Volunteer teams give Mississippi pastor hope

Four women dressed head-to-toe in white Tyvek jumpsuits, with face masks and goggles hiding their identities, are busy taking down a banister in Alberta Paige's house.

Once that task is complete, they get out the crowbars and start attacking the moldy walls.

Beneath the "disguises" are members of Christ Church United Methodist in New York City, in Mississippi on an early March mission trip to storm-ravaged Biloxi.

"We call ourselves the destroyers," says Sue Bymul, a team member. "We rip up carpet and walls &ellipsis; but in a good way."

The team is staying at St. Paul United Methodist Church and going out on jobs under the direction of the Rev. Edward Moses, pastor of St. Paul and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, Gulfport.

Part of the team is working in Paige's house, another group is repairing the roof for the neighboring Hanshaw family and a third is working at the Spillers' house. All three houses were submerged under water after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Mississippi Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

Jerolyn Morrison, mission lay leader for Christ Church, has been to Mississippi twice since the storm and plans to continue to make trips until all the necessary work is done.

"We are looking at this through the eyes of people who lived through 9/11," she says. "So many people helped us. We need to help others."

Moses says people come to Mississippi and see all the devastation and destruction and ask him, "Where is your hope?"

"I say, 'Our hope through Jesus Christ is in you. You all help us bear our burdens when you come down here. &ellipsis; When you nail fresh wood, you bring us a sense of freshness. As long as our eyes are on Christ Jesus, we see this as part of the grace given to us."

Moses says his two congregations are scattered, disembodied and hurt.

"I think at first I was in denial, thinking about 50 to 60 percent of the congregation was here - and they may be, but they are not here Sunday after Sunday."

The United Methodist teams of volunteers keep his churches alive and hopeful, he says.

"We can't really be in so much pain, having so many friends helping and bearing our burden. It is a good feeling."

It will take a long time for everyone to return home, Moses says. Based on his experience, he says it takes about 10 months to rebuild a house. With the amount of work volunteers can do, that means only about 24 people will be back home next year.

"A lot of homes will be worked on and a lot of progress will be made, but if I look at this realistically, I can do about 24 a year. That's a long time when you have 3,000 to do," he says.

Paige, sitting in her tiny trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the volunteers are just part of the "big bag of blessings" God is sending their way.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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