Gulf Coast region tells volunteers thanks for Hurricane Katrina aid


By Kathy L. Gilbert
United Methodist News Service

NEW ORLEANS — United Methodist volunteers from across the United States were welcomed, thanked and challenged to keep coming to the Gulf Coast during a Katrina Summit to honor the work and workers of the past two years.

“It is a miracle what you have done,” said Bishop William B. Oden, chairman of the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal.

More than 63,000 United Methodist volunteers from 42 states, two foreign countries and 60 annual conferences have come to the aid of the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.

The Sept. 6-7 summit was organized to thank and recruit more volunteers, find new church partnerships and encourage more donations to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, a special fund established by the United Methodist Council of Bishops to help rebuild churches, pay salaries and restore other ministries.  

Storm-tossed people

Annual conferences from Alaska to Arkansas sent more than 200 representatives from volunteer mission teams to the event hosted by Gulf Coast bishops William Hutchinson, Louisiana; Hope Morgan Ward, Mississippi; and Larry M. Goodpaster, Alabama-West Florida.

The summit included a bus tour of three restored New Orleans churches, a dinner and a report on work that still needs to be done.

“As storm-tossed people, we thank you from the depths of our hearts because you have been here from the very first days,” Ward said. “Has it been two years, two days or 20 years since Aug. 29, 2005? We continue to live in chaos, but we have never felt alone.”

Hutchinson added his thanks and said, “I don’t know where we would be without the church. Governments have had their problems, but the church didn’t wait to get the OK from anyone. You just came and began to do the work.”

United Methodists worldwide have given more than $66.4 million for recovery from Katrina and a series of other ferocious hurricanes that hit the United States in 2005, according to the Rev. Tom Hazelwood of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

The money has gone to help more than 60,000 people and to build or restore more than 25,000 homes, he said.

Because UMCOR funds are restricted to helping people rebuild their homes and other necessities after disasters, the Council of Bishops established the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal to help with additional ministry needs in the wake of Katrina, Oden explained.

Using Hebrews 10, Goodpaster talked about tired Christians with “compassion fatigue” and said people on the Gulf Coast can relate.

“I’m tired too,” he said. “I’m tired of watching the Weather Channel, of mucking houses, wearing masks and worrying about water surges.”

Goodpaster said the Hebrews writer urged Christians to address their fatigue by approaching God, holding fast to the confidence of Jesus Christ and helping one another.

“Thank you brothers and sisters who have shared our burden,” he said.  

More work to be done

Leaders of the Louisiana and Mississippi conferences outlined projects that need to be completed through 2008 at a cost of about $6.5 million.

“Go back to your conferences and say the need still goes on,” Goodpaster said. “You have come as disciples; now we need you to go back as apostles.”

In Mississippi, more than 70,000 homes were destroyed and 31,000 people still live in FEMA trailers, said the Rev. Bill McAlilly, superintendent of the Seashore district.

Pascagoula First, St. Rock, Mississippi City, Seashore Mission, Leggett and Pearlington United Methodist churches still need money and volunteers to rebuild their sanctuaries.

The conference also wants to start two new Hispanic/Latino congregations and finish construction on multipurpose buildings used as warehouses and dormitories for Katrina recovery and future disasters.

In Louisiana, the Methodist Home for Children in New Orleans will move to a new, safer facility, and funds are needed to provide beds and other needs as well as to hire a director and staff.

The conference will open Luke’s House in November in New Orleans. The free clinic will provide basic health care for those who have lost vital care due to the closure of several hospitals and clinics in the city.

New Orleans has seen a great increase of Hispanic workers due to the storms, and the conference needs to provide Hispanic/Latino ministries for the growing population.

Churches in New Orleans within designated mission zones need funds to provide for salaries, health insurance, housing and pensions for 29 pastors and salaries for five support staff. The mission zone ministries also need funding to advertise their ministries, purchase a mini-bus and provide a child care center at People’s United Methodist Church.

Four Louisiana United Methodist churches still need restoring or expanding.

Both Mississippi and Louisiana need help to offset the high cost of insurance premiums that have been skyrocketing since Katrina.

For more information on how to help, contact the Louisiana and Mississippi Annual Conference offices. To contribute to United Methodist Katrina recovery efforts, give online or through local church offerings to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal #818-001.