June 28, 2007
The people of a town is what gives the town its character, it flavor and presence. This trip gave me much time with the people of Pearlington – a broader and richer feel for this once forgotten town that is now buzzing with activity.
Miss Jonnie has been cooking for the volunteers for as long as I have been coming to Pearlington. This week she had a shadow by the name of Giovanna following her around all week! Miss Jonnie gave Giovanna ice cream to share with all of us working in the store room of the recovery center. Rob got to work on a project at her house. She is gracious, friendly and one of the best cooks in the area. Miss Jonnie is very protective of Giovanna. She told me on several occasions to be sure and spray Giovanna to keep the mosquitoes from biting her. She was very concerned about al the bites she had already gotten!
Mr. Calvin Curry, one of the older members of the community. I had the privilege of taking a food basket and making a home delivery. I have helped get these boxes of food prepared on other trips, but this was the first time I was able to actually deliver one. Mr. Calvin loves to talk and loves children. Giovanna was with me when we went. We got the tour of his new home. It is lovely and Mr. Curry has done a great job picking the colors and decorating it. Mr. Calvin had been asking about Giovanna all week – he had seen her on previous trips and wondered if he would get to see her on this trip. God does work out all things. We had a sweet time with this couple.
The kids that attended the Backyard Bible Club have forever been etched into my heart. They are sharp, learn quickly and are just a whole lot of fun. They have a great rapport with each other and want to bring more kids next year to the Bible Club. They responded well to the games, the teaching and the crafts. They were a wonderful group to work with. They give hugs freely, which for me was an added bonus.
Miss Ada and Mr. Sunnie both work at the recovery center. Miss Ada helps Miss Jonnie cook and Mr. Sunnie helps with odd jobs around the center. They sent their eight children to the Backyard Bible Club. Both are very sweet. I became “mom” to Mr. Sunnie, making sure he was drinking enough water and staying out of the sun as much as possible. He laughed when he introduced me to his wife and said, “This is my mama, at least for this week.” She was thankful that he was listening to someone. “He don’t listen to me anymore,” she said. I could tell that they were working with their kids at night to insure that they had their memory verses down for the next day.
There was a continued deepening of the relationship with Bob Putnam who is the volunteer coordinator. Rob, the construction lead for our team and Bob connected well and Rob became the right hand man for Bob this week. He sent Rob to several job sites to train and check on the work being done. At the end of the week as we were preparing to leave, Rob said he would be back sometime. Bob just smiled from ear to ear. He can’t wait to have him back down. They worked well together.
I also got to interact and work with some of the local pastors – Pastor Langham and Pastor McGill, in Particular. Both of these Pastors sat in on some of the teaching time. Pastor McGill said that he was very grateful that someone was willing to take the time to teach the kids. He expressed concern that over the 21 months since Katrina, there has not been much energy left over for the kids after shepherding their flocks. Their energies have been in other areas. I sensed a weariness in these pastors – giving of themselves to shepherd their flocks, but not much encouragement and refreshment for them. Pray for these pastors – pray that they will have some encouragement along the way.
I finally got to meet the Buzzy – for those of you who have been to the blog and read about how God directed BBC to Pearlington, you have read about Buzzy and Grady. Buzzy and his wife, Mrs. Buzzy (also known as Marguerite) are delightful. Rob and I enjoyed the time that we had with them on Thursday night. Buzzy’s house is almost finished. It is a modular house up on stilts – about 13-14 feet up. Buzzy didn’t want to worry about water in the house again. Buzzy is actually a very well read man – he would be a great history teacher for the kids. Buzzy saw my van – it would be hard to miss! He wanted to know what kind of engine I had in it – how should I know. All that matters to me is that it runs when I put the key in the engine! He wanted to look at the engine and asked me to pop the hood. Well in the 3 years that I have had the van, I have never popped the hood and did not have a clue how to do such a thing. Buzzy just laughed at me and eventually we got the hood open. He said I had a good engine and should get good gas mileage – which I do. Rob went back on Friday and has more to Buzzy stories. I have not heard them yet – so this will have to have an addendum!
June 23, 2007
Back Yard Bible Club or Vacation Bible School as they call it in the south began on Monday. Several different start times had been communicated by various individuals so we weren’t sure what time the kids would show up. We had also been told that there could be anywhere from 1 to “a lot of kids” showing up. There were15 that showed up on that first day – 5 of which were high school age. My orginal plan was to have the High school aged kids help, but there had come to be taught. I wasn’t prepared for this so as I went through the first part of the morning, my mind was trying to think through how to put the small groups together and with which person. In the end, I ended up taking the high school kids for small group time – this proved to be a wise decision as the week unfolded.
In Minnesota, people do these in their back yards – hence the name Back yard Bible Club. However in Pearlington, it is too hot for one, the trees have not yet recovered and most back yards are housing building materials. We met at New Hope Baptist church, which has a larger yard area, part of which houses a cemetery. Due to the high temperatures and humidity levels, we met inside the church. The church was a great facility to use for this activity as we could spread out for small group time and have tables to use for the crafts. The yard area was great for things like ultimate Frisbee and water balloon tossJ.
The curriculum used this year was “Things Hidden” and we looked at five different parables that Jesus used to teach about the spiritual things of God and Heaven. It is well written and I could easily adapt it to use with the High school students
The first parable that we looked at was the pearl of great price which focused on the fact that the Kingdom of God is worth all. The purpose of this parable was to lay the foundation for the rest of the lessons. There were to see that even though things might be hidden from our sight, they still exist and that God sometimes hides things from us because He has not yet given us the eyes to see the truth.
Next we looked at the parable of the soils and what kind of heart is represented by each of the soils. This lesson taught the kids that how the word of God is received is dependent on the condition of the heart. Since these kids have not been exposed much to farming, I spent a fair amount of time explaining about sowing and how it was done in Bible times. They had many questions about the soils and how one can change their heart so that it will receive the seed and produce good fruit.
The day that was probably enjoyed the most was the day that we studied the prodigal son and the fact that God welcomes imperfect people into heaven with rejoicing and celebration. We talked through a lot of issues relating to inheritance, wise living, being proud, and what God does to humble us. We talked about how God does what is for our good and His glory and that our happiness is not his primary goal for our lives. This was a harder concept for these High school kids, but they seemed to understand that what makes them happy here are the things that are more fleeting in nature and that they need to remember that there is an eternity to have joyful hearts. I did have to explain the difference between happiness and joy. Once they understood that difference, they made insightful statements.
We also had a birthday celebration for our snack time on this day. Courtney and Garrett share a birthday and we found out that Sunnie, the oldest boy attending the back yard bible club shares that same day as well. God orchestrated celebrations. There were two others that had birthdays in June as well. However I told them that the Birthday cake was for everyone who either had or will have a birthday this year. It was beautiful to hear them sing Happy Birthday to the group. This was enjoyed by everyone.
Then we studied the parable of the wheat and the tares and we talked about how believers and non-believers live together while on earth and sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. We talked through the fact that there will be a time of separating the righteous from the unrighteous and where each will go. This was the day for them to think hard, especially since I was asking harder questions. They had a much harder time articulating the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous. According to them, the righteous do good things. We had a great discussion of what it means to do the right things for the wrong reasons or with a wrong heart and doing the right things for the right reasons or with a right heart. They were challenged to look at the things they do from a different perspective.
The last parable that we looked at was the lost sheep. Like the shepherd in the parable who goes looking for his one lost sheep, God goes after those that are his. I reminded them that all of us have turned away from God and that without His help we cannot find our way back to Him. During our small group time, I asked the kids if they thought God was seeking after them. It was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop on the carpet. This is unusual since there was almost always a constant chatter in this group. They thought about this question for a long time. Finally one of the girls asked, “How would you answer the question Miss Corrie?” I said that I thought God was seeking each of those that came to the BYBC and that He was diligent to seek those that are his. The follow-up question to me was, “How do you know if you are his?” To this question I was able to share the gospel. Pray that each of the 5 high school kids that heard the gospel will understand and see the glory of God and His redemption shining through.
It was not long into my first small group time with these High School kids that they asked if I was a teacher. When I said yes, the oldest boy Sunnie responded with, “Figures.” For the rest of the week, there were giving me a hard time about asking “those hard questions.” I just kept asking them and they kept answering them. We had some good discussions about whether one should ever put the brain in neutral. Of course they said yes it was ok since it was summer. I had a different opinion and they listened. I think it has some impact because they started asking harder questions as we progressed through the week.
At the end of our time together I asked the kids to give me some feedback. One of the questions I asked regarded what they considered a highlight of our week together. All the High school kids said, almost in unison was, ‘Memorizing the Scripture and answering the hard questions.” God was indeed at work in the hearts of these young men and women. Pray that satan will not be able to snatch away the word that was sown and that others will come along and water the seeds that were planted.
The kids know that I am coming back in November, Lord willing. They also know that I will ask them two questions – “Where is your heart?” and “Do you remember the verses we memorized?”
During the course of the week, I got to meet all of the Pastors. Some sat in and listened during the teaching time. There were also some parents that listened in as well. This is good, they need to know what their children were being taught. New Hope’s church covenant is very similar to BBC’s church covenant. It was good to be in a church that has similar theology. The kids want us to come back next year and they want to bring more kids to the BYBC. Shirley, one of the local ladies from the church looked at the leader’s guide and said, “This is good, real good. Can you come back again?” Pastor Langham was not at the church the last two days, so I will need to follow-up with him regarding our return. However, it seems like God is laying the foundation for our return.
One of my prayer warriors made the statement that went something like this – God has given you a base to reach out into the community. Now you know why satan was working so hard against you before you came down here.
God was indeed good during this time. Garrett and Sunnie, both of whom will be sophomores in the fall spent a good deal of time together outside of the BYBC. This was a good thing. I got to see several of the kids during the week at other places than BYBC.
Only God could have orchestrated this week. Now pray that He will continue what He has started.
June 19, 2007
By Rob Meysembourg
I’ve worked on a number of volunteer construction projects. Each one is unique, but they all have some things in common. Some of those things in common are: they are almost always run by people who have a huge heart for those who are receiving the homes built by the volunteers: no matter how well the inventory of tools and building supplies is maintained, you will usually need something that isn’t readily available. And probably the most universal commonality is that Monday morning will be chaotic…it always is. The reason for the chaos is that the new teams arrive Sunday night and converge at the main office on Monday morning at the same time – wanting to know what they will be doing and where. The only variable on this is how far into the day-or week- the chaos will extend. I feel that the further the chaos extends, the richer the experience of the build will be.
Pearlington was a very rich experience.
Monday morning started out seemingly light on chaos. Bob Putnam, the volunteer and construction coordinator, sent me to Ms. Johnnies’ house to show a crew of America Corp and Conservation Corp volunteers how to layout and build a set of stairs leading up to the front porch. The front porch was already built, the back porch was being built, and both would need stairs. All the new houses in Pearlington are at least 5’ off the ground, thus the need for stairs and porches.
I got set up and was making good progress when Rick, a staff person from PRC, stopped by. He asked me to come with him to another house to help that group get started on a porch, because their group had no one with enough experience to get them started. When we got there we were surprised to learn they did have someone to lead them: a contractor who is also an architect! I was free to go back to my first group at Ms. Johnnies’, where I had them fully trained in the fine craft of stair construction by noon.
After lunch Bob sent me to Ms. Thelma’s house to build stairs for her porch. It rained for about 10 minutes as I drove to her house and scoped it out. Although it was raining I was able to see that Ms. Thelma had no porch to build stairs to. I thought this may be of some interest to Bob, so I drove back to share my discovery with him. When I got to his office he was talking to a guy named Ryan. Ryan was leading a literal bus full of high school kids he was trying to find work for. Bob seemed just a tiny bit stressed. I waited. Finally Bob looked at me, probably hoping for some good news, so I smiled as I gave him my report. Bob actually seemed pleased to hear my news. He told me to lead Ryan and his Bus People to Ms. Thelma’s and have them build the porch! No problem, I said: do you have a plan? “Yes,” Bob said, pointing at his temple, “it’s right here!” I asked if I could get a copy of it, and he quickly sketched a few lines as he described his vision to me, handed me the sketch and off we went.
I arrived again at Ms. Thelma’s with the Bus People, who eagerly bounded off the bus ready to work! Now that it had stopped raining and I had a chance to walk the site, I made another discovery-no lumber on site to build with.
Back to the office with Ryan to share the news with Bob. When we walked in, Bob had news for me: seems the front porch at Ms. Johnnies’ fell off the house. (I guess Bob wasn’t content to only receive surprising news, he needed to spring it, too.) After learning no one was hurt, and a brief discussion about shared liability, I casually mentioned the apparent lack of lumber for Ms. Thelma’s porch. Bob didn’t seem too surprised. Seems 3 porch packages were delivered Friday, but none of them made it to the houses that they were expected at. Their whereabouts were currently unknown. No problem to Bob, though-he really is unflappable, which makes him perfect for this job. We were instructed to go back and dig footing holes for the porch posts. Ryan asked if there was any roofing work available, as he did know how to do that. Yes, there was a house that was half shingled that we could finish if we wanted to. As Bob gave Ryan a map and directions, I looked for shovels and post hole diggers. None available. Another volunteer who happened to hear me wailing offered to let us use his personal shovels and post hole digger.
Ryan and I headed back to Ms. Thelma’s, but decided to check out the possible roof job on the way. It was half roofed, but we didn’t see any shingle bundles or ladders…
Back at Ms. Thelma’s, the Bus People were getting antsy. They gathered around as I started measuring and stretching string to layout the footing holes for the 6’wide by 16’x26’ corner porch. I noticed that it took them less time to dig a footing hole than it took me to wipe off my glasses, which kept steaming up in the hot, humid weather.
After we got a number of holes dug, the Bus People called it a day. I headed over to Ms. Johnnies’ to investigate the porch collapse. Rick had gotten there just before me, and he had discovered the problem. Another group had built the porch the previous week, and had bolted it to the house at a point that was only ½” OSB, which is like plywood but not as strong. It should have been bolted through at least 2 thicknesses of 2” lumber. A problem to be resolved Tuesday morning.
By now it was about 4:00, the end of the workday. Rick took me down the block to show me his house. As much as I like construction and problem solving, the true highlight of the trip was the time the residents of Pearlington, like Rick, who shared their stories and a part of their lives with me. Each of them that I had a chance to talk with said how blessed they felt. They had all lost most everything that they owned, and have been living in cramped FEMA trailers for about a year and a half. Yet I never heard any complaints about anything. I guess in a sense they have walked in the valley of the shadow of death – the death of their material possessions. And they came out unencumbered by most of the things that take our focus away from where it should be: on our Savior, Jesus. And their lives do seem to be more sharply focused on Him as a result. Quite often during the week I heard residents exclaim “God is good!”
So, if you’re thinking of going to Pearlington to help, I have a couple of suggestions. First, pray about it. It may not be a trip for everyone, but I’m pretty sure anyone who goes will have an experience that will change them. Also, be prepared for anything. Go with the flow. Things can and will change often, and if you’re task and production oriented like me, it can seem frustrating. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged. Take advantage of any down time to get to know someone you’re working with. Most people are happy to share their story with you. And any work you get done during your stay is more than would have been done if you weren’t there. The folks there are thrilled that you cared enough about them to come at all, so being a beacon of light is more than enough.
June 18, 2007
Summer has arrived in Pearlington. It is 21 months post Katrina. This has become a busy place. There are 40 homes currently in progress – all at different stages. This week there are 270 people staying at the Pearlington Hilton, a.k.a. The Pearlington Recovery Center. The most noticeable change is in the temperatures which are intense. The air seems to be thick enough to cut with a knife. It is an oppressive heat that seems to lie on your chest and make it difficult to breathe. No winds to help cool one down. The trees are beginning to recover and leaf out – at least those that were not killed by all the salt water! There are many shades of green and the hibiscus is in bloom. It is starting to look alive again. There are still many trees that need to be cut down and the conservation corp. is in town – their specialty is removing dead trees. With the changing of the season, also came some major changes at the PRC. All of the buildings used to house the volunteers now have bunk beds with real mattresses. The mattresses are about 1 inch thick – but much nicer than the thin pads that were here the last time I was here. Also it is so nice to have a “real” bed in lieu of the fold up cots that generally collapsed at night! This has doubled the amount of volunteers that they can accommodate now. There is also a new mess tent – it is still an army tent, but in a different location and has a trailer attached that houses the kitchen and supplies. This is a huge improvement over one tent that housed both the kitchen and served as the dining hall as well. Many more people can be served at the same time now. Miss Jonnie is now cooking at the PRC. Imagine my surprise when I saw her walking towards the office about lunch time. After giving her a big hug, I asked here who was cooking at the Church? I was confused since she has always been cooking at the First Missionary Baptist Church. Her answer – “I am now cooking here at the center since they didn’t have anyone to cook here. Miss Dotty is cooking at the church.” She cooks lunch and dinner at the PRC. She is a wonderful cook and her meals fill you up! So now you have a choice as to where to eat lunch – both places serve wonderful southern food. We ate at both! With the intense temperatures and humidity, all the teams are now taking a break from 11 Am until 2 PM. Bob said that there had been too many folks struggling with the heat and that the decision was made to slow the pace down. Work still gets down and it is amazing how much does get done, even with a 3 hour break. Water is essential during this time. Bottled water is everywhere and one needs to drink plenty of it to stay hydrated.
Bob, the Volunteer coordinator, has put together a great program for the youth groups that come through. He tries put a skilled tradesmen with the groups to give them training in the skills required for building the houses. There were teams framing, building stairs, putting up decks, etc. Each of these teams had someone with the skills necessary to train them and to answer questions. Generally the leaders of the group are trained and they in turn train the kids that are with them. Once they have the training, it is impressive to see what they can accomplish during the week that they are there.
Now the startling reality of the numbers. In Hancock County, which is the county that Pearlington is in, there are requests to help with 750 homes. If you take the entire gulf coast from Louisiana to the border of Mississippi-Alabama, there are requests for 78,000 homes. These requests have come from those who were either under insured or had no insurance at the time Hurricane Katrina hit and therefore have little financial help available to them to help with the rebuilding. Imagine living in a small FEMA trailer for 21 months with no potable water – that means that bottled water is used for everything, including brushing your teeth! At least with the FEMA trailer you get a toilet that flushes in lieu of a port-a-potty! Life has been challenging for the folks in this area. But the overall attitude is one of thankfulness and patience. Thankfulness that they came through the storm with their lives and for all the strangers that have come to help. Patience in waiting and not demanding that things be done yesterday. What a joy to see the servant hearts here.