Atlanta-area UM churches helping rebuild Biloxi

2/15/2006

By Rori Francis Blakeney

The Wesleyan Christian Advocate

After a team of volunteers from Atlanta’s Cascade UMC traveled to Biloxi, Miss., last November to help in the city’s rebuilding, they knew they had to go back.

But, the second time they didn’t go alone, because Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.”

Cascade partnered with Andrew’s Chapel UMC, a congregation in the Griffin District, for a second trip that took place in December.

“We (Cascade) knew we had to do more than just send materials, money, clothes, food,” said the Rev. Olu Brown, associate pastor at Cascade. “We had to go to ground zero where we could help in a way that sending things could not do.”

The members of Cascade have given $50,000 to Katrina-related ministries, $5,000 of which was sent to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and $5,000 to a local church in New Orleans. Cascade also helped Katrina victims who evacuated to Atlanta with rental assistance, food, gas and MARTA cards. In addition, the congregation filled 126 flood buckets and put together 126 health kits.

But, Brown says, “We had to see how things really are.”

A delegation of 40 Cascade members went on the first trip where they did everything from gutting homes to pulling up carpet.  But going once just laid the foundation for the church’s commitment to help in the rebuilding process. They knew the city needed some help with bricks and mortar in the difficult task of reconstructing lives.

After evaluating the first trip, Brown discovered Howard Turnipseed, a site manager of sorts at Andrew’s Chapel. 

“We (Andrew’s Chapel) decided to be more mission minded,” said Turnipseed, president of United Methodist Men at Andrews Chapel and for the Griffin District.  “We have supported Boy Scouts, youth, the Camp Glisson restoration projects.  But, we wanted to broaden the things that we do. The Katrina trip was our first positive effort.”

So he decided to put his Volunteers in Mission and UMCOR disaster response training to work. “We felt compelled, and this was a good opportunity to put our talk into action,” Turnipseed said.

In late December, Cascade and Andrew’s Chapel members boarded a bus for Biloxi, to be God’s hands and feet in a rebuilding mission. While the first delegation spent time tearing down, the second group had the task of rebuilding.  They did everything from picking up trash to planting flowers and trees. “This trip was about beautification because of the psychological effects that the devastation has on people,” Brown said.

But even with the tearing down and the planting and pruning, Brown and Turnipseed understand the city is still under construction.

The two churches are working with Hands on USA and local officials to plan a third trip in March to continue the work.

Turnipseed said, “I keep telling my congregation, it’s not over. It has not gone away. The only way the people’s lives will get better is for us to go out and do hands-on ministry.”