On August 29, 2005, nine years ago today, Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore, and changed New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast forever. Here is the article that I wrote for the First Presbyterian Church newsletter, The First Epistle, that following week.
Mississippi has endured in this last week was, perhaps, the most significant “natural” and human disaster in the history of our State. Yes, one could argue that the Flood of 1927 rivals the extent of this storm’s impact, and one could rightly note the impacts of the Civil War, and the two World Wars on the citizenry of the state. But the intensity of Katrina’s affect is staggering. Virtually the whole state has been touched.
We have now seen the images of the devastation of our coast (and the storm surge was significantly higher than Camille’s – the storm by which all others are measured in Mississippi), but consider this too, even here in Jackson, as of Tuesday morning after the storm’s passing, something like 90% (or more) of the homes in our metro area had no light/power, and at one point over half the state was in the dark. Water supplies have been dramatically impacted by the storm, and much of the state has been under a boil water alert. The disruption of petroleum flow has been an obstacle for the relief operations, and a daily challenge and nuisance in our city, and for a while at least had nationwide consequences (including isolated gas shortages/rationing/price inflation [over $5 a gallon in Atlanta it is said], disruption of air travel, etc.). Meanwhile, thousands are sheltering in Jackson, Vicksburg and elsewhere.
Our church buildings took some water damage but are basically fine. Except for the office suite, we went all of last week without light and power, and were not able to host meetings or Wednesday services. The steeple of Brandon PCA was blown off. Our Twin Lakes Conference Center housed evacuees from New Orleans (including folks from Desire Street), but Twin Lakes, too, lost power and also endured the wrath of the winds.
First Presbyterian Church (PCA), Gulfport’s buildings were ravaged by wind and water. Gulfport was set to install Dr. Guy Richard (one of our former interns) as their minister next month but now there is uncertainty as to what that ministry will look like. Many of their members lost homes and may not remain in Gulfport but move elsewhere. The future of our PCA presence all along the coast is thus uncertain. One of their members, who literally lost everything, called Missye Rhee Breazeale last week and said “My wife and I have been married for 37 years and all we have left is one another.”
Yes, these days have been hard, but glorious too. I’ve had calls and emails from pastors and churches in Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Scotland, England, Japan and elsewhere who want to help come to the aid of those in need. We’re sad, very sad, when we think of all of the destruction, but we are trusting in the Lord who is the God of storms and “gathers the winds in his fists.” Katrina’s waves were his and now we must study the message of his providence and respond to it humbly by his grace. And there have been so many encouragements.
For instance, I asked many friends around the US and World to pray for us, here at First Presbyterian Church, specifically, (1) that we as a congregation would care for others more than for ourselves, (2) that we would bear good witness to Christ in word and life, (3) that we would be able to contact and help evangelical churches on the coast and South of I-20, (4) that we would get power back at the church, and (5) that the ministers would be able to get fuel for our autos so that we can do visitation and be of more help during this hard time.
I am struck today at how the Lord has answered all those prayers. First, daily I am learning about how various members are taking a lead in the relief operations here and on the coast. It causes my heart to rejoice every time I hear of it. Keep on in love and good deeds. Second, in connection with the first, the strong attendance at public worship yesterday coupled with the way families are taking in those who have been displaced, are surely good witness to the glory and grace of God, in Christ. Third, I have been able to make significant contact with PCA ministers south of I-20, plus there will be important efforts this week to coordinate our relief work with other area evangelical churches and leaders. Fourth, the power came back on at First Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening. We hope to be able to resume a reasonably normal schedule of activities in the days ahead. Fifth, a church member enabled our ministers to get fuel for their cars that should last us to the end of this week. God is good. Keep praying.
How appropriate it was that Derek should be preaching on Lamentations 3:22-23 on last Sunday morning, even as this colossal storm Katrina hurtled towards New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, Mississippi and even our beloved Jackson. God was faithful to us. We are still here. God is faithful, and we sang that truth back to him last Sunday morning. And now we will bear witness to that in life and death, and in word and deed.