Devin Thomas '09 spent his spring break working with a 60-member team, rebuilding a church damanged by hurricane Katrina.
The cool Gulf water laps at my feet as I walk slowly along the coastline. Even after seven months, reminders of the devastation brought about by Hurricane Katrina litter the sandy shore: dirty mattresses, single shoes, notebooks, balled-up clothing, Disney VHS movies lay immersed, unclaimed and perhaps forgotten. At one point in my walk, I stop, kneel, and brush the sand off a child’s toy telephone. For a moment, I wonder about the story behind this toy—where is the child now? A thousand miles away, safe with his parents in a new house? In one of the scores of hurricane refugee camps throughout the state? Or is the child still missing—one of the hundreds yet to be found in the wake of the storm? Tears begin to well in my eyes as I consider all the possibilities. Then, slowly, I stand and leave the beach. My continued reflection—I realize—will do nothing to answer the questions that fill my mind.
The image of this child’s toy buried in the sand lingers in my mind as I continue my week at the Gulfhaven Mennonite Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. About twenty miles from the coast of Mississippi, this particular region of Gulfport was not quite as devastated as the nearby coast towns; damage here was primarily caused by high winds and higher-than-average rainfall. Despite the “limited” types of damage, the sheer ruin remains evident: on the road to the Gulfhaven church, we pass homes that have been abandoned—windows and doors torn from their frames, shingles ripped from roofs like leaves from a tree branch—and homes that have been utterly destroyed. The church, in particular, experienced significant damage from winds and rain that tore the roof from the sanctuary, caused water damage to the inside ceiling, and toppled the steeple. Thus, our group—a 60-member work force from my home church, Carlisle Brethren in Christ in Carlisle, Pa., which included several other Messiah College students—spent a majority of the time repairing the ceiling of the sanctuary, building an addition to the rear of the building, and doing other construction-related tasks inside the church.
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