Gulf Trip Oct 2008
Pearlington - a lesson in appreciation Friday, October 10, 2008
Pearlington - a lesson in appreciation

    People often ask me why I spend the two weeks of vacation that I get each year in Pearlington, Mississippi, helping them rebuild from Hurricane Katrina. Until this trip, I truly could not answer that question with 100% honesty. I usually just answered with the same old rhetoric..."it's makes you feel good...they need volunteers." You get the picture.
    When I arrive home tomorrow, I look forward to answering all the questions I will receive from all the curious folks that anticipate my return.The answer is simple and comes in two parts. I don't take two weeks of vacation a year. I have 50 weeks of vacation - the two weeks I spend in Pearlington are truly the two hardest weeks of my year. My vacation begins the day I get home and ends when I leave again for the next trip. To the people of Pearlington, my life would be a vacation compared to what they have been struggling with for three years. They show me how to be grateful and happy for the life that I have.
The second part of the answer is also simple. These people of Pearlington are truly God's people and they teach me how to be a decent human being and how to treat other human beings. I learn a lot from them on how to walk along the Lord's path and how to interact with others along the way. Each time I become more aware that I receive far more than I give.
- Joseph Carbonaro

Katrina Warrior Thursday, October 9, 2008
Katrina Warrior

As the week winds down, the Pearlington Camp invites homeowners over for "neighbor night." It's been a tradition on each trip and one I look forward to. Our homeowner, Ken Short, arrived with his bride of 35 years, Cathi, as eager to socialize with us as he was to eat.
    Ken describes himself as a "good ol' country boy." He is not kidding either. However, the Ken who arrived at camp was a softer, kindler, gentler version of the Ken we had come to know. The romance between the two was evident in the way they regarded one another.
    After dinner, we each spoke, introducing our homeowners to everyone. Dave spoke to the construction of Ken's stairs. I chose to speak about Ken's desire to get Cathi back into her home. She had supported him for three years while he helped others get back into their houses. It was now her turn. It was their turn.
    Ken, as everyone who has met him can attest, knows some stories. Honestly, he is a remarkable man. When the call came to open the floor at "neighbor night," Ken stood up. Some concerned glances were passed around. The night was growing dark and Ken's stories often take a while to tell. There really was not a need to fear though. Ken simply wanted to thank us and all the thousands of volunteers who have sacrificed and traveled and worked hard to help him bring his town of Pearlington back from the brink. He gave us credit for as he puts it, "filling the holes left after Katrina." He lost people to the storm, but then some other people came into town and decided to help. He taught a great lesson in reminding us to respect our homeowner. No matter what, we need to remember that we are there to serve and these folks have been to hell and back. They need us to listen and respond, not judge and advise.
    Ken is a strong bulldog of a man and while he can easily ask for help on behalf of a neighbor, he has difficulty asking for help for himself. He became misty when he spoke to the fact that this team stayed with him for a full week. We got to know him. We joked with him. We heard his stories. We were passionate to finish the work he had for us. In fact, I sat with him as he checked off tasks in his little yellow note pad. Stairs - 3 sets, clear yard, create burn piles, move some lilies so that a handicap ramp can be built. etc. He had lists. There was always a list...until Ken realized that we had nearly wiped out his list. He was bowled over by the things we were able to get done and the attitude that we exhibited as we worked. He told me that he was so happy to see Cathi walk around and view the progress and he told me that she start to cry. He said it was not even the work that was done, but the fact that he did not have to do it. She worries about him and his health. This removed a burden from him and then in turn, removed a burden from her.
    Ken Short is a Katrina survivor, maybe better said - a Katrina warrior. He wants you to know that the people of Pearlington are resourcefull and have been helping themselves since the day after the storm. They had weathered the water and the wind and they stood. Then they weathered people who came to town to take advantage of them and they stood...and then the church folks came.  He told me that he did not believe in God after Vietnam. He told me that he still isn't much of a church-going man, but he now sees that there is a God who has pointed our way to the town that he loves so much and he is grateful to that God. I am grateful that God chose our team to go to Ken's house. We were relentless on Ken's behalf. We saw his walls of bravado and we went around, over and eventually through them and saw the man inside his heart. I, for one, would like to turn Sunday's lesson at the First Baptist Church of Pearlington, Mississippi toward Ken Short and say, "Ken, I love you and there is nothing that you are going to be able to do about it! Oh, and by the way Ken, so does God and there definitely is nothing you are going to be able to do about that!"
- Colleen Lais

Fountain Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Greetings from Pearlington.
The recovery here continues. It's taking a long time and there is still much to be done and much that hasn't been touched since Katrina, but you can see progress. The home where Joe, Dave, Marvin, and I rebuilt the back porch in the spring appears to be finished. The First Missionary Baptist Church sanctuary is much further along than it was 6 months ago. On the other hand, we spent some time Sunday afternoon exploring an abandoned waterpark along the Gulf. (Several team members are quite good at going over and/or under tall chain link fences.) Looks like it was a fun place at one time, but now the water slides are just snapped off around 20 feet up, the wave pool ironically just sits there like a giant stagnant bathtub, and some parts of the park you can only guess what was there.
Our team is sweating, working hard, and having a lot of fun. We've also sampled some of the local roadside cuisine. After church Sunday, we were sampling some wild pecans we picked up along the road. Not too bad. Tuesday was corndogs from a roadside stand. If you got one that wasn't still frozen in the middle, they were ok. Wednesday was boiled peanuts - not recommended. Speaking of the road, we are spending a lot of time traveling on it back and forth from Gulfport where we're staying. The camp in Pearlington is still not completely recovered from Gustav this summer.
So far this week our group has built a couple retaining walls around the foundation of one home and cleared a huge amount of brush and debris from the yard of another. Maddie has discovered the local poison ivy and is covered with it. The retaining walls were made from used creosote-soaked railroad ties and they were very heavy. The people here continue to amaze me with their faith and their stories of survival and recovery. It's impossible to comprehend the amount of water that covered this area. The house where we were today was completely under water following Katrina, and if you look around you wonder where the water came from. There is none in sight. In another part of town I happened to notice a small sign on a telephone pole. The sign marked the height of the flood waters. It was about 15 feet up on the pole. Amazing.
Glenn Claydon

You Are Now Entering... Tuesday, October 7, 2008
You Are Now Entering...

Howdy all y’all Yankees! We are having a grand ol’ time here in Mississippi. We’ve climbed a big Southern Live Oak tree that was dripping with Spanish moss; caught a lizard and frog; ate pecans that had fallen to the ground (stomped on them to crack them); stopped to let a turtle cross the road; followed a big black snake across a yard; saw a roach, a stink bug and tons of red ants; tried to avoid poison ivy; and came back to camp soaked with rain and sweat. The best part of it all starts as we leave the camp and see the sign that says “You are now entering the mission field”. Our drive to Pearlington every day takes us past others signs such as “Catfish Charlie’s”, “fresh shrimp”, and “Dixie RV”, all reminding us that we are certainly not in NY anymore, but here in the land of slow recovery from Katrina. Pulling in to town there are slabs with no homes, driveways with no garage, and people with unbelievable stories. It is awesome to find so many willing helpers and so many grateful people. For the past few days we have been at Mr. Short’s home. Mr. Short and his wife, Cathi are the willing workers and we are the grateful recipients. Ken Short has given of his time and skills to help all of his neighbors to rebuild their own homes, leaving his own home the least of his worries. I am grateful to see such giving, such grace, such non-judgmental help from neighbor to neighbor and from stranger to stranger. I am grateful to stop and listen to more stories of hardship and determination, of sadness and success. I am trying to take it all in; trying to savor every lunch at the Pearlington Baptist Church; to remember names; to support the local corn dog stand; to pray for the family who used to live in the home with the big red X still on it; to hang on to the feeling of the hands I hold for the prayer before lunch. God is in it all, in the hands, the red beans and rice, the rakes, the voices of the choir, the wet shoes, sore backs, retaining walls and fence posts. I love being here. And if I begin to forget, all I have to do is rub my head and feel the tender spot where a wedge of wood stuck when I pulled on a dead branch. Ah yes! Grace is all around us.
-- Ruth Hunter

Someone Cared Monday, October 6, 2008
Someone Cared

Back for the second trip to Pearlington, I'm struck with how much has changed and how much work still remains. Most tarp roofs are gone. More Katrina cottages line the streets. More places seemed 'normal.' Boarded up building still abound.

My first trip to Pearlington we worked on the two closest houses to the camp. With that site yet to reopen after Gustav, we are staying almost an hour away. More time to reflect, more chance to see how wide a swath of destruction Katrina cut through the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Many houses are still abandoned. Almost all the older ones still have some part not yet completed. Even some new homes are still boarded after Gustav.

While viewing an abandoned waterpark in Waveland on Sunday an elder resident walking his dog struck up a conversation. "Think they'll ever re-open?"

"I don't see how." I replied. Maybe they will, the grass was still mowed. Someone cared.

Today we built an insignificant little retaining wall of creosoted railroad ties. Mississippi mud had become brick-like, resisting efforts to level the ground. Had to pull some railroad spikes out of the wood in order for the ties to nest properly. The soil around this new house's concrete piers was washing into the bayou. By the end of the day two rows of ties lay as guardians against the Mississippi rains. Not yet properly anchored, the homeowner still was amazed at the work completed. She knew someone cared.

Tonight rain pours down on the camp's tent dining hall. Conversations, games and the football game lessen the raindrop white noise but can't eliminate it completely. The aches and pains of the day slow everyone's movements. Yet the rain reinforces how much something that seems so small can make such a difference. Our black stinky discarded old ties were calming the concerns of homeowners rebuilding there lives, caring for their home and their community.

Mark Besse 

Abandoned water parks, ocean waves, and roofless houses Sunday, October 5, 2008
Abandoned water parks, ocean waves, and roofless houses

As I sit in an empty dining tent, soon after everyone has cleared, the hour getting late and some cars driving by it gives me a chance to think about what’s happened today and an opportunity to imagine what I’ll face for my first trip to the gulf coast.
Today started with an early alarm and beautiful sky – a perfect day to prepare for all that would happen on this trip – a perfect day for the others to re-live last trip’s memories and see the progress that others made after them and a perfect day to get myself oriented with Mississippi.
We traveled about an hour to the First Missionary Baptist church of Pearlington, which I had heard so much about - the singing, Maeola (a woman who worships there), Reverend Rawls and the emotional service. People so engulfed in the Holy Spirit, worshiping freely, and not thinking about all that has happened here in the past couple of days, months or years – just remembering the love that is in Jesus Christ. It brought tears to my eyes and sparked a stronger fire in my heart, and truly helped to prepare me for what I would be seeing, not only today but for the rest of the trip.
We traveled to the ocean today, and enjoyed the warm water on our feet, the beautiful white shells, and the cool sea breeze. As we wandered along the shore, we noticed across a two lane road and some chain link fences an abandoned water slide. It broke off about half way down and only had the thick blue slide in pieces where the sturdy metal supports still stood. (though, we did not test their sturdiness.) The stairs, four flights up, swayed in the wind and the structure could be shaken by one person, but that didn’t stop the adventurous side of many of us. From there we could see stilts on which houses once stood, an empty wave pool, and the ocean for miles upon miles. It’s so easy to get lost in the beauty of all that surrounds us in Mississippi, to get caught up in the laughter of our friends and family who support us through the hard times, but as the laughter grows, so do the silences in the long car rides when we’re in awe of what is still surrounding us. I saw more empty foundations, broken brick walls, stilts with nothing to support and houses with caved in roofs which, many times are located in the middle of a neighborhood with all other houses intact, in one five mile stretch than I have in all of New York State. It’s what I’d imagined but still crazy to see.
Needless to say, it’s great to finally be in Mississippi – after waiting about a year to get here, after seeing hundreds of pictures and hours of phone calls away from people I loved, it’s great to share this with them and grow with them in the Spirit. With the work starting on Monday, I am super excited to finally get to work and do what I’ve dreamed of for so long. It’s great to have my hands in the mission field and depend on the Lord for strength, and courage to do whatever He asks of me this week.
Madaline Claydon.

Who's got vans? Saturday, October 4, 2008
Who's got vans?

The last 36 hours have been a blur. Aside from the normal pre-trip jitters and desire to just be on the way, my brother was involved in a serious car accident that put him in the hospital, unconscious and intubated. At 1:00 AM on Saturday, I was sitting in the ER at Albany Med. Thinking that I would probably end up canceling on the trip.

I talked with Madaline and my parents, and they convinced me that there was nothing I could do for my brother by staying there. Begrudgingly, I went home to get a little sleep and try to prepare for my flight.

We arrived at the airport at 10:00 AM and sailed through security and off to the gate.  Finally it felt like the trip that I had been waiting for since April was under way, and there I sat with mixed emotions, not entirely sure if I should be on the plane.  It was too late, the plane was in the air, and there was no turning back. I asked God for strength and comfort, and didn’t look back.

Around 1:15 PM we hit the ground in Washington DC. I had a voicemail, My brother was awake and talking. I immediately started to feel better about my decision to leave.  We walked off the plane, and almost instantly on to the next plane.

The second leg of out trip was longer, but still a smooth flight. We landed in New Orleans at 3:50 Local time. The travel thus far was great. We caught the shuttle to the rental lot, with reservations in hand, and walked in to find one girl working each counter, and a line that would take probably over an hour to wait to even get to her.  Oh, and there were no minivans.  Patiently, Colleen and Kathleen worked out the details and we got our two vans from somewhere and hit the road.

We are now settled in at camp, no projects will be started until Monday morning, so this is a time to relax, get to know our team, and the other teams around us.  A time to prepare for whatever God has in store for us. Whatever we all left to come here does not matter. We are all here, and we will all be used by God for some purpose greater than we may know.

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Ps 16:8

- Dave Jenkins

Let the Blogging Begin Friday, October 3, 2008
Let the Blogging Begin

Here we are again, about to embark on another Gulf Coast adventure. A team of eight individuals leave tomorrow morning for Pearlington, MS…sorta! The other day, we received word that in spite of the best efforts of the folks from the PDA, the camp in Pearlington is not quite ready for us. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike damaged the camp and left it without utilities. Our team will be staying at the camp known as Orange Grove in Gulfport, MS and commuting 40 minutes or so to Pearlington each day. The common reaction from the team was a disappointed “Ugh!” but that was quickly followed by comments like, “we are there to do whatever they need us to do, “ or “we’ve never seen that part of Mississippi,” and the ever popular, “hey, it is what it is.” As a leader, I thank God for my flexible teammates.

I hope that you will follow our stories here on this blog all week; seeing the Pearlington experience from many different perspectives. It is amazing to witness God at work in this weary part of our world. It is humbling to know that simply by putting on that famous blue PDA t-shirt and walking down a Pearlington street we send a message of faithfulness. We are back and we are continuing the work we have been called to do. I am deeply grateful to God for calling me to this work. I am thankful for the people who walk down those streets with me. These are the folks who come back home and get that amazing, wistful look when they speak of their week in Mississippi. These are the folks who quietly and perhaps without knowing, light the fuse in a new group of volunteers. Each trip, we gather new people for this mission. Even on this small team of eight, two make their first trip as Hurricane Katrina Recovery Volunteers. I look forward to their unique contributions and to reading their reflections here on the blog.

The Gulf Coast Recovery Mission Fall 2008 Team
Mark Besse, Joseph Carbonaro, Glenn Claydon, Kathleen Claydon, Madaline Claydon, Ruth Hunter, David Jenkins and Colleen Lais

Please keep us in your prayers this week. I most often concentrate on the faithful aspects of the work we do, but make no mistake; this work is hard and tiring. We get aggravated, imagining the frustration our homeowners have lived with everyday for three years. We marvel at their tenacity. We lift and haul and hammer and build. We pray together every day for the strength to do meaningful work on behalf of our homeowners and to do so safely. We ask you to join us in this prayer and we ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

- Colleen Lais