Start with the churches
Make every effort to be fruitful and effective... (I Peter 1: 5 and 8)
The Gulf region
The week after Hurrican Katrina hit with a vengeance on the Gulf Coast, Mennonite Disaster Service director Kevin King remembers a call that came his way while he was on an exploratory trip in Alabama. A woman calling from Bayou La Batre south of Mobile in the Gulf said "the world has forgotten us."
So MDS, with the help of MCC canned meat, blankets and health kits, first began its Katrina response in this shrimper community. Its a response that has involved a dozen locations in the Gulf region and hundreds of volunteers to help rebuild homes and peoples' lives.
Kevin remembers asking local Mobile pastor JD Landis where to start and JD told him, "Start with the churches." From the beginning, Katrina response in this community has encouraged the Way of Life Mennnonite Fellowship's outreach to the Asian community.
Two states away and several hours south of New Orleans, MDS is helping a Native community on the bayou near Triumph, Louisiana restore its homes. These homes are outside the levee system and so they are not eligible for any governmental assistance.
MDS is also working with George and Ruby Renno who have provided a long-time pastoral presence in this community through the Lighthouse Church. Geoerge remembers using insurance money to buy another shrimp boat which provided income for seven people for the first three years after Katrina.
Both Bayou communities have suffered through a more recent storm of another nature called the BP oil spill. George Renno says the oil is thick in some parts of the marsh in the southern tip of Louisiana. Back in Bayou La Batre in Alabama, though no oil has yet appeared, it still has made its presence known. Though Gulf seafood has been tested to be safe, no one wants to eat it and prices have tumbled. The oil spill has prolonged economic hardship in both bayou communities.
Back in New Orleans where there are still 900 blocks of mostly empty lots and houses five years after Katrina, MDS is still rebuilding homes here, too. It works with Churches Supporting Churches to help rebuild the spiritual fabric of the communities.
MDS is also wondering whether its New Orleans unit facility might eventually become a peace center or connected in some other way to the ministry of its supporting churches.
One person we talked to in New Orleans recalls somebody asking him who Mennonites are. All he could think to respond was that Mennonites believe in Jesus and they believe in helping poor people.
All the more reason, in responding to Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, to start with the churches who are making every effort to be fruitful.