This is the second in a series of articles on the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. These events are seen through my eyes as I watched in horror as my homeland was destroyed and I made every effort to get to my family in Picayune, MS.
I awoke Tuesday morning, August 30, after just a few hours of sleep. I didn’t sleep well. I went to the television and switched between CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News. CNN seemed to have the best coverage as their reporters seemed to be so engaged with the story. I watched for a while as they began to report on the breaching of the levees in New Orleans. Ariel views began to come in of neighborhoods filling with water. A yacht club burned out of control and filled the sky with smoke. The images on my screen could not be real. It was like something out of a movie, but it was happening to my beloved City. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was obliterated and I could only imagine what happened to Picayune. I couldn’t turn away, but I had to get moving.
We had an elder’s meeting that morning. We just brought on three new elders and it was their first meeting. It was to be a watershed event in the life of our church and in the lives of the men gathered around that table as well. I had not yet been voted in as Senior Pastor (that would not happen until September 11, of all days), but I decided that it was time to lead, even as Associate Pastor. As we began the meeting I knew what I had to do. I told them that we were witnessing an event that would go down in history and we had to be on the right side of it. We had to do our duty. I was going to Picayune to help my folks and I would be leaving as soon as I could get some form of emergency credentials. The news was broadcasting that you could not get into Mississippi without credentials. That ended up not being the case, but we didn’t know that at the time.
Well, I said that I was going and that was that. I also said that we HAD to lead our people to respond to this disaster. I said that if we did not lead our people into ministry and to a biblical response to the needs of others, then they should never forgive us. It would be beyond wrong to sit back in our lives of ease while our neighbors were stuck in the ditch, bleeding and dying. To a man, every one around that table agreed. Then Charlie Elgin spoke up and said, "You’re not going alone. I’m going with you." Drew Burton, our student minister said the same thing. He was leading a college/young adult Labor Day retreat that weekend but cancelled it on the spot and said that they would go help on the Coast instead.
We decided to form a team and bring supplies and volunteers. We decided to all go to Picayune and help out. We didn’t know how many would go with us, but I thought we might have 8 or 10 and some pick-up trucks full of supplies. This was growing. I told them all thank you, and after more talk, planning, and prayer, we dismissed. I had my green light and it was time to move. Drew also began moving and was instrumental over the next few days in building and resourcing the team that was to go.
As I left the meeting, I felt Something driving me, pushing me to get home. I knew it was God. I had felt this before and it was as though I was being carried along. Over the next few days, many problems would present themselves, but I had a strong sense that God was in all of this. I had a sense that He was driving me forward to go home and help out. I had a determination settle over me that was unusual to say the least. I was going to need it.
I went to the church, and my first concern was getting us the emergency credentials that we would need. My first thought was to call the Alabama Baptist Convention (State Board of Missions). That, unfortunately, was a dead end. They took my name and information and said they would get back to me as soon as they could. I was too determined to get to my folks to let that slow me down. Somehow, I knew that they would be of no help (as it turns out, I did hear from them almost two weeks later when they called and asked what we would like to do).
I hung up the phone and called the Red Cross. They were setting up their regional headquarters in Montgomery as they do for all Gulf South hurricanes. Lots of people don’t like the Red Cross, and I was not particularly fond of them either, but I had to get into Mississippi and I would use whatever means I could. They were wonderful. They said they could place me and asked when we wanted to leave. It was Tuesday. We thought we would be ready with the team by Friday. They said, no problem, and we had our permission! Things were starting to move now.
All throughout the day, we worked the phones. Drew changed the plans of the young adults going on the beach retreat. They invited their friends to go with us. We watched the news as more and more stories began to flood in of the devastation. Each story fueled us all the more. A little army was growing of people who wanted to go and help. Time slowed down to a crawl and resources started to come our way. By that night, things were coming together.
God was on the move. I had no idea what had happened to my parents or my Mamaw and I prayed for them constantly. I tried to find information about Picayune, but there was none. I could only pray and prepare to leave in a couple of days. The wait was killing me, but God was birthing something incredible. In my drivenness to get down there, God was sending other people along with me. He was using me as a catalyst to arouse others to their divine duty. I was amazed. I didn’t know where this was headed, but as I ended another day, I knew that groundwork was being laid for something extraordinary. Christians we rising up to rescue the perishing. Our hearts were breaking over the suffering that we were seeing on the television. It finally was no longer about us. At the time, I was too immersed in my own situation to know that God’s Spirit was stirring His Church all across the land. We were just a few of a multitude that were being stirred from slumber to go and stand in the gap. There was a movement of God’s Spirit and the Church was rising up to take initiative. He was driving us forward. He would get the glory.
Tomorrow: Katrina Remembrances Pt. 3: The Gulf Coast Convulses in Despair, But Help is On the Way