I returned last Thursday from 6 days of being back down in Mississippi with Service International. SI has swiched their base of operations to a large church facility in Long Beach (as opposed to the church we stayed in at Cedar Lake). Back on our trip in December, SI was praying for a new location and we joined them in that prayer. Let me confirm that God has provided a wonderful location and facility for them to work out of and it makes it easier to accomodate much larger groups than previously was possible.
I went down with 2 other guys(Luke and Kurt) from my Sunday School class at church and we had a really great time. This time I worked on the demolition team for two days (our team of 12 completely gutted a 1100 sq ft house of its ceilings, walls and floors in one day, and completed about 60% of another house the second day). The third day we had to call of finishing the second house, so I ended up with the landscaping team doing various yard projects. Through a twist of events, I ended up stripping vinyl tile off of a kitchen floor during the middle of the day and back at a house for yard work just down the road from the church we stayed in previously. It had been a long, weird day, but I felt good about what had been accomplished. This person's house was almost complete, with the tile floors being grouted and the doors being installed. The yard surrounding this house was clean, mowed, trimmed and was in line to have some plants and flowers to be placed in the coming days.
I sat in the truck ready to leave and was talking to Darrell (one of the SI crew that is down there now) about how nice the house was coming along. He told me that it was going to be featured on an upcoming Joyce Meyers program. Evidently, Joyce is going to come down to the area and fillm interviews with the residents who have lived through the aftermath and had their homes rebuilt by SI. Throughout our conversation, the homeowner had been walking around inside marveling at her house and how it looked. I hadn't met her, nor did I need to, to know that she was a wonderful person. Everyone on the crew that had been working there for two days had told me about how nice she was. Well, it was time to leave and as our little group pulled out of the driveway to head abck to the church, the lady turned around to wave goodbye to us. And that's when I realized that this was one of the homes that our group had worked in. In fact, this was the home that the Kansas City group had working in tearing it apart. This wonderful lady was the one who came to eat dinner with us and spend time with us. (My memory is failing me at the moment, but I believe her name was Jean.) It was an amazing moment to realize that I had in some form or fashion been a part of this woman's rebuilding from the beginning to the end. I love how God does stuff like that for us.
It's a great feeling knowing that Jean has a fabulous house to live in. SI is buying her all new furniture and they had an interior decorator come down to make sure it is done just right. Thanks to our efforts, and hundreds of others like us, one more person now has a place to call home that they can live in and be proud of. (I don't know when the Joyce Meyer program is supposed to air, but if I find out I will let you all know.)
As a general comment, most of the piles of trash and debris along the beach highway(hwy 90) have been cleared. You can now see over three blocks inland from the road, where the neighborhoods once stood. Downtown Biloxi is starting to look a bit more normal as they have begun tearing down some of the barely standing structures. The MGM/Grand Hotel and Casino is under repair and looks like it will reopen this summer. Everywhere you look you can see the progress that has been made. And yet, everywhere you look you can see how much there is still left to do.
Although the roads have been cleaned up, houses are still damaged beyond being liveable. People are still waiting to get into a FEMA trailer so they can start working on teraing apart their houses to fix them. If you venture off into the side neighborhoods, you can see that most homes still do not have permanent roofs on them and a lot of people are still living in their homes depsite the serious mold conditions from all of the water. Katrina's Kitchen, a local food distribution center set up along the beach highway after we were there, still feed hundreds of residents a day that cannot afford food anywhere else.
Do not be deceived by news reports that might make things sound like they are almost back to normal. Do not allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the majority of the work is completed. As you all can imagine, things are not always as they appear on tv and sometimes they are much worse. Continue praying that God will send people to serve in the area. SI has the all the funding they need to continue operating in the area until late fall, but they lack volunteers to do the work. If you know of a church seeking a missions opportunity, a youth group wanting to go on a trip or just an individual who has expressed interest in helping in some way, please encourage them to serve in the area!
I cannot express how awesome God has been to me in my adventures while serving in Mississippi. He has introduced me to so many wonderful people and has allowed me to participate in so many ways toward building His Kingdom... It's phenomenal!
Please continue praying along with me for the people living in the region and the volunteers working there. If we can do nothing else, the absolute best thing we can do is pray.