Churches mix drywall, evangelism in Katrina-stricken area


(UMNS) OCEAN SPRINGS - Mix three churches, 3,000 sheets of drywall and teams of prayer warriors with people still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the result is a day full of blessings.

St. Paul United Methodist Church, First Baptist Ocean Springs and Victory First Gospel formed seven evangelism teams and seven drywall delivery teams July 22. They canvassed some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods suffering from the storm's aftermath offering prayer, an invitation to join a local church and drywall.

The 3,000 sheets of drywall were gone in six hours, said John Rodgers, construction coordinator for Christians Organized for Relief Efforts, based at St. Paul. CORE was not involved in the project, he emphasized, but local churches led the effort.

"The most important thing they were doing was talking to people about Jesus," Rodgers said. "I used the analogy of Jesus feeding the 5,000. He was meeting their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs, which was what they were doing."

"We had a great time going out and visiting with people," said the Rev. Mitchell Hedgepeth, pastor of St. Paul. "We were surprised to discover how many unchurched people there were in the community who really desired to be part of a faith community."

Hedgepeth said the teams found many people still needing to tell their stories of how they survived the hurricane or how God blessed them through the storm.

"We stayed in one home for almost 45 minutes because the man really needed to share," he said. The man was thankful for the faith-based organizations that had helped him and his family.

"He made the comment that he didn't know what he would have done without help from faith-based organizations like St. Paul. He and his family rode out the storm in 7 feet of water," Hedgepeth said.

Lots of drywall
St. Paul became a relief center immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit last summer. The Red Cross turned the sanctuary into one big bedroom after the storm sent a 37-foot wall of water over Highway 90 right in front of St. Paul. Later CORE set up in tents on the grounds of the church, and more than 8,000 volunteers from 50 states and 16 countries have filtered through the site.

Hedgepeth said volunteers returned to the church after the Christmas break and had no drywall at all. Soon, however, an 18-wheeler from a California church arrived with a truckload full. Later, the same church sent $7,000 so the church could buy more drywall locally.

"Another man heard about the donation and gave $5,000. Then another gave $2,500, another gave $1,000 and we ended up with $38,000 worth of drywall," Hedgepeth said.

Wondering how to get the drywall out into the community led the three local churches to the idea of using it as an evangelism tool.

"If people had their walls removed up to 4 feet, we gave them 50 sheets. If the walls were removed up to 8 feet they got 80 sheets and if it was up to the ceiling they got 120 sheets," Hedgepeth said.

Once the first team went out, they called back to church with directions and orders for drywall, Rodgers said. "We started around 9 a.m., and by 2:30 we were out of drywall."

Out of the seven evangelism team, three came across people who didn't need any drywall but welcomed the prayers.

At the end of the day, about 150 homeowners had been visited.

"Someone said if this would have happened a year ago before the storm, probably 40 to 50 percent would have politely said they weren't interested," Rodgers said. "There was not a cold heart in the crowd. It is a testament to what God is doing and has done through the disaster in the hearts and lives of the people here."