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Minding Mississippi

"Minding Mississippi" Continued...

Issue: "Who's laughing now?," April 8, 2006

With Samaritan's Purse renovations nearly complete, Mr. Owens' limitations don't keep him from expressing his gratitude in tangible ways: Once a week he cooks chicken-and-dumplings for the volunteers in his trailer's tiny kitchen, and he says he spends his days praying for needy people and volunteers: "If it hadn't been for the Lord and these people, I wouldn't be here."

A half-mile down the beach, First Presbyterian Church of Biloxi is busy getting people back into homes as well. David Brand, the elder organizing the church's efforts, says the biggest challenge has been "knowing where to start." The California-based Christian Housing Relief Project gave the church a substantial starting place by donating 50 fully renovated mobile homes. First Presbyterian is giving the trailers to families who lost everything, and Mr. Brand estimates "about half will probably live in them the rest of their lives."

Mr. Brand says the relief efforts, which also include repairing homes "from stem to stern," have stretched the church: Sleeping bags and mattresses fill Sunday school rooms, and the church office has become a command center for work orders. But Mr. Brand is enthusiastic about the exhausting work: "This is what the church is supposed to be about."

Twenty-five miles west in Pass Christian, Miss., Bible Fellowship Church is learning how to stretch as well. City officials estimate only 1,000 of its original 7,000 residents have returned, and destruction of local businesses has wiped out 80 percent of the small town's tax base. Rubble, empty lots, and mangled trees stretch for miles.

The small Bible Fellowship Church has become a big hub for relief efforts in the Pass Christian area, serving as a full-time base for three Christian relief groups, including the Florida-based Save America Now. Bill Smith serves as on-site coordinator for the Florida group's effort to help homeschooling families affected by the storm. "You've got to find a niche," Mr. Smith says as he grills hamburgers over a campfire after a long day of work. Mr. Smith says Bible Fellowship-home to the Coast Christian Home Educators Association-has been invaluable in identifying homeschooling families that need help.

Bible Fellowship pastor Don Trest says he's concerned to protect his congregation from burn-out, but that the church will continue to help the community long after volunteers go home: "That's when we'll see real fruit of all this. That's when the real work will begin."

Work week

Forget Bourbon Street and beaches. Thousands of college students this year are spending spring break on the Gulf Coast gutting houses and scrubbing mildew. More than 10,000 students have registered with Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) to work on relief projects in New Orleans and Pass Christian, Miss., on a spring-break mission trip of mammoth proportions. Students from all over the United States began arriving on the Gulf Coast for week-long shifts in February, and will continue through this month. During a peak week in March, more than 4,000 students were working on hundreds of projects at one time.

"We've been astounded by the numbers," CCC spokesman Tony Arnold told WORLD. Students are sleeping on cots and mattresses in circus tents, FEMA tents, and an empty New Orleans warehouse dubbed "Light City." CCC organizes work projects for hundreds of homes-from gutting to rebuilding-and provides meals, clean bathrooms, and security. Students pay just $50 for their stay. The logistics, managed by a small staff and a group of volunteer leaders, have been "incredible," says Mr. Arnold. The projects have run smoothly, and students say they plan to return for more service this summer.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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