In May of 2006 I set out on an adventure that even now, as I look back, I cannot believe God allowed me to do and that I was able to carry out (for a season). Everything I did for many months was totally unscripted and built upon my personal relationship with God as far as Him giving me instructions and guidance on where to go and who to work with. I still stand in awe today that God would give me the opportunity to experience and see what I did and saw.
My first real day on the job , was spent driving around southern Mississippi observing the destruction and occasionally stopping to talk to people about what had happened and what was needed. I was trying to avoid getting sucked into the various government programs for it was my desire to stay independent and thus free to do what God wanted done and not what some government official or agency told me I had to do.
Disaster relief and recovery were different back in 2006. Individual groups, churches and people were encouraged to get involved and help wherever and whenever they could. Now it would basically be impossible to do this and in fact, in many cases, illegal. There are now strict guidelines that must be followed during a disaster. These guidelines were established to help coordinate aid, but they have succeeded in frustrating individuals and small groups from getting involved. Thank God that eight years ago I had the freedom to go where God wanted me and do as He led me to do.
I was getting a bit concerned as that first day wore on without any tangible results. I had to stifle the growing anxiety in my mind that I was not strong enough or in fellowship enough to do what I was trying to do. After pulling over and praying, I felt a strong push to head north, away from the coast, on a highway I had no idea where it was heading. I stopped a few times to talk to people but never felt I was supposed to stay or get involved.
I came to a fork in the road and had to decide which way to go. I prayed and followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to go left. A short time later I came upon a building (seemingly untouched by the hurricane) with people lined up around it. I pulled in and started talking to the people and found it the place was being used as a distribution point for supplies for people living in temporary trailers provided by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and others displaced by the storm. This location was at least 20 miles north of the coastline in an area I didn't think would be full of vagabonds and discouraged people wandering around in a fog.
It must be remembered that at this time there were very few stores open anywhere within 40 miles of the coast. There were very few gas stations, convenience stores and fast food places open. For the most part, people were being taken care of by various government agencies, charities or facilities such as the one I had just discovered. I went inside and talked to the woman who was in charge and asked her what the single greatest need was. Without hesitation she said toilet paper . I had to leave and return to New Orleans where the next morning I found a huge store that was open where I purchased as many multi-roll packages of toilet paper as would fit in my mini-van.
I then headed back to Mississippi to the center I had found the day before. As volunteers unloaded my van and started bringing in the toilet paper, I could hear an audible gasp from the people. This gasp was one of joy not horror. I will forever remember an older lady who was hugging one of those packages of toilet paper with tears running down her face and the world's biggest smile. When she found out I was the one who had brought the paper, she cried and just kept saying thank you for listening to God as she hugged both me and the toilet paper.
That incident, along with seeing the change in people's attitudes as the packages of toilet paper would brought inside touched me in such a way that I knew why God had called me to go down there and what He wanted me to do. After spending time talking to various people and hearing their stories, I left but I knew I would return with everything I could get my hands on to help these beautiful, but devastated children of God. Over the next few months I made countless trips to that center delivering literally tons of food, dry goods and even appliances.
As I lay in the bed in the motel in New Orleans that night, I felt a warmth and comfort I had never felt before. I knew that I actually (for once) done exactly what God wanted me to do. I was filled with thankfulness for what I had seen and been a part of. I was filled with conviction that for however long God needed me, I would devote my life to providing help for His suffering children whose lives were devastated by life's storms.