The American Bible Society’s response to the need for Bibles for Hurricane Katrina evacuees was swift and coordinated with churches and like-minded organizations throughout the United States Gulf Coast area. Volunteers working on the frontlines have given out nearly one million Bibles, scripture portions and booklets, in English and Spanish, to dislocated individuals and congregations of demolished churches.
“The American Bible Society was in the same region of our country in 1927 when another hurricane flooded and devastated vast areas where people lived,” said Paul Irwin, president. “And now, in 2005, the Bible Society is back with the same mission!”
The Bible Society worked in cooperation with organizations including Convoy of Hope, Operation Compassion and Safe Harbor International. The Bible Society granted 100,000 Bibles to The Salvation Army. Hundreds of members of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas, USA, volunteered to distribute Bibles and offer counsel. A special version of the American Bible Society booklet, God is Our Shelter and Strength, was printed for Katrina victims and distributed.
Tales from the Gulf Coast: American Bible Society Team
Assesses Damage to Church Communities
by Paul Savage
A team of four New York-based American Bible Society staff spent three days in Mississippi and New Orleans, in mid-October, to assess the impact of Hurricane Katrina, to gauge its effect on churches and to help the Bible Society properly allocate its resources in an ongoing recovery plan for the church community. The team visited the Mississippi towns of Waveland, Gautier, Pascagoula, Gulfport, Ocean Springs and Biloxi. They were escorted by Rev. Darryl Worley, who is senior pastor of Christian Life Assembly of God in Picayune, Mississippi, and a member of the disaster response team of Convoy of Hope.
The team witnessed entire neighborhoods that had been smashed to ruins by the force of the wind and water. Some of the scenes were almost surreal Ì¢âÂÛ¢ boats in trees, houses straddled across railroad tracks, acres of trees uprooted or snapped in two. In Biloxi, Mississippi, people stood in lines in the midst of all the wreckage to receive food, clothes, water, showers and shelter. Even after so much time they still seemed profoundly shocked. Except for the sound of the relief vehicles, the town was silent.
Church and Christian ministries were doing the majority of relief work, along with a National Guard presence. Urban Life Ministries, from New York City, was still on site as they had been from day one. Convoy of Hope, a ministry of compassion of the Assemblies of God, manned distribution sites from Lake Charles and New Orleans, Louisiana, to Gautier, Mississippi. Victory and Praise Outreach, part of the Church of the Nazarene denomination, was distributing supplies, food and clothing to the people of Pascagoula, Mississippi. The six churches of the southeast zone of their Mississippi district were either severely damaged or totally destroyed by the storm.
Pastors, ministers and caring Christians came from as far north as Wisconsin and as far south as Hawaii to help cleanup, rebuild and repair homes and churches. The team spoke with pastors of churches that had been damaged or destroyed by the storm who had the burden of their own loss as well as the weight of their congregation’s losses. Their courage and strength was astonishing.
People were so grateful to receive the scriptures the American Bible Society sent in response to the hurricane that several people wept as they thanked the team. Many spoke of how, even in the unbelievable tragedy they suffered, the power and the presence of God Ì¢âÂÛ¢ through the Bibles and scripture portions the Bible Society provided Ì¢âÂÛ¢ kept them going and gave them hope.
Churches and ministries in and around the hurricane zone worked with the Bible Society to compile lists of their neighbor churches that were destroyed by the wind or swept away in the tidal wave of destruction. The devastation in the Gulf is so acute that the task of recovering, repairing and rebuilding these churches and congregations could easily take years.
Tales from the Gulf Coast: American Bible Society Bibles to the Rescue
by David Singer
Looking like a beached whale, the small motor launch had come to a stop against the broken front door of a Nazarene church in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It sits just where it was when the waters receded following Hurricane Katrina.
Christopher L. Coleman, an ex-Marine who served as its temporary skipper during the height of the storm, calls the boat his Noah’s ark. At first he chose to ride out the storm in the sturdy brick home of his neighbor Trina, a fellow worker from the nearby shipyard who lived with her two daughters and mother. But, with the storm surge water rose chest high and furniture began to float around them. They managed to ferry Trina’s kids, mother and pets into another neighbor’s house across the street until it, too, began to flood. And then an empty boat appeared.
“I don’t know how this boat got there, but from the time the house started to flood and we had to get out that boat just appeared out of nowhere,” marveled Coleman. “There’s no way that boat could have gotten in front of our house. I know it was the Lord that did that.”
Amid swirling debris, a howling gale and a rocking boat, both families climbed aboard; thirteen people, two dogs and a cat. With Coleman pulling and the father from the neighbor family pushing, they struggled against the wind to reach the only safety they could see, the two-story worship center of the Nazarene Church, a block and a half away.
“I don’t know now how I had the strength to move the boat,” Coleman said.
A broken window allowed them access to the second floor, which served as their home and shelter for the next two weeks. Coleman commented, “There’s no better place to be than at church during a storm.”
The church gym is still serving as a distribution center, providing essentials, such as scriptures from the American Bible Society, to survivors trying to get their lives back together. Joey Condon, distribution coordinator for the church said, “We send out eighty to one hundred volunteers daily on work teams, helping people to rebuild. We find they all need Bibles.”
“When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you.” Isaiah 43.2a (GNT)
We are mindful that the need for Bibles will continue for months as victims hunger for post-disaster hope and as churches rebuild. Please visit www.americanbible.org/gulfcoast to see the many ways you can help. To download a free copy of the American Bible Society booklet, God is Our Shelter and Strength, please visit http://www.americanbible.org/.