulding Charge; the Rev. Robert Webb, pastor of Wayne Haven UMC in Waynesboro; the Rev. Viola Malone, also of the Paulding Charge; and Dena Parker, who serves the Pine Belt Region for the Mississippi United Methodist Katrina Response, are all on the board. Parker is a member of West Laurel UMC.

At least seven other members of the board are connected to religious organizations.

“Almost every member of the committee is a member of a church. We are pulled together by faith,” Pearson said. “It’s sort of like a marriage of the church and what we do in the community. We don’t consider ourselves a faith-based group, but, yet, we do. Faith is what is driving us.

“God brought this about, and God is changing this part of the country in ways that never would have changed if this storm had not come. God is bringing a lot of good out of a lot of bad.”

Lewis said seeing various denominations working together is important. “When religious groups come together, people can see the power of the church, not so much as denominations, but see how men of the cloth can work as a team,” said Lewis.

Laurel Mayor Melvin Mack agreed. “There is power in the church and power in the word of God,” he said.

Lewis said working on such a project with other United Methodist pastors means a great deal to him. “It’s like the true vine. I’m connected wherever I am,” he said. “I can always call in my resources.”

“The connection is what makes all this possible,” Pearson said. “The majority of the help we have received has come from The United Methodist Church.”