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Katrina victim sees body of Christ in seminary’s relief team

SLIDELL, La. (BP)–As he was tearing out the drywall of a local man’s house, Mike DeBusk pondered the extent of the damage. Like so many others in Louisiana and Mississippi, this man, named Alan, had lost just about everything in Hurricane Katrina.

“The only thing left in his house were ceiling fans,” DeBusk said.

DeBusk was part of a team of students from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who spent a week in Slidell, La., helping victims of Hurricane Katrina. The students tore carpet and drywall out of houses. They helped put tarps on roofs. And they handed out tracts, prayed with residents and tried to meet people’s spiritual needs.

In talking about Alan, a deacon at Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell, DeBusk’s lip trembled. Alan told them what it meant to him that people he didn’t know -– but people who were still his brothers in Christ -– came to help.

“He told us we were like stones along the Jordan,” DeBusk said. “Even though he doesn’t really know us, to him we’ll always be like those stones by the Jordan River as a reminder to him of when the body of Christ has come in his point of deepest need.”

Frank Catanzaro, a counseling professor at Southeastern, organized the trip to Slidell, where he formerly served on staff at Grace Memorial. After Katrina hit, Catanzaro said he kept watching the news for any information about Slidell, but he never heard anything.

“That was what the Lord used to really pique my interest,” Catanzaro said. “We basically had no plan. I felt like this was something I needed to do and invited them to come with me.”

Ten people answered Catanzaro’s call, nine of whom were Southeastern students. The first day they arrived in Slidell, the church assigned them to work at a woman’s house.

“We had to rip out drywall,” said Southeastern student Alan Salisbury. “None of us had ever done it before. We didn’t really know what we were doing.”

But the students managed, and their efforts proved fruitful. In addition to witnessing to local residents at their homes, the students also visited with people who came to Grace Memorial for assistance. The church is the site of several Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units who are providing food, clothing and other basic necessities to those left with nothing after Hurricane Katrina.

“When you tell people this isn’t a one-time thing, you can come back as often as you need to, they just don’t know how to take that,” DeBusk said. “I’ve seen so many people just break down crying when you tell them that because they’re so moved.”

On the group’s last night in Slidell, a young couple, Jorge and Heather, came to the church’s fellowship hall, which disaster relief volunteers have transformed into a “store.” More than 20 tables are full of food and supplies -– canned goods, batteries, toothpaste, baby food, toys, flashlights, trash bags, shampoo, first aid kits and much more -– all available free of charge to hurricane victims.

Jorge and Heather and their three children are sharing a trailer with three other families. Their needs were great, and Salisbury escorted them through the store, packing items into a shopping cart that could hold no more.

“That’s perfect,” Heather said more than once. “Thank you so much.”

After they had finished “shopping,” Salisbury sat down with Jorge and Heather to talk to them about the Lord. It was a scene typical of the seminary students’ week in Slidell.

“They’ve witnessed to people,” Catanzaro said. “They’ve worked hard for hours and hours each day. They’ve been spontaneous and fantastic. Several of them have led folks to Christ this week.”

One of those students to lead people to Christ was Salisbury, who saw five people make professions of faith in one day. But while he was excited about the way God had used him, Salisbury echoed a sentiment many disaster relief volunteers share.

“It’s ministered to me more than I’ve done anything here,” he said.

DeBusk said he encountered people with stories that gripped his heart. Some had lost relatives in the storm. One woman he talked to had used a refrigerator to keep her and her 7-month-old baby afloat for an entire day. He found out she was a Christian –- a situation that was common for his team during the week.

“As many people as we minister to who aren’t believers, there are so many who are,” DeBusk said. “We just try to encourage them to go back to their neighbors and share with them the hope that they have. You can tell a real difference between the folks who know the Lord and who really have hope, and those who are just devastated.”

For the latter, the Southeastern students had good news.

“They act like they have no hope, and then we’re able to share with them that there is hope,” DeBusk said. “When people have had everything they own washed away and are left with nothing, that’s at the point when their hearts are the softest.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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