Report from Tom Miller
After a good night's rest, the AiG team was up before 6 AM this morning. After coffee and a bite to eat, we got in the trucks and headed to the main school campus to deliver the backpacks. When we got there, we were pretty much by ourselves. In short order however, the parking lot filled with teachers, volunteers, media (local and state wide newspapers and the local TV station) and equipment to offload the big truck. We first unloaded the hygiene packs and put them into the AiG truck for distribution. We then unloaded the high school backpacks and some men got them stored in the building across the parking lot. After that, the truck was moved closer to the elementary school and those backpacks were unloaded. It was a quick process with so much help! The local teachers who showed up to help formed an old fashioned “bucket brigade” to get these packs (1,450 of them) out of the parking lot, down the hall, and into the storage area. During this process, one of the local teachers asked Jessie (AiG staff member) who we were, and what we did. When Jessie told him, he said something like “so you guys stuffed these with your literature?”. When Jesse told him that we simply inserted a card telling the kids that these packs were supplied through Christian love, he softened and asked more questions. Pray that this young man might come to know our Lord and Savior in a personal way.
To say that those present were surprised by the outpouring of support and love represented by these school supplies is an understatement. To say that they were blown away by the generosity of our supporters would be closer, but still not an accurate representation of what we witnessed. These folks were just overwhelmed that anyone would care enough to do something like this for them and the kids. Several of the teachers were gathering their supplies from the “bulk” items that we brought as we got ready to leave. We circled up with our new friend Rick (the truck driver) and prayed for his safety as he headed out to pick up his return load. He was a great blessing to us, and we thank God for sending him to help with this huge task. I do want to share one special blessing from this morning. It had rained earlier this morning, and was threatening to start once again as we pulled into the school parking lot. During the unloading, I had a call from the office, and the person asked if we were getting rain since the radar showed storms all over this area. I told him that we were dry and that we were almost finished with the unloading. Now here is the amazing part (and I have lots of witnesses!). Less than five minutes after we finished, the skies opened up and a strong storm hit with heavy rain and wind! We thank God once again for His mercy and protection.
This afternoon, we loaded up in the church van and went around the town to offer some of the hygiene packs to those who might need them. We also took along a few toys provided by friends of the ministry. The devastation is difficult to comprehend. Life as we know it ceased to exist for much of the population in this area. Pictures and television cannot convey the enormity of the destruction and the overwhelming sense of loss. I will be forever impacted by what I have seen here, and I trust that I speak for each member of the team when I say thank you to our supporters for lending a hand to these brothers and sisters. We saw houses ripped from their foundations and set back twenty or more feet. Steps that once lead to those famous southern front porches now end in mid air. They lead nowhere and stand only as reminders of what used to be there. We had the opportunity to pray with a few folks that we met along the way this afternoon which was a blessing.
Many lives have been lost here. There is a special marking system that is used for house to house searches for survivors. We saw hundreds of them today and we got used to them. Until we spotted one which indicated that three bodies had been recovered there. We got kind of quiet then. My mind wondered if those souls that were represented by the number “3” spray painted on the house were now with Jesus.
There is so much clean up to do down here that it seems too big to handle. Likewise, there is a lot of work for us to do in our mission field. From all of us down here on the coast, thank you for your prayers and for you financial support that made this trip possible. Please know that your participation is making a difference.
It was another early day for the AiG team. Some of the crew (including Dr. Tommy Mitchell) went with Pastor Barnett to interview locals about the hurricane and it's impact on their lives. Jeremy, Bob and Jesse grabbed hammers and crowbars and got to work helping with the demolition in the area. (These guys really worked today!) Steve Carmack (event coordinator) and I met with Chuck Swan from WLOX TV (an ABC affiliate which is stationed in the Biloxi/Gulfport area). We headed to Biloxi and with his credentials, we were able to get into some of the most damaged areas here on the coast. We stood on the Biloxi side of the Highway 90 bridge that connects to Ocean springs. The destruction was once again hard to describe. Photos don't really tell the whole story, but we took several to help document it for you. We headed west on Highway 90 with our guide (Chuck is a member of Pastor Barnett's congregation) and came across the casinos that were destroyed by the storm. These huge structures floated on barges out in the gulf. They were tossed inland by the storm surge and settled across the highway. As they did, they wiped out homes and businesses in their paths. My mind had a hard time registering what my eyes were seeing. Here were these three and four story buildings that were attached to barges sitting on dry land. You could see the barnacles on the bottoms of the barges, and the bar stools and slot machines standing in the open air where the barge broke in two pieces. (see photo 1)
We then stopped at one of the more ironic sights that I have witnessed so far on this journey. There is a memorial to the victims of hurricane Camille (1969) and it was all but destroyed. The heavy granite benches were toppled and scattered about. The flag pole was bent at a severe angle and the rest of the memorial was basically gone. It was here that we met a Mississippi State Trooper. Officer Austin was from Hattiesburg where my brother in law resides and where Chuck grew up. The trooper pulled up behind us originally to check us out since we were in a controlled area. After a few introductions and handshakes, we visited for quite a while. It was obvious that this young man was glad to have someone to talk to about something other than the hurricane. (see photo 2) For the first few days after the storm, he and many of his fellow officers had to sleep in their cars. Then they moved into tents and finally into a trailer. They work long hours and face dangerous situations daily. We gave him a couple of the hygiene packs that we brought along and some of the toys that we collected in case he came across any children who needed them. He had spoken about his three boys back at home so we also gave him a few things to take to them when he gets to go home. He was very thankful for the conversation, but we all needed to get going so we shook hands and left our new friend. Please pray for all of the military and civilian peace officers as they work long hours in very tough conditions in order to maintain safety for those residents still in the area.
We then headed to the Waveland/Bay St.Louis area. My understanding is that this was basically ground zero for this event. Nothing that we had witnessed up to this point prepared us for what we saw. It has been a month since the storm hit, and it looks (to the untrained eye) like it may have hit yesterday. The streets were piled high with debris, and entire neighborhoods were gone. (see photos 3 and 4) They simply vanished and the ground was scoured clean. It looked as though a tornado went through this area because the trees were snapped off about half way up, and there was a definitive path through the scrub pine forests that surround the communities. People were still cleaning up and while we handed out a hygiene pack to one lady, her husband was mowing the yard. He smiled, waved and apologized for not stopping to visit but he just got the mower started and he was afraid to turn it off since it had been under water for awhile. Pray for the people down here who are desperately seeking some sense of normalcy for their lives. Pray that they find there strength in the unshakable rock of Jesus, and that they don't simply count on rebuilding a home or business as a way to recover.
Tomorrow at 10 AM, Dr. Tommy Mitchell takes the pulpit here at First Baptist Church. Pray that God would use him in a mighty way to speak to those gathered together. We are expecting a large group and as we have said, there will likely be a large unchurched contingent among the crowd. We will update you after the services and as always, thanks for your continued prayers!
Today was the big day here at First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs. This morning at 10:00 AM local time, we made the official presentation of the school backpacks to the school superintendent. Anna Hurt accepted the samples on behalf of the school district and addressed the congregation. She did a great job and shared her heart regarding the experiences of many of the school board employees. After that, Dr. Tommy Mitchell took the pulpit and delivered his talk on death and suffering. There were numerous “Amens” throughout the talk and the Holy Spirit used Tommy to share the truth of God's word with the attendees. We praise God for the decisions that were made at the end of the service. Numerous individuals stopped to speak with the team members and thanked us for supporting the community and for the message that the ministry shares. Later, we presented Pastor Barnett with an AiG Library Pack (one of our comprehensive multi-packs of resources), a couple of AiG tee shirts, and a copy of the Answers Book autographed by Ken.
After the services, we unloaded some of the bulk cleaning supplies here at the church for their use. We then loaded a few more of the hygiene packs into the church van and went around town distributing them. We stopped at a couple of “tent cities” and a nursing home to drop off the packs. At the nursing home, the employees were very thankful to receive the packs. The residents were evacuated prior to the storm, and are due back tomorrow (Monday). The supplies provided by AiG supporters will be used to make their homecoming a little more complete. So there you have it. The items that we brought to Mississippi have spanned generations. From the youngsters who are starting school, to senior citizens who are coming back to their home, the items that we delivered have touched many hearts.
After a good night's rest, we will head back home tomorrow morning. We are looking forward to getting back, but a piece of our hearts will always remain here in Ocean Springs. It somehow seems sad to be leaving with so much still to be done. But God has called us to serve at AiG, and we trust that He will use others to complete His plans for this area. In fact, a group of forty seminary students from Southern Seminary in Louisville KY have arrived this evening and will spend several days working on projects. Please pray for their safety and that God would raise a mighty force of believers to show the residents of the gulf south that our God is a God of love and that His children seek to be obedient to Him as they serve others. Thank you for your prayers throughout this adventure. We have certainly felt them and we appreciate your love and support.
The AiG team headed back to Kentucky around 6:00 am this morning. We drove through blinding rain for a good stretch of the morning, but God saw us through the trip safely. In Shelby Alabama, we stopped for fuel and I noticed the head of a large nail in the left rear tire of the truck. I imagine that we picked it up back in Ocean Springs since there was so much debris on the roads. Thank the Lord that the tire held together through the rain storm and that I “just happened” to notice the nail when we stopped. It was going to take at least an hour to get it fixed, so we put the spare on and headed north once more. In Nashville, we dropped Dr. Mitchell off safe and sound and got back underway. Within an hour, we hit stopped traffic and sat for just under two hours due to an accident earlier in the day. Frankly, we were getting a little discouraged about the delays because we were ready to get back to our homes and families. Each of us also has our usual duties here at AiG to catch up on tomorrow. As we passed through the Louisville area, I received a call from James (one of our event coordinators) stating that his rental truck was broken down about sixty miles up the road. He had been in Springfield with Ken for an event there and had already had a pretty tough weekend! Thankfully, we were able to meet him along the way and transfer our audio/visual gear from his truck to our trailer. We wanted to make sure that we had everything secured in case his truck had to be towed.
Everything worked out fine (praise God!) and the mechanic got James' truck going shortly after we left him. Around 10:30 pm, we arrived at AiG headquarters, unhooked the trailer and transferred our luggage into our personal vehicles. The trip lasted a lot longer than we anticipated, but God delivered us home safely and with memories that may fade but will never completely disappear. New friendships were made, and I think that I can speak for the twelve men who ventured south when I say that a strong bond was formed between us. Serving God together will do that to people. The entire AiG staff and especially the team that went to Ocean Springs thanks our supporters, prayer partners and our volunteers who made this trip possible. Without your support we could not have done this. Above all, we praise God for the opportunity to serve Him and we thank him for the blessings that we received throughout this effort.
Wednesday (9/28): Summary report
Read our summary report of the Katrina outreach to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Given in the Love of Our Creator, Jesus Christ.
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