Area churches join forces to sponsor mission trip to still-ravaged New Orleans
By Lindsay Reed
Members of the All Faith United Methodist Church, of Eagle Rock, and the Central Community United Methodist Church, of Shell Knob, joined the Hurricane Katrina clean-up efforts in New Orleans during the second week of February.
"Once we got there and looked at all the destroyed goods, materials and possessions, it was overwhelming," said Robert Barnes, a member of the All Faith United Methodist Church. "I thought of the amount of work and money it will take to restore it."
Barnes moved from New Orleans to Eagle Rock around a year and a half ago. As soon as he heard about the destruction in the Gulf Coast area, he wanted to do something to lend a hand to the victims in the city he once called home.
"It is very sad," said Barnes. "I love this old city. It is a great old city, and it is so sad so many people have been hurt.
"When you go around the city and see the destruction, it imprints on you," said Barnes. "Even though the news shows it, it is hard to believe."
Although Barnes was eager to venture to the Gulf Coast area, he waited for his pastor, Nancy Wilson, to receive adequate training to lead a mission group of church members into the area.
Wilson attended Disaster Team Leader training, which consisted of a three-hour emergency relief course in Jefferson City.
"During the training session, people talked about what to expect, how to handle what we saw, how to prepare the people going and how to debrief their experiences everyday," said Wilson.
After completing the program, Wilson assembled an eight-person mission team, which included members of the All-Faith United Methodist Church and the Shell Knob-based Central Community United Methodist Church.
Mission team members were Megan Swolley, Jeremiah Paddock, Jim Enyart, Barnes, Jim Lofton, Bonnie Petereit, Wilson and her husband, Dean.
The group met three times to discuss logistics, safety and equipment. After receiving a mission assignment from the Office of Creative Ministries of the United Methodist Church, the group departed from Eagle Rock on Feb. 5.
Upon arriving in the New Orleans, they received accommodations at the parsonage of Felicity United Methodist Church, which was also affected by Hurricane Katrina. The church has a 175-year history but will probably not be renovated during the rebuilding process.
"It's on the historical register, but it would be costly to restore it," said Barnes. "I figure they will decide to doze it."
The parsonage, which acts as a relief effort base for United Methodist mission teams, was furnished with bunk beds and linens that have been donated by various churches and individuals across the nation.
"We had a house, beds, a kitchen and a shower," said Wilson. "A church in Montana donated pillows, blankets and towels, so we didn't have to bring anything. That's the church in action."
After being prepared to make living arrangements on a church floor, the group members were pleasantly surprised and grateful for the exceptional living conditions.
A husband and wife, who are members of the Felicity United Methodist Church, support mission teams by providing laundry services and tours of the affected areas.
"We toured the ninth ward the first afternoon that we were there," said Wilson. "That is the worst of the worst. The absolute devastation was so sad. Destruction for blocks and blocks."
While in New Orleans, the mission group worked to gut salvageable houses down to the two-by-four studs in preparation for rebuilding.
"We had to knock out the plaster and drywall to the studs," said Wilson. "The toughest part was that first we had to take all possessions in the home and haul them out to the side of the street."
In beginning the renovation process in the New Orleans' houses, the group met two local homeowners, who are currently living outside the area.
One of the homeowners, Jeraldine Marcelin, traveled by bus to New Orleans from her temporary residence in Austin, Texas, in order to participate in the process.
After examining her pile of water-logged possessions, Marcelin was only able to salvage a few items that remained above the flood line and an antique armoire that belonged to her grandmother.
"When Jeraldine was looking at her things, I went to her and said, 'This must be really hard,'" said Wilson. "She perked up and said, 'Yes, but you are here and life is going on.' The hope is in us going down. They know we haven't forgotten them, because we're there."
Although FEMA workers could be seen hauling discarded possessions to 18-foot trash bins on the streets of New Orleans, most of the renovation work was conducted by volunteers and church mission groups, said Barnes.
"People have come from all over to do what they can," said Barnes. "We met a couple that had decided to volunteer for a year and a half. That amazed me."
After gutting Marcelin's home, the group began the renovation process on a second home, which had been in one New Orleans woman's family for over 50 years.
Wilson believes it will take over a year to clean out all the homes in New Orleans, which include many uninsured victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"The houses will set there until another group starts rebuilding, them and first they need donations for the rebuilding," said Barnes.
"It will be at least five years before they have the resources to start rebuilding that area," said Wilson.
Although the Jefferson Parish area, where the mission group worked, will not begin rebuilding for some time, the Kimberling City United Methodist Church recently returned from Slidell, where mission teams have begun hanging drywall, taping and mudding the interior of homes.
Many parts of Mississippi and Alabama have also begun the rebuilding process, but New Orleans is six to eight months behind other areas.
"They don't have enough volunteers there," said Barnes. "The ninth ward hasn't even been touched.
"The people felt neglected on the evacuations, forgotten in the days after the hurricane when they were at the conference center and forgotten now with nothing going on in the ninth ward," said Barnes. "The biggest thing people talked about was to go tell their story. Don't let people forget them."
This week media sources announced that the New Orleans recovery teams will begin working through the ninth ward area, said Barnes.
"They are bringing in cadaver dogs, because they know in the rubble there are still a lot of remains," said Barnes. "It is going to be slow going."
Previously, emergency personnel and recovery workers used a spray paint system to keep track of search efforts.
Numbers have been spray painted on the outside of several houses indicating the date they were checked, what hazardous materials are inside and if there are any bodies inside the building.
"There is more loss than property," said Wilson. "There are so many stories and lives touched."
"I think everyone of us stood and looked at this and asked ourselves, 'How would I react if I lost everything?'" said Wilson. "Would I be as gracious as these women?"
Wilson plans to lead other mission groups to the Gulf Coast area to help start the rebuilding process.
"What we did down there was the eye dropper in the bucket, but we helped two," said Wilson. "It was great satisfaction to see the team work together and be able to help people."
Wilson hopes to lead other church mission teams but is also considering leading a district team to the Gulf Coast area.
"Everybody can't go and do what we did, but if anyone can help by donating toward a team going," said Wilson. "I could lead one team a month and still be behind the curve. It is going to take 10 years to clean up that area."
The United Methodist Church mission team, which worked over 93 combined hours in the Gulf Coast area, was supported by a pancake breakfast fundraiser at the Central Community United Methodist Church and private funds.
According to New Orleans news reports, over 430,000 individuals have been displaced and over 4,000 residents are still missing in the New Orleans area, said Barnes.
"There was a lot of tension going back home," said Barnes. "I ask myself how much more I can do. What can I do for the people that treated me so well when I lived there? It makes you very thankful for the good Lord taking good care of you."