Katrina -- 10 Years of Recovery
A decade has passed since Hurricane Katrina changed the landscape and life of so many Gulf shore communities.
What once was, was no more following Katrina. Homes, businesses, churches, shoreline, boats, vehicles . . . lives. Some things simply vanished, others were found far from where they should have been -- so much damaged beyond hope.
In fact, for many people, there was no hope. They fled the Gulf and the submerged city of New Orleans by the tens and even hundreds of thousands, with vast numbers never returning.
The impact upon local churches was equally devastating. Not only were buildings in ruins, but in some cases, only a handful of members remained. The challenge of rebuilding the church, rebuilding personal lives, and still reaching out to their communities was daunting -- and only made possible by the grace of God.
Robert Bingham, director of the Mississippi District Disaster Response, says he believes that today the churches that were not near the Gulf and in the path of Katrina have fully recovered.
However, for those churches in the direct path of Katrina, especially along the Gulf shoreline, Bingham says it's a different story.
"I spoke to one pastor just a few weeks ago, and he said he's just now starting to see growth after 10 years," Bingham says. "A vast majority of the churches impacted by Katrina have weathered the storm, but those along the Gulf are just now beginning to see some of the momentum they had prior to the storm."
Bingham says that sometimes people don't always understand the dynamics of a large-scale disaster. For example, it wasn't just churches that needed to be rebuilt, but people's homes. When a church's "volunteer base" has either moved away or is consumed trying to get their own homes in livable condition, that leaves little help to restore the church, he says. Not to mention, when businesses were destroyed, so were people's jobs, which had another direct impact upon the church's recovery.
However, Bingham says God's grace and the countless MAPS volunteers and disaster relief volunteers made rebuilding possible, adding that the Mississippi District actually benefitted in a number of ways due to Katrina.
"What we learned during this time was that no matter what we needed, God provided," Bingham says. "It came to the point that when people asked for something we didn't have, I would just tell them to wait a day or two, and God would provide it."
Bingham gives an example of workers asking for something besides water to drink as they were working on roofs in the summer heat, mentioning Gatorade in particular. He told the person he didn't have any, but he was sure God would provide.
"I no sooner put the phone down when it rings," Bingham says. "It was a pastor friend of mine from north Mississippi. He told me he had two 18-wheelers loaded with Gatorade and nowhere to send it. He wanted to know if I could use it! Things like that happened over and over."
Also, a few months following Katrina, the Mississippi District Disaster Response had its initial meeting. From this meeting, the district would ultimately gain a fully functioning disaster response unit with equipment, truck, trailers, and supplies ready to go on short notice --- not just to disasters in Mississippi, but responding to disasters in the Midwest as well as all across the coastal areas.
Carlos Romero is pastor of Centro Familiar Cristiano Bethesda in Kenner, Louisiana. Located about 13 miles northwest of New Orleans, Kenner is also home to the New Orleans International Airport.
Romero, who was a sectional presbyter for the former Gulf Latin District, says that his church was the only Hispanic church in the New Orleans area when Katrina struck. However, now there are at least three more churches ministering to New Orleans-area Hispanics.
Romero explains the reason his church has grown and new Hispanic churches have opened is a direct result of Katrina.
"When reconstruction began in New Orleans, a lot of Latino/Hispanic people came to the city as construction workers," Romero explains. "The Hispanic population in the city grew after Katrina. When the construction ended, some (Hispanics) left, but many are still here. New Orleans has become a mission field for the Hispanic church!"
The Louisiana District office confirms a similar experience as the Mississippi District. Most areas have returned to normal, but some have not.
"My husband, David, participated in many of the rebuilding projects, along with many other volunteers," says Amy Craun of the Louisiana District office. "Many places are pretty much back to normal, but there are some buildings in areas still just sitting there, with blue tarps over their roofs . . . they may never be restored."
Pastor George McLean and his two sons, Mark and David, led Hosanna Fellowship (AG) in Marrero, Louisiana, before, during, and after Katrina. As the sectional presbyter, McLean has unique insight into the condition of the Church and community.
McLean says Hosanna Fellowship, located just southwest of New Orleans on the West Bank, experienced wind and flood damage from Katrina, but was able to continue to operate and focus on providing assistance to a region in desperate need, as it teamed with MAPS disaster relief and construction teams, Convoy of Hope, and volunteer teams from across the country to provide help wherever it was needed.
Barbara Potter, the church's office coordinator, says they arrived in the area a year after Katrina. But when they were looking online for an AG church to attend, they at first discounted Hosanna Fellowship.
"We saw online all the things they were doing to help the community and immediately assumed they must be a mega-church, and we just weren't mega-church people," Potter explains. She was stunned to discover the church attendance was only a few hundred.
The church's efforts in those early weeks, months and even years made an incredible impact upon the whole metropolitan area, as aid and workers were directed to anyone in need of assistance.
McLean says that although Katrina caused an incredible amount of destruction and personal loss, there has been 'good' that has resulted.
"I've seen a greater spiritual sensitivity," McLean says. "There's a greater awareness of how fragile we are, how much we really need God, and, in situations like this, how much we need each other."
McLean isn't just referring to neighbors relying upon neighbors, but within the church community itself. "There has been greater unity among churches and we've been working together as a result [of Katrina]," he says. "Pastors of our city, who would have never gotten together, crossed denominational barriers and came together and are still coming together 10 years later."
McLean says God has been working through the disaster and that many AG churches have actually now seen numerical growth and, through the grace of God, recovery economically and financially.
However, he notes that despite strong recovery in many areas, New Orleans East and the 9th Ward still have much work to be done, and a few churches never recovered from the impact of Katrina. He says one loss due to Katrina that many don't realize is how it separated many formerly close family relationships as relatives spread out across the country at first in search of shelter, then jobs, and never returned.
He observes that within that pain of separation, the church has been given another opportunity to minister. "Katrina has made the church more aware of people's needs, making us more community conscious, more outward focused, and helped us see the need for greater evangelism and outreach," McLean says.
The impact and lessons of a major disaster such as Hurricane Katrina will continue to impact the Gulf region for generations to come. As the 10th anniversary of the disaster is observed on Aug. 29 and throughout the weekend, McLean says he has noticed a heightened sense of anxiety as memories converge with the potential for another deadly hurricane disaster.
"However, I believe, particularly among believers, God helping us make it through Katrina has given us a little more fortitude, a little more courage," he says. "We made it through and we know that God is faithful, and that has bolstered our faith and courage."