Feature

They’re Still Here

A community of faith emerges from the rubble of Katrina

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Brandon and his father, Al, were among the first group of volunteers to help with the relief efforts in Waveland, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city. They were on their ninth trip to the ravaged town when Christian Life Center (CLC), the Alliance church plant, was dedicated.

Brandon had used his masonry skills many times during the center’s construction, including building a two-inch ramp at the doorway to overcome a small step. “He later said that he questioned why he was doing it,” said Art Baruffi, who directed the rebuilding project and initial church plant for the past year, “since in all the years at his church, he had never seen a wheelchair need.” But on the day of CLC’s inaugural service, a couple from the congregation pulled up, and to Brandon’s amazement, the driver put his wife in her wheelchair and proceeded up the ramp. “Brandon’s heart melted,” Baruffi said.

Still on the Scene

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, The Alliance and its relief arm, CAMA (Compassion and Mercy Associates), were on the scene within hours, providing help and hope for thousands of people left homeless by the storm. C&MA pastor Don Young was a first-responder to the need in Waveland when he learned the small town was completely destroyed by the hurricane, and he promised residents that his people would stay until the job was done. “We’re in it for the long haul,” he told them, and he was right. Nearly two years later, relief efforts continue in Waveland and Gulfport, Mississippi, as well as in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana.

On February 25, 2007, Young, along with Baruffi, celebrated the first official service at the Alliance’s CLC. The dedication was a culmination of all that God had invested in the Waveland/Bay St. Louis area since Katrina hit. Nearly 200 people filled the sanctuary, giving testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness and provision. Representatives from the first days of “Camp Katrina” were there, including Pastor Rick Long. Long partnered with Young from the beginning, and his non-Alliance church near Young’s C&MA church in Foley, Alabama, played a key role in the initial relief efforts in Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

More than 7,000 volunteers have participated in the cleanup and rebuilding projects, sharing their faith with the residents. Some were present at the celebration—workers from the days when the ministry was spearheaded from a Kmart parking lot and the days Camp Katrina (as relief headquarters was called) was located in a Napa Auto Parts building, as well as some who would be the first to stay in the new church building. The volunteers represented all of the workers who gave of themselves to carry the love of God to hurting people. They stayed in tents and then in a garage; they gutted and reconstructed homes, doing whatever was necessary to accomplish God’s purposes. Now they came to praise God for what He has accomplished.

Lost and Found

Many local residents were grateful for the C&MA’s staying power. “They had experienced the loving outreach from many volunteers,” said Baruffi. “But this building was there for them, as a statement of the continuing work of CLC.”

Marvin, the church building’s heating and air-conditioning contractor, had been invited to attend weekly men’s gatherings. “Marvin was so influenced by the many believers he had worked with,” Baruffi said, “that he gave his heart to Jesus.”

Another resident tells of volunteers who not only led a group to clean out his house but also introduced him to Jesus. He said, “I wouldn’t trade what I have now to have everything I lost in the storm.”

George and Allie Williamson have assumed the pastorate and are leading the young congregation into the next phase of work. “I cried out to God that He would help us reach people who need immediate care,” said George, “and the Lord led our team to two.” As the group visited with a couple, the wife admitted she struggled with wanting to take her life due to the stress of Hurricane Katrina. At another home, a young man also revealed he was struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“We were able to send in as many as 10 volunteers to help with the reconstruction of their homes,” George said. “Both parties were grateful and relieved. The young man and his father attended a Bible study at our church, and when it ended, the father asked for a Bible. His son commented that ‘it is a miracle that my Dad would ask for a Bible.’” Elated at the work that was done for his son, the grateful father commented, “It would have taken six months on our own.”

Much to Do

The work is far from over. Ongoing building projects and evangelistic outreach events are planned for Waveland and Bay St. Louis. Weekly men’s and women’s Bible studies and a coffeehouse ministry also are under way. Church member Shannon Lenox, who acts as general manager and coordinates the volunteer teams, has been on the scene for more than a year. “This [rebuilding] effort could take years,” he says. “We still need volunteers.”

The church recently held a youth outreach. “We turned the church into a maze,” says Lenox. Geared toward teens, the event focused on life choices, taking the young people through a pitch-black maze representing consequences of choices made without Jesus. “When they emerged from the darkness,” Lenox says, “they were presented with the gospel message and invited to enter the Light.”

As a local television station interviewed a woman at the church’s inaugural service, she said through tears, “They’re still here. They’re still here.” Camp Katrina/CLC is in it for the long haul, as promised. The Alliance church will continue to house and deploy volunteers, hold Bible studies, provide counseling and be more equipped than ever to offer practical and spiritual aid to the people of Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

To support CAMA on-line, go to www.cmalliance.org/give/gmissions.jsp, or call toll free (U.S. only): (866) 443-8262.

Alliance relief efforts continue in Gulfport, Mississippi, as well as in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, resulting in church plants in each city. In Gulfport, the community response to the Alliance presence has been very favorable.

“Gulfport residents are grateful as we reach out through rebuilding efforts,” says Dirk Coe, relief coordinator of Journey 4 Life Ministries. Homeowner William Woodson says, “My wife and I will never forget what you’ve done for us.” The Journey team is opening doors to the community for a weekly Bible study. Nearly 20 people attend the church regularly.

Alliance pastor Randy Knighten was working as a church planter in Baton Rouge when nearly 6,000 evacuees from New Orleans became residents of a FEMA trailer village. With the help of CAMA, a building was purchased as a community center, offering training in computer skills and assistance in obtaining GEDs and completing resumés. “We’ve seen a lot of people impacted by this outreach already,” said Knighten.

Using the theme “Loving the people into the Kingdom, then bringing them into the church,” Knighten and his volunteers are meeting practical and spiritual needs. “A Bible study is ongoing,” Knighten said, “and worship services have begun at the center.”

The faithful giving and volunteer work of the Alliance family have made a great impact in New Orleans. “But we’ve only just begun,” said Willie Neudahl, a church planter who was in the city when Hurricane Katrina hit. Neudahl and thousands of volunteers have gutted many houses and helped with the cleanup in many of New Orleans’ surrounding areas. But the majority of the houses need to be rebuilt.

“It may take more than 10 years,” Neudahl said. “It takes 10 or more teams of at least 20 to rebuild a home. So for every 100 volunteers who stay for a week or so, we can rebuild one home.

“We need you and your church group to come and serve. We have seen more than 40 people accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Hundreds of lives have been impacted through the ministry of each church group that volunteered, mostly from Alliance churches. This is what the Lord has done through the faithfulness and call of His people.”

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