Churches respond to Katrina disaster - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Churches respond to Katrina disaster

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November 14, 2005

Pascagoula, MS--  As the sun sets on a Saturday night in Pascagoula, Mississippi, people pull into a parking lot and leave their cars behind a circus-sized tent filled with clothes and shoes donated for victims of Hurricane Katrina. 

The building they enter is non-descript, but it has sturdy walls and the roof is intact.  These days in Pascagoula, that's saying something.  It's a place called The Church on the Rock.

When the doors swing open, you hear the emotion and feel the power. "Do nothing from selfishness," one pastor implores. "God turned around a bad thing and made it a good thing," says another.

Worshippers belt out upbeat songs of praise, but the refrain of one could easily be sung about them. "Your loving kindness is better than life," they sing.

Sitting in the empty sactuary before the service, Pastor Rodger Bradley said, "We've opened up the church for the whole community and trying to be a place where the community can come."

Since Katrina hit, this church has organized dozens of mission teams bringing in hundreds of volunteers from all over the country. "I don't know what this area would have done if it hadn't been for churches, because the church has fed and clothed and really helped to shoulder the load," Bradley said.

For weeks after the storm, an average of a thousand people a week came to The Church on the Rock for clothes and food and supplies and more than a little love. People like sisters Marjorie Zeringue and Angela Maronge who sorted through the items in the big tent the day of that service looking for curtains for Maronge's temporary apartment. "They just keep giving and giving, and I just see this church being blessed more and more and more," a grateful Zeringue gushed.

A couple of miles away, the homes along Pascagoula's beachfront simply don't exist anymore. Thousands more homes throughout town suffered substantial wind and flood damage. The damage is so widespread and the clean up job so immense, The Church on the Rock can't lead the charge alone. "You're seeing the whole church being raised up and pulling together and a lot of work being done," Rev. Bradley said.Pick a denomination, name a region of the country, they've probably sent volunteer work teams to the coast.

Chris Goff leads his work team in prayer on a lunch break, "Father, thank you for today and just for the opportunity to serve you." Goff grew up around Pascagoula. "So many of my memories are just washed away," he said. Now, he's on the staff at First United Methodist Church in Thomasville, and he's happy to bring a group of south Georgians to help south Mississippians. "We're followers of Christ and he's commanded us to respond to those who have needs and really that's what the church is all about."

As they hammer and sweep and rip out damaged sheetrock in a Pascagoula home, it's clear the Thomasville team is here to work. Their main goal isn't to preach or convert, yet the work of their hands reflects the worth of their hearts. "I've heard comments from people here just saying wow the church has had really a tremendous witness here in the community," Goff said.

That witness has brought new members to The Church on the Rock. Back at that Saturday night service a minister asks, "Isn't it awesome to see what all is happening in the middle of what we could call a mess?" Those new members can join the church's mission. "When you've done it to the least of them, you've done it to me the Lord said, and I've seen a great outpouring of charity," Rev. Bradley said. "I've really been proud to be a part of the body of Christ in general."

It's a body responding to disaster in a way that no other has. People living up to the words of the song filtering into the night air in the parking lot at The Church on the Rock. "You are good and your mercy endureth forever.  You are good."

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