In early September of 2005, Hurricane Katrina tore into the far southeastern corner of Mississippi and southwestern corner of Louisiana with a vengeance. These areas felt the brunt of the winds Katrina brought. Those same winds wrapped around Katrina and caused massive flooding in New Orleans. Those same winds built up a wall of water in the Gulf of Mexico which produced a storm surge 27 feet high which inundated the entire Mississippi coastline and even impacted the coast of Alabama. The winds of Katrina caused damage far from the coast. Truly Katrina was a storm that changed the lives of millions of people for many years.
I could not get down to the destruction area until May of 2006 due to my mom's failing health and passing away in April of that year. I was in no way prepared for the physical destruction and emotional pain caused by that storm. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced by Katrina. Literally running for their lives, they ended up in small towns and rural areas 100-150 miles north of the coast. Shortly after the hurricane struck, armies of volunteers flooded the hardest hit areas to help clean up the debris and help provide food and clothing to people whose homes were destroyed. Thousands of Christians descended on the stricken areas through church groups to provide help in getting rid of mold and in some cases rebuilding homes.
On my first trip to the area, I decided very quickly that my services were not needed in the heavily populated areas of New Orleans and coastal Mississippi. Between FEMA and volunteers, these areas were being well served. God made it known to me that He was calling me to help those who had fallen through the cracks of disaster relief agencies or lived outside of the areas anyone knew about. The place I wrote about previously (North Hancock County Relief Center) was one that served people off the beaten path and had been neglected by most of the big disaster relief agencies.
The wonderful people at North Hancock set it up for me to visit a massive Christian relief center down the road about 10 miles and only a few miles from the coast. This place had dorms built for volunteers to stay in, a huge dining facility, showers and a place for worship. Huge churches with hundreds of volunteers came to this camp for one or two weeks and were sent out daily to help where needed. It was here, at Camp Coastal, that I met with one of the directors named Sandy, who took the time to lay out the scope of what was going on in Mississippi and in New Orleans. I got quite an education that day to say the least.
After listening to my vision and desires, Sandy referred me to a small church she knew about but could not help because it was too far away. This little church in Silver Creek, Mississippi had a relief effort based out of the church helping the displaced people who had literally run out of gas as they fled the storm. They walked to the nearest house and asked for shelter. Some people had opened their homes to as many as 15 strangers who were still living there nine months after the storm. There was no help from any major disaster relief agency available, so one incredible woman named Sylvia took it upon herself to trust God for the means to help the people God had sent to here area.
Sylvia was just a member of the local church. She was not an elder or in charge of anything. She was just a woman who loved God, saw His people hurting and did whatever it took to help them. She epitomized the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:35, 36:
35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
The story of Sylvia is far too long to write about in this blog, but I promise to devote the next blog in this ongoing series to her. Sylvia truly had a huge impact on me and for about three weeks, she was the recipient of most of my efforts to help out. In return, she and her pastor allowed me to, for the first and only time since June of 1986, publically teach and preach God's Word from the pulpit. Standing before a standing room only crowd of beautiful believers in a storm damaged small black church in rural Mississippi, God allowed me to give the sermon that day and in so doing, prove to myself that I could still bless God's people with His glorious Word.
Honestly, if it were not for Sylvia, I don't know if I would have ever ended up on Christian Blog. The experience I enjoyed that hot June morning in 2006 recharged my life and ministry. I found out that deep within my heart I longed to share God's Word and do whatever I could to help God's people. It was Sylvia and her church that prompted me to start Heart 2 Heart which consumed my life for the next year and a half. Certainly Sylvia is worthy of her own blog and the next one in this series will be devoted entirely to her.