Reflections after the storm

Yesterday, driving around LaPlace with Pastor Ken Shuman, lay leader Carl Hilt of Lutheran Church of the Galilean, Assistant to the Bishop Peggy Hahn and Kandi Elliott (Christ Lutheran, Brenham), I had flashbacks to the post-Katrina situation. Street after street after street of debris. Boats in yards. Cars being dried out. That smell – Is it mud?

It was hot yesterday. We drove around in our air conditioned car surveying the situation. Each time we got out to visit with stunned and sweating people the heat and humidity hit you like a wall. With no electricy, no air conditioning and no water in their homes, these folks were hauling soaked and ruined belongings out to the curb and throwing them on piles huge piles of couches, TVs, carpeting and the like. Most know you can’t wait for an insurance adjuster to come out (if you have insurance). By the time they get there, the water will have wicked higher up the walls and te mold will have gained a stronghold. Get pictures and then get to work.

Debbie Strick is a member at Galilean who alternated between laughter and years. Like others she didn’t see this coming. LaPlace is where many people moved after Katrina because it’s eight feet above sea level. LaPlace is a safe place. Many people never bothered with flood insurance. As Debbie told her evacuation story, going without food for 24-hours (she’s a diabetic), we listened. “What do you need?” She thought. “A place to sleep.” Carl said, “Come stay at my house.” He lives close by and had no water in the house, only his garage. They worked out the details. At times like this you see people’s kindness and humanity. We prayed with her, standing there in her front yard then went on to another house.

We drove by David and Arlene Hicks’ house and a few others. We saw the staging area at Home Depot and East St. John High School still under three feet of water. I wonder when and where those kids will go to school.

Galilean’s church building had about a foot of water. When we arrived much of the carpet had been torn out and contractors were already starting to mark the walls 3-4 feet up for drywall removal. Men from Service Master were out in the parking lot working on huge drying machines to be hooked up to the doors. Blowing superheated air through the building dries out the space and kills off the mold. We listened as Ken and Carl brought us up to speed, then circled up to pray.

When we finished up at Galilean we said our goodbyes and headed to Grace in New Orleans, to meet with a group of pastors and lay leaders. Grace had eight feet of water after Katrina and has made a remarkable recovery. They host groups, having about sixty beds. As people arrived there were hugs and greetings. We opened a few bottles of wine and then sat down for a hot meal.

One by one people shared whether or not they had water in their house or church. Pastor Bob Hildebrand had water pouring in through the roof. He had kids and grand kids staying with him, an interesting week so far.

Others shared if power in their house or church. If they had power, when did it come back? Power is coming back remarkably fast, but people are still grousing about Entergy. Several people commented on what a great job was being done by linemen from all over the country and how New Orleanians should be a bit more patient. Pastor Ron Unger (who lost everything in Katrina) had worship Saturday night Christ the King Kenner, with no electricity. He asked who had power restored: no one. Sunday morning, CTK still had no electricity, but when he asked, all but one person had power restored. That’s fast.

Gaby from Gethsemane Chalmette said she lost shingles but had no flooding. No power so they’re eating government-provided MREs (meals ready to eat). MREs are a FEMA staple in a disaster. Gethsemane’s Pastor Bonnie Parker says they were discerning whether to close their housing rooms to make room for a preschool. Isaac answer: No. I asked what opportunities people saw for ministry. Bonnie said, “We are in a strategic position to help Plaquamines Parish.” We have no ELCA congregation in Plaquamines, but Gethsemane in St. Bernard is close.

Betty has been at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in New Orleans since she started Kindergarten there many years ago. She lost everything in Katrina. This time she and her daughter Belinda long only lost shingles off her house. She said she felt blessed. “We have power.” Bethlehem’s Pastor Pat Keen and his wife Kathy echoed those sentiments. “We need to be thankful. I need to say Hallelujah and praise God. We all know it could have been a lot worse.” They have one family that lost their roof. When Bethlehem lost power, they turned it into a foodfest for the neighborhood. “We fed the community. We had all that food in freezer. I’m too cheap to let it spoil. We had a barbecue! People were knocking on doors. ‘Pastor is giving away food!’” Kathryn Keen said this made her realize we’re always taking things for granted.

Barb Simmers, Pastor at Peace Lutheran in Slidell told her God story of rescuing Christie by Canoe as the water rose in her house. People Magazine interviewed Christie on an article on Team Rubicon. It will appear next week. Chuck, Peace’s president, said this was a “small storm,” that hung around and drenched us. He reminded us that the storm is still in the North. Water will still be coming down the Mississippi. Peace Pastor Sandra Barnes said there was high anxiety at church last week. This week the Sunday service long with plenty of God moments.

Pastor Ron Unger worried this would be a repeat of Katrina. Debra Unger has lost everything two times in her life. Ron said we should celebrate the little loss of life. 8 lives lost are tragic, but so much better than Katrina.

Ken, Grace’s president repeated the impatience theme. Everyone wants power back NOW. At one point 900,000 people were without power in Louisiana. This will take some time. He said Grace is strong. Grace is open. We’re ready to host anybody to come in and help. Leon Philpot is Synodically Authorized Lay Minister at Grace. He said one Grace family lost their home. 90% now have power back. Grace’s oldest member Miss Henri Deters, 95 years old spoke up. She has no power and is staying at the church. She said she almost left to stay with kids in California. (Later Sunday night she got power back.)

Grace member Bob Lewis found disconcerting the impatience and negative expectation about what’s not been done yet. He said us pastor professionals need to teach people to be patient and adjust their expectations and their outlook. Charlotte Lewis, Bob’s wife remembers Hurricane Betsy hitting before Doppler radar. We went to school the day Betsy hit. “Back then we didn’t have three days to prepare for these things. Or to worry.”

These churches house volunteers and are ready. Peace has 100 beds plus spots for RVs. Gethsemane has 50 beds. Grace 60. Bethlehem can sleep 40 on air mattresses on the floor.

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About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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