Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the Gulf Coast and the City of New Orleans. My homeland was in the crosshairs of a Cat 5 monster that would change the lives of everyone associated with that region forever. My mom and dad lived in Picayune, MS, my hometown, which lay about 30 miles northeast of Waveland, MS and 40 miles northwest of New Orleans. The eye of Katrina passed right over Picayune and devastated the small town on the Louisiana-Mississippi state line. My Mamaw was in a nursing home 20 miles southeast of Picayune in Slidell, Louisiana. Living in Montgomery, Alabama, I could not get to them. Our fourth child, Caelan, had just been born a few weeks earlier, and I was just about to become the pastor of our church, Gateway Baptist. My wife's grandmother had just died and we were returning from her funeral on Saturday night, August 27. That is the first I heard about Katrina.
I wrote about the events from Monday, August 29 to September 6, 2005 on my blog for the one year anniversary of Katrina in nine installments. It makes for pretty good reading, I think. A lot happened that week. Katrina hit on Monday. I paced the floor and freaked out all day long. I lost final contact with my family around 4pm that day. Four trees had fallen into my Dad's house – the house I grew up in. He was disabled and was not able to take care of things very well. My Mom and her husband fared better, but I had lost contact with them as well. I had no idea what had happened to my Mamaw. Tuesday found me at an elder's meeting telling our church leadership that I had to go and help my family. They agreed and decided to send a team with me. Wednesday and Thursday were days of preparation with the Red Cross so that we could get emergency credentials and permission to enter the area. We collected supplies, money, people, and transportation. A team of 30 gathered Thursday night to load the trucks and get ready to go. 6 of us left Montgomery on Friday morning and we ended up in Ocean Spring, Mississippi setting up and running a shelter for 100 people. The other 25 arrived that night. By Saturday, I was on my way to Picayune with a quick diversion into the war zone that was Slidell to find my Mamaw. I got to her right before she was going to be evacuated to unforeseen parts and took her with me back to Picayune. She stayed with my Mom and the next day, my uncle and cousins came and took her back to Little Rock, where she would live until she died last December. I then met up with my friends who had all come back home to help their families and they in turn, helped me get the four trees off my Dad's house and lay plywood and roofing materials over the huge holes in the roof. We worked on that roof for about 13 hours on Monday. On Tuesday, I continued to work on the house, and on Wednesday, nine days after Katrina, I brought my father back home with me to Montgomery. It was a harrowing time that has left a mark on me. So much devastation and pain.
Over the past 5 years, thousands upon thousands of volunteers went down to the coast to help people there rebuild. Our church was a part of that. A couple in our church moved down there and stared Pathfinder Mission in Waveland, Mississippi, Ground Zero so to speak, and helped over 600 families rebuild their homes and their lives. We sent many missions teams down and joined with churches all over America by investing our lives in those communities. God has worked in powerful ways and cities have been rebuilt and restored.
New Orleans has revived in amazing ways. So much was lost, but so much has been regained. People have a way of pulling together in the midst of tragedy, and that has happened here. I think that New Orleanians value their unique culture and heritage even more now than they did before, if that is possible. Although I have been away for many years, I am proud to be a New Orleanian as well, when I see how the people there have pulled together to rebuild the city they love. The Saints winning the Super Bowl this past year showed the heart of the city and that it was all so much more than a game for them – for us.
I told my church at the time that if the leadership of Gateway did not lead them to get involved and help the people down there, they should never forgive us. It was a moral imperative and an opportunity that I praise God that we did not miss. So often, we look back in time with regrets and wish that we would have taken action in a situation. In the moment, we are often blind to what was really going on. this case, I am so glad that we did not miss our moment to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It was a privilege to serve alongside volunteers from all over America and to see amazing beauty come out of devastating tragedy.
Seriously, read my chronicles of the week of Katrina: http://www.downshoredrift.com/downshoredrift/katrina_remembrances/