By Jennifer Harris
Nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the South, Bay St. Louis, Miss., still shows visible signs of the massive destruction, say the members of a First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, mission team.
“The evidence of Hurricane Katrina is still real,” Lucy Sjoblom wrote in a trip journal. “Not just in the construction that is going on. There were mailboxes at the street, three stairs ascending to…nothing, the 100-year-old live oaks leaning heavily to one side, the schools holding classes, but the port-a-potties are lined up against the side walls.”
The team worked with First Baptist Church, Bay St. Louis. “Although they have lost a lot of their membership due to members relocating after the storms, they continue to be a focal point in the community, serving the needs around them” said Martha Jobe, a first-time mission trip participant.
Each day, the team gathered at a construction site to help complete Calvin Thigpen’s home. “Mr. Thigpen just lost his wife two weeks prior to our arrival,” Sjoblom wrote. “The couple lost everything in the hurricane, had lived in a FEMA trailer for the time since.”
The team installed drywall, laid tile floors, completed electrical work and primed the walls. In addition to construction work, the team also served as a support system for Thigpen.
“Each day, Mr. Thigpen came in to the new house anxious to talk, to have others share his grief,” Sjoblem wrote. “He is so appreciative of what has been done for him by teams like ours. We cried with Calvin, prayed with Calvin and, yes, by the end of the week, laughed with Calvin.”
Thigpen’s gracious attitude was a common response, said Jobe.
“Something that impressed me on a daily basis was the warmth and appreciation with which we were greeted everywhere we went,” she said.
During a meal at a local barbecue restaurant, a waiter asked the team if they were volunteers.
When the team responded that they were, “we were rewarded with a huge smile, thumbs up and an enthusiastic ‘awesome!’”
Other restaurant patrons greeted the team with handshakes, words of appreciation and offers to buy their meals.
“No one in Bay St. Louis took our presence for granted,” Jobe said.
“I’m amazed that after more than two years of restoriation and countless visits by volunteers, the residents were so genuine in their attitude and grateful for our efforts.”
While the trip was physically tiring, team members felt their efforts were worthwhile. “It was hard work and some muscles I didn’t even know I had ached a lot, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Jobe said.
“It’s a very practical way to share the message of God’s love.”