Finishing Well After Katrina

Thousands of Baptist volunteers have come and gone from the Mississippi Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina's onslaught in late August 2005, and Mississippi Baptists prepare to wind down their record-setting relief, recovery, and rebuilding effort — but there's still work to be done and time to get involved, noted David Baldwin, construction coordinator for Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Gulfport.

"We have set a goal of wrapping up by the first of October," Baldwin said. "Between now and then, we still need volunteers to finish fourteen new homes that are in various stages of completion," such as the installation of roofing, insulation panels, and siding.

"What we have left will be mostly inside work," Baldwin said. "We want to shut down the formal operations on October 1, but volunteers will still be accepted through October 17. It's crucial that we have enough volunteers to finish these houses so Hurricane Katrina victims can move in as soon as possible."

The houses that remain to be completed are the last of thirty-five homes being built in 2008 with volunteer labor coordinated through the Gulf Coast Baptist Association and funded by Katrina recovery gifts received by the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. More than two thousand homes have been rebuilt or restored by Southern Baptist volunteers since Katrina struck in the Mississippi Gulf Coast area, according to the convention board's records.

"There's a tremendous need for skilled construction people — electricians, plumbers, finish carpenters, etc — to help us complete these homes," Baldwin said. "All types of volunteers are needed to finish these houses and won't be turned away, but we really need those skilled construction people for whatever lengths of time they can serve. We have camper hookups, and the teams don't have to be big teams. We have the money to finish the homes; we just need the labor."

Baldwin underscored the opportunities that construction volunteers have to be a witness before lost people.

"These houses are being built for widows and families and people who lost everything to the storm," he said. "The very first house we built, the occupant accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior during the construction. He told the volunteers working on the house, 'I want to understand why you would do this for someone you don't even know. Whatever you have that makes you want to do this for people, I want it, too.' The volunteers were able to lead him to Jesus."

In New Orleans, however, where Southern Baptists' rebuilding efforts are coordinated through New Orleans Area Hope (NOAH), the work is still in full swing.

Since early 2006, more than twenty-two thousand Southern Baptist volunteers have helped 1,350 families move back into their homes. This includes gutting 616 homes and completely rebuilding 144 homes. Southern Baptists currently are rebuilding more than two hundred homes in the city.

David Maxwell, Operation NOAH Rebuild coordinator, said the ministry was blessed with five hundred volunteers a day on site for most of the summer, but that volunteer numbers have dropped off since.

"We need more volunteers," Maxwell said. "Especially those who are skilled electricians, plumbers, and sheetrock finishers. We also need teams who can come down with their own team leaders because we are not able to provide daylong oversight at each of the construction sites."

For more information on volunteering for the final weeks of construction coordinated by Mississippi's Gulf Coast Baptist Association, contact David Baldwin at Gulf Coast Baptist Association, P.O. Box 2369, Gulfport, MS 39505; telephone: 228-832-4311; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site: www.gulfcoastba.com.

In the New Orleans area, Baptist reconstruction efforts through Project NOAH Rebuilt are slated to continue into October 2009. Those wanting to volunteer in the Operation NOAH Rebuild effort can find more information at www.namb.net/NOAH.

From Baptist Press articles by William H. Perkins Jr. and Mike Ebert.

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