Gulf Trip 2007
Speak the truth in love Monday, November 5, 2007
Speak the truth in love

I would like to welcome you to my home. This place, with its blue and white pods, nine porta-potties, dining tent, kitchen, shower trailer and fire circle is where my heart most definitely resides these days. I have to come back here where I live because of those pesky bills and that job that I have committed to, but if I could entertain an alternative it would surely include Pearlington. The people here should be battered and bruised, but they are hopeful and grateful. God is everywhere. He is mentioned in nearly every conversation in a matter of fact way that makes you believe He was a part of life here long before the storm.

I took a “walk with Jesus” on this most recent trip. I was the team leader and with all of my careful preparation, I was still surprised at how difficult the responsibility could be. One afternoon, with the rain pouring relentlessly from the sky, I threw on a poncho and headed out for a walk. I needed a moment to myself to put my feelings in perspective and decide what my best choice of action might be. As I walked in the drenching downpour, I asked God for clarity. I have always felt Him walking with me, but never so much as in Pearlington. I could hear His voice clearly and knew what He wanted me to do.

Several times that week, I heard the phrase, “speak the truth in love.” This is what God wanted from me. I had some difficult things to say, but if I remembered to “speak the truth in love,” everything would be o.k. And it was…it was not easy, but it was o.k. I grew a little. I was humbled. I learned how to be strong and I learned that is all right to soften up once in a while. I now share love and respect with several dear friends from both Brunswick and Pearlington. My relationship with God is deeper and I have new understanding of what it means to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior.

I will return to Pearlington. Speaking the truth in love, we should be further along by now. We should be sending more people more often. We should be shouting from the rooftops that this mission is far from being complete. There is one more reason that I must return - I have a date. Miss Henrietta is expecting me. We are going to sit on her porch and drink sweet tea and rumor has it, she is going to make some of her world-famous cornbread in her new kitchen. I will not miss out on that. She and I will talk about how generous God is and how all things in Pearlington would not have happened without Jesus. Henrietta definitely knows how to speak the truth in love. Yes, she does child. Amen.

- Colleen Lais

Finding your purpose Saturday, November 3, 2007
Finding your purpose

Reflecting on my week in Pearlington, I know that the team that went was put together by our Lord Jesus Christ. Our unique giftedness when blended together formed a great team. This place has left an indelible mark on my life. The faith of the people of Pearlington, from Reverend Rawls of the First Missionary Baptist feeding all the volunteers to all the people there, is an example of the following verse, "trust in the Lord with all thine heart" Proverbs 3:5. What we brought to Pearlington was an unbridled passion to be the hands and feet of our Lord but what I found was they had a lot to teach us about purpose in life. One of the memories that brought this home was a man I met on Saturday before we left. AJ describes himself as not much of a church-going man but he believes in God and prays. AJ says he saw God in the storm. His house wasn’t in the flood zone so he decided to stay in his home with his family. AJ received a call from his neighbor, an 86 year old man Mr. Miller. He had found his purpose, which was to save his neighbor. The fire company was suppose to evacuate him but had to evacuate themselves, so he got Mr. Miller to safety. We all have a purpose in life if we just act on it.

- David Paige

“Snap Shots” from Pearlington Friday, November 2, 2007
“Snap Shots” from Pearlington

It’s been several days now since I left Pearlington, Mississippi. The experience of being there is something I continue to think about and process in my mind. I am amazed at the devastation. I am amazed at the spirit of the people there. I am very aware of how fortunate we are to have been spared such a natural disaster in this area. None of the ice or snowstorms that I’ve lived through come close to what these people lived through.

And so as I sift through my thoughts, I am providing a few written “snap shots” of my time there.

I’ll start with FEMA trailers which are the white trailers that dot the landscape. They are parked among the trees, behind damaged and abandoned houses, beside the concrete slabs that once held a house, alongside the coastal waterways that did so much damage. They are meant for camping, not for housing a family of six, including the pets, for over two years. They are not handicapped accessible. The appliances are small as is the bathroom. They are cramped and filled with fumes that have made people sick. But they are shelter to hundreds as people await help to rebuild their homes and lives.

The landscape – The area is rural. Narrow winding roads, many with gravel and sand take us from the Pearl River (used for catching fish and crabs) deep into wooded areas where the tree branches are weighed down by feathery Spanish moss. Several of the trees still hold the remains of clothing that swirled out of people’s homes as the winds blew through and homes were demolished.

The bank, which was destroyed, is now an ATM machine that is parked at the intersection (the corner) of two streets. The post office that was also destroyed is now a group of about 100 lock boxes standing in a concrete slab opposite the “bank” (ATM). Neither has a building around them. I saw only one gas station near town and that was at the PearlMart. (a convenience store)

Concrete slabs everywhere– One of the most haunting sites for me was to see only a concrete slab with the front steps of what was once a house. The walls were gone. The roof was gone. No windows. No structure. All that was left was the concrete slab and the front steps! At one of these sites with steps and a slab, I found a pile of children’s toys laying on the steps forming something like a shrine. Clearly these were the only things found in the remains of the home and it was as if they were waiting for the owners to come back and reclaim them as the walls were rebuilt and a home with a family reestablished. But in many, many cases that is not going to happen.

The last of my snap shots for now is the First Baptist Missionary Church – our work team attended church there. Three hours of worship on a Sunday morning that seemed like a few minutes. There was adult Sunday school, preaching, singing, swaying, clapping, prayers and a whole lot of hospitality. Jesus was praised loudly and often. God was called upon and thanked. The Spirit is alive and working in the lives of the people there. The steadfast hope in Jesus Christ sustains this community of faith as it provides and serves lunches for the community and the work teams EVERYDAY and has done so for two years since Katrina hit.

It was a trip I wouldn’t have missed.

- Blessings, grace, and peace be with you and all the people of Pearlington,

Pastor Sharon Hanks

IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN? Thursday, November 1, 2007

The people of Pearlington have definitely touched a place in my heart and I do want to go back and do whatever I can again. God has started a good work and we, as his hands and feet, need to finish what we can.

I would like to pass this thought on to anyone who is feeling a tug at their heart to serve God in a different way or a different place. God calls us to serve His people no matter where we are and we must never loose sight that whatever we do and wherever we serve is important. I do believe that God asks us to step out of our comfort zone and reach out to others in a way that makes us stretch and grow. To become too comfortable and complacent in His service stunts our growth and others. Most of us that went to Pearlington were strangers to each other when we left that Saturday morning. But the bond that we felt as we worked together, cried with each other and praised and served Him in a different way will never be forgotten. We were all from different backgrounds, social status and ages, but we shared the common mission to show God's love in all we did in Pearlington. We were taught restraint and how to slow down and wait, which was difficult for many of us. We also had to learn to function as a team and not go our own way. We had many tests of our own, but they only helped us in serving others and working as a team. We may have left as strangers, but we returned home with an endearing love and respect for each other. What God did in our team allowed us to serve our brothers and sisters in Pearlington in a mighty way.

Life can be a long postponement of doing what we want to do. I challenge each and everyone who is feeling that tug to go and serve to not let procrastination steal your opportunity. Don't let procrastination be the thief of your time. IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?

- Carol Vanno

This is amazing Tuesday, October 30, 2007
This is amazing

Robert's Story.

In reflecting upon my week in Pearlington, one of the highlights for me was talking with homeowners during our lunch break at the First Missionary Baptist Church. Last Tuesday, I met Robert. We sat next to each other and introduced ourselves. Robert was quiet while he ate his lunch and all he revealed to me was that he had lost everything in the storm. After the next bite of food he stated that he moved into his new home just three weeks ago. The silence was awkward. No one else was joining us at the table. I felt God nudging me to dig deeper.

My passion for working in the mental health field often has me wondering how the people of Pearlington are dealing with the emotional aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Emotional scars are difficult to heal without talking about them. I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked permission from Robert to ask him some questions, to dig a little deeper. Once the questions started, I sensed that Robert wanted to share his a way to continue healing. Robert is still plagued with nightmares of the storm. He has them often. I asked him if Monday's rain and the rising water cause him to feel anxious. It's not the rain that causes his anxiety, it's the hurricane warnings. Robert said that he had lived through many hurricanes before and he added they weren't that bad. Then Katrina hit and now he can never be sure another "Katrina" won't destroy again. Robert was quiet for a moment and then he looked me in the eye and told me he lost his neighbor in the storm. He tried desperately to get his neighbor to evacuate his home, but he would not leave. He said he begged his elderly neighbor to leave but he was too afraid. Robert hung his head as he told me he had to leave his neighbor behind. When the water receded and Robert returned to his neighbor's home, he found that he had drowned in the same chair he was sitting in when he last saw him. Tears filled my eyes as I shared with Robert that I now know how to pray for him and the people of Pearlington.

I asked Robert to tell me how he knew that God was with him throughout the storm. Robert smiled widely as he told me this story. When he heard that he would need to evacuate he grabbed a suitcase, placed it on his bed, and filled it with as many clothes as he could. The water began to rise and when he needed to evacuate quickly he forgot the suitcase. When the storm was over and the water receded he returned to his home to see that the water rose to seven feet and every thing in his home was destroyed. He walked into his bedroom and spotted the dry suitcase on top of his bed. Robert assumes that his bed must have floated, therefore keeping the suitcase dry. He opened the suitcase to find some salvaged, dry clothes and he looked up and praised God and thanked Him.he did not lose everything. Robert said that the dry clothes offered him hope, a deep sense that God would take care of Him. He just knew that God would restore Pearlington. Robert waited over two years for his home to be rebuilt. He said the wait was not difficult because he was waiting on the Lord with hope.

I'm glad I met Robert. He was willing to be honest about the pain of his losses and yet he never gave up hope. He communicated a deep knowledge that God is a God of hope; that God is using his people to rebuild Pearlington.

...and that's just one of the stories that touched me last week.

-Susan Paige

blog from home Monday, October 29, 2007
blog from home

The laundry is caught up, the emails have been read and work started again. Many times today my mind slipped back to Mississippi, to Miss Henrietta, Miss Kitty, Miss Ruth, the Reverend and Sister Rawls. I can close my eyes and see the Southern Live Oak that grows in the middle of the road in front of the church. I can see the tail of Jeter wagging as we scratch his belly.

Near the church there was a home with no walls. It was quiet. In the corner was a pile of what was left of the lives of the people who lived there. A rock from Iraq, airmail envelopes, a cheerleading award, things that were left behind. I left behind part of myself in that town. I look forward to the time that I can return there to help finish what was started.

-Kathleen Claydon

Day 8: ...and the sun sets. Saturday, October 27, 2007
Day 8: ...and the sun sets.

Sadly, our week in Pearlington is over. We have come home to families and jobs and lives, but things are not the same for us. We each have new eyes and a new heart.

We have come to know a woman named Henrietta who at 82 is still employed by a Head Start program. Henrietta has not lived in her own home since Katrina. Henrietta never thanked us for working in her home.

She thanked Jesus for sending us.

We met Sister Rawls, the pastor's wife, at the First Missionary Baptist Church. She spoke of our inconvenience. It was inconvenient, she said, for us to leave our lives. It was inconvenient for us to travel great distances to get to Pearlington. It was inconvenient for us to live in pods at camp.

She thanked Jesus for sending us.

This team that was sent to serve the people of Pearlington found that we were also called to serve one another. We comforted one another and protected one another. We set examples both good and bad. We offered a hand and a kind word. We learned about the power of community and friendship. We learned about the grace of God. We realized that our commitment to Pearlington has only just begun.

We thank Jesus for sending us.

Until the sun rises again, God Bless Pearlington.


Day 7: Gratitude is our attitude Friday, October 26, 2007
Day 7: Gratitude is our attitude

Today was the last full work day with our friends in Pearlington. We had another beautiful day of sunshine as we worked inside and outside Miss Henrietta's house. We had a wonderful fried catfish luncheon prepared by the fine ladies of the Missionary Baptist Church and a few of our volunteers. These ladies have been feeding those who come to help their people rebuild their homes and lives for two years. Their attitudes are of gratefulness and thanksgiving for those who come to help, but we are the thankful ones. We have been given the privilege of watching the smiles on their faces and the joy in their hearts when they see their homes coming one step closer to completion.

What joy filled our hearts today when Miss Henrietta walked into her kitchen and saw her cabinets in place and her bedroom and bathroom painted. We stood in awe as we witnessed this true saint of God praising Jesus for sending His people to help.

We are the ones who truly receive more than we are giving. We are witnessing homes being rebuilt and hope restored. These fine people have endured so much and have not lost sight of their Lord and mankind. We are humbled and blessed to have been called to share in this rebuilding and healing.

Our attitudes are ones of deepest gratitude that our lives have been touched by this mission and we will never be the same.

- Carol Vanno

Day 6: Living Community Thursday, October 25, 2007
Day 6: Living Community

New Orleans...The Big Easy...Awesome city. We were only there for five hours but I could tell just from that short trip that this place was alive. Alive with culture. Alive with history and alive with music. We tried to cram in as much as we could, including beignets and Café Du Monde and enjoying conversation and great food at the House of Blues. A couple of us even got to enjoy a little rendition of "Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong right there on the street. So much action, so much life.

The absolute best part of the day was the conversations I shared with each one the team members. The friendships are still very new and fresh but feel comfortable just as if we've been friends for years. I have learned a lot about community while living in Pearlington and furthered my understanding of the way God wants us to live in community.

-Damian Belt-Smith

Day 5: Here for ONE purpose Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Day 5: Here for ONE purpose

These were some of the tasks accomplished by our group today:

  • Tore down a tangled root-ridden wire fence and dug up concrete fence posts.
  • Finished building, roofing and shingling a shed.
  • Cooked lunch at the First Missionary Baptist Church.
  • Cleaned the First Missionary Baptist Church from top to bottom - scrubbed the walls and floor.
  • Reorganized the storage shed and kitchen at the church.
  • Fixed the plumbing at the church.
  • Went to town for supplies.
  • Cooked dinner for the PDA camp.
  • ...and more.

Any one of these tasks would be overwhelming for one person. However but when we work together as a group and with the grace of God, it is amazing what we can accomplish.

Group dynamics is sometimes challenging with 15 people and many different personalities, strengths and weaknesses, but we are all here for ONE purpose. We have all felt a calling to be here. I trust that it is part of God's plan that we will learn from and minister to each other as well, perhaps even more so, than to the people of Mississippi that we are hoping to serve.

Please pray for grace and wisdom for us.

Soli Deo Gloria.

-Sue Gallagher

Day 4: Construction Zone vs. Comfort Zone Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Day 4: Construction Zone vs. Comfort Zone

To say I am passionate about cooking would be an understatement. It is what I do! It is part of who I am. When praying about Pearlington, I asked God to take me from that comfort zone to let me swing a hammer or paint a wall, anything but cooking. The first dinner our team was assigned - I stayed away from the stove. No kitchen for me. I wanted to take down a fence! It was good work, it was hard work, but it didn't feel like my work. Then the breakfast assignment at camp came and it was my turn to cook. I followed that very day by cooking lunch at the Church for all the workers and people in the community. I felt like I had come home, I heard God tell me, "Feed my sheep" - and I did and the work was good, and it finally felt like mine and I am thankful.

-Kathleen Claydon

Day 3: The rains came down... Monday, October 22, 2007
Day 3: The rains came down...

The team was up early today to start our "official" work week. We had been given our assignments last night. We were ready and eager to begin outside construction and then the rain came...All the outside construction planned for today was quickly put on hold. We are learning where we want to be is not where we are supposed to be. So we spent time getting to know each other and some of the other groups as we waited to be reassigned. The First Missionary Baptist Church provides lunch for two volunteer groups and any locals that want to partake. Six of our own team members worked at their kitchen preparing and serving about 125 people. The other nine of us worked on Miss Kitty's home preparing the floors for sub-flooring and hanging the kitchen cabinets. One of the highlights of our workday was writing prayers, blessings and scripture in the unfinished door jams, on unpainted walls and behind the cabinetry.

And on a personal note...I was walking from Miss Kitty's home back to our camp, drenched from the pouring rain and trying desperately to find my way back to camp without sinking into the growing puddles. It had only rained for about four hours and some of the puddles were about one foot deep. As the water seeped into my shoes, I tried to find an escape from all this water and then I remembered... And was immediately humbled as I admitted my momentary discomfort and confessed how little I understood what it must have been like to endure the rising water that seemed like it would never stop.

There is still so much work to be done here. The people of Pearlington are so grateful for the help they are receiving. It is with grateful hearts that our team thanks all of you for allowing us the privilege of representing Brunswick Church by serving the people of Pearlington.

- Susan Paige

Day 2: Amazing Grace Sunday, October 21, 2007
Day 2: Amazing Grace

After a long day of travel, we embraced the new day well-rested. We headed down to the First Missionary Baptist Church of Pearlington, where three joyful hours felt like five minutes. I had goosebumps (or as they say in the South, "Chicken Bumps.") the entire time we were there. The service was truly surreal and yet we felt like we had been coming here for years. We were accepted like family - I was hugged and kissed numerous times. After lunch, we went to the home of a woman named Dallas, who happens to be the camp worksite manager. We tore down a fence and built a new shed. The joy and gratitude on her face was unbelievable. She thanked us many times for our effort to help her. Back at camp, it was our night to cook dinner. It was quite a task to prepare a meal for 65 people, however the girls and Dave did a great job. The meal was a great finish to a great first day.

- Joseph Carbonaro

Day 1: 5 States in one day Saturday, October 20, 2007
Day 1: 5 States in one day

"Patience is a dish best enjoyed with friends." This summarizes the start of our trip to Pearlington. We arrived at Albany airport at 6:30am for our 8:30am flight and found out that due to Friday's weather, it was delayed. We were rescheduled on a 1pm flight through Charlotte, NC. The delay was longer than anticipated and by the time we got to Charlotte, we were once again rebooked, this time via Atlanta, GA to New Orleans. What would have generally frazzled most of us became totally enjoyable time spent with friends. At the end of the day, six hours later than we had planned, we found ourselves in the right place at the right time to help a woman return to her car after she had run out of gas...and so it begins.

-John McFadden

Sent Out Friday, October 19, 2007
Sent Out

The team has been sent by the congregation.
Next stop - Pearlington!

This will be a hectic week as we all prepare our everyday lives for our absence. Some of us are mission trip veterans. Some are on our second trip. The remaining are freshman, new and open to this whole experience. These are the team members I ask you to concentrate your prayers on. This work guarantees one thing for sure - wonder. We will wonder why the work is not further along. We will wonder why the work is being done primarily by volunteers. All is not lost however. We will wonder at the strength and faith we will see in the survivors. We will wonder as we try to give and find that we are receiving. We will wonder at the changes God will set in motion for each of us. Over the next week or so, we will share those changes here.

Colleen Lais