In the heart of this glitzy seashore vacation spot, situated between two casinos and miles of high-rise hotels and restaurants, sits a place of shelter, peace and hope for homeless and poor men and women.
“God put us in this building in this location for a reason. We are in a perfect place to do what we do—feed the body and the soul,” said the Rev. Judy Longo, United Methodist local pastor and director of Seashore Mission.
The Rev. Chris Cumbest, who served as disaster relief coordinator after Hurricane Katrina, agrees.
“Seashore Mission is between Back Bay and the Beachfront. It is located at the intersection of two roads that pass through the area,” he said. “It is easily accessible and visible for those seeking out its ministries and now it has great facilities designed for the ministries it is carrying out.” Cumbest is now pastor of Crossgates United Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the previous mission, stripped it to the slab. Several members of the church and the community died in the building.
Until two years ago, Seashore Mission itself was homeless, drifting from one rented spot to another in search of a permanent home.
That changed, Longo said, when a “wonderful United Methodist” helped the conference buy his 6,500 square-foot paint store.
The former Bankston Paint Store, a well-known business in Biloxi, is the new home for Seashore Mission.
The building is still a work in progress. When completed, it will have a fully functioning kitchen, supply room and walk-in freezer – in addition to a free clothing store, showers and laundry facilities, food pantry and restrooms.
The mission moved in last June and is 70 percent complete. For Longo, waiting for everything to be in place and finished is difficult, but she has come to realize that too is part of God’s plan.
“If I had rushed it or if I had all the money in the world … there are so many people who were blessed with giving of their hands and feet.”
Two volunteer groups were at the shelter in July. They put in the floor, painted and cleaned.
A youth group built an outdoor pavilion with picnic tables and flower boxes. The group left messages on the tables: “Remember You are Creations from God,” “Jesus loves you,” “Jesus is your home.”
One table has Matthew 11:28 written on the wooden planks: “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard; carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest.”
The day shelter is open Sunday, Monday and Thursday and serves 200 meals per day—breakfast, lunch and a “high tea” at 2 p.m. that allows the homeless or poor to get an additional meal before they leave.
Longo said they hand out a lot of shoes. “Shoes are important because they do a lot of walking and go through a lot of soles,” she explained, smiling.
Seashore mission offers a safe place to rest.