On the Road
Our trip down south was quite uneventful, with a couple of exceptions. From St. Louis we drove down I-55 and tried to sleep as much as possible in the morning. After lunch I found it virtually impossible to sleep, as we were getting closer to our destination and further from places that I had seen before. I guess it is just my curious nature to want to see as much of the countryside as possible, when I haven't seen it before. (Once I've seen it a few times, I'm more than happy to doze off to sleep and let the miles fly by unseen.)
We stopped at a Rest Area in northern Mississippi, which in and of itself is nothing spectacular to think about. However, in retrospect this was the last point at which we were not directly impacted by the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. From this point on, every stop we made was impacted in one way or another by the Hurricane.
As we made our way further south, gas prices went further north. While we added to the mileage on the 15 passenger van we were riding in, we began to notice fewer people heading south. We started noticing a tree here or there that had been knocked down by the storm. Soon we started seeing trees that weren't merely split, but totally uprooted by the winds. As were neared the coastline, it became common to see vast numbers of trees downed and uprooted and unusual to see a stand of trees left untouched. The remnants of trees that had undoubtedly blocked the highway at one point still sat thrown to the side of it, without any attempt to pile them up or organize them at all. It was obvious that whomever cleared them was not worried about it looking pretty or easy to clean up later.
We finally made the turn east and were essentially driving parallel to the coastline for a long time. At this point, the skys grew dark and it began raining quite hard. It was eerie to drive along a highway had no lights and that was surrounded by darkness. Evidence of humanity was all around: a single shoe laying here, a mattress there, a washing machine on the shoulder, a blanket entangled 20 feet high in a tree. It was in thee moments that I knew I was exactly where God wanted me to be. Driving past the edge of neighborhoods where you could see blue tarps on every roof and knowing that if all that these people lost was their roof then they were fortunate.
We started running low on gas, so we exited where we saw a gas station sign. Upon turning onto the road it quickly became obvious that something was terribly wrong. We found the gas station about a quarter mile down on the right. There was the shell of a building with no glass windows in the front and a partially collapsed rear wall, an awning that at one point had hung over the gas pumps but was now only connected to the building at one end and sat resting on the pumps nearest the road (crushing them). We carefully turned around and made our way back into the darkness to get back on the highway. It's one of those things you don't really think about until you experience it - where do you get gas for your vehicle when gas station have been destroyed? This provided the answer to the question of why we had begun to see a lot of abandoned vehicles on the side of the road.
We made our way into the neighborhood where we would be staying for the next week. A local church had agreed to let Service International use their flooded sanctuary as their base camp for the Biloxi area operations. We entered the building to the smell of dinner cooking and fresh paint. Evidently, a group from Kentucky had arrived earlier in the day and painted a couple of the rooms in the church. There was also a family from Kansas City, MO who had travelled down on their own and arrived a few hours before we did.
I sat down for dinner surrounded by strangers in a strange place and somehow I felt right at home. We introduced ourselves to one another and it didn't take long to start to feel the common bonds that tied us together: a heart to serve, a love for people and a passion for God. We watched a couple of training videos and then headed off to our beds, ready for whatever tomorrow might bring our way and absolutely not ready at all...