August 29, 2005 will be a day long remembered. This past week, politicians, editorialists, and observers have weighed in on the failures of government, the changes that have occurred along the gulf coast, and reflections of life post-Katrina. Add my name to the list.
There was something about Katrina that had me watching her early in her life. There was a beauty and a potential for destruction (later realized) in her arrival into the Gulf of Mexico. A friend of mine, who works for NOAA, told me that the people there were very concerned in the days just before landfall. They were correctly predicting a devastation beyond imagining. My memories of those early days and the news reports are colored by the extensive news coverage of New Orleans. I was focused, however, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Within a few days of Katrina’s departure from the Gulf Coast, the church began its response. One of the earliest calls coming out of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA was for pastors who would be able to come into the area and provide “respite care” for the pastors of the area, or “assisting minister for pastoral care”. This was exciting news for me. (A few months after September 11, 2001, I had communication with the Bishop of the Metro New York Synod suggesting a similar type of care following that disaster. I’m sure mine was not the only suggestion, and eventually what got worked out was a Sunday in the spring of 2002 where many of us came into the Metro New York Synod congregations and brought greetings and preached in congregations impacted by 9/11. It was a powerful weekend. This “respite care” or volunteer clergy program seems to have emerged from this experience and others.) I added my name to the list very early.
Meanwhile, our congregation also looked at how we might respond. We’ve had people making trips to the Gulf Coast in December 2005, Late spring/early summer 2006, August 2006, and May 2007 (or thereabout). Our people have worked gutting houses and rebuilding. Part of our August 2006 trip was to bring thanks to a congregation in Mississippi that had worked hard at being an on-site resource for thousands of volunteers from around the world, and to recognize the first anniversary of Katrina. Those trips have been very important to those who were able to go and work, as well as those who have supported them.
Most of what I’m seeing in the news is how ineffective and inefficient the assistance to the Gulf Coast residents has been. There is no doubt that the scope of the need and the deployment of resources has been problematic. When you are sitting two years later with significant housing needs, and infrastructure continuing to crumble around you, something is wrong. Corruption, mismanagement, and red tape make matters worse.
But let’s not forget some significant gains that have been made. Church disaster volunteer procedures were strengthened. Those volunteers from umbrella groups like Lutheran Disaster Response made a powerful difference, not only in the Gulf Coast, but back in their home communities as well. Food & supply distribution, debriefing, and care for children through programs like Camp Noah have been less publicized but just as critical as assisting in rebuilding of homes.
On this day, this anniversary, remember. Remember the horror of a post Katrina world. Remember the care for one another that ranged from throwing loose change in a bucket to donning respirator, impermeable garments and rubber gloves to “muck” out a home that had been flooded. Remember the work that is yet to be done.