For weeks now, the news channels have been busy reliving the horrors of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The one-year anniversary of its landfall is upon us and television is full of experts and others who are sharing their opinions and firsthand experiences.
In Mississippi, Katrina packed sustained winds of 120 mph (193 km/h) and dropped between 8 and 10 inches (20–25 cm) of rain. Those two statistics make for a storm capable of severe damage, but the storm surge, estimated at up to thirty feet (9 m) high in areas, is what devastated so much of the Mississippi and Louisiana gulf coast.
Answers in Genesis had a conference scheduled to take place at First Baptist Church in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on the weekend of September 10. Due to the devastation, we had to cancel this event. But after seeing Katrina’s destruction, and after a lot of prayer and a few meetings, AiG launched a huge outreach effort. Pastor Mike Barnett of First Baptist Church told us that school was scheduled to begin soon, but most students had lost their supplies in the storm. Moreover, the stores that carried school supplies were closed due to storm damage. We felt led to focus our efforts on providing school supplies for each of the city’s almost 4,000 public school students.
The plea for funding went out over our website on Saturday, September 10. On Monday, the staff was astounded to learn that our supporters had pledged over $20,000 in just two days! Through the hard work and dedication of many volunteers and staff, we had 26 pallets of supplies and a crew of AiG staff en route to Ocean Springs on September 22.
Pastor Barnett’s church seized the opportunity to serve the community during this trying time. He and his congregation opened their church and spent untold time coordinating and housing relief personnel. Their willingness to be leaders in the relief effort was blessed by the Lord, and the church became a true guiding force in the city. The school supplies provided by our supporters and volunteers helped the kids in the city go back to school. These supplies also had a huge impact on how the church was perceived by the city and its residents.
Addressing the AiG staff in March of this year, Pastor Barnett told how God softened the hearts of those within the public schools. Through the donations of backpacks filled with school supplies, the Lord enabled His church to do things they could not have done before Hurricane Katrina.
“There were no Bibles from the Gideons, no prayers before football games and no mention of God when the youth pastor would eat in the cafeteria with the students. But after the backpacks arrived, things changed! After years of not being able to do so, the Gideons were allowed to pass out Bibles to fifth grade classes. And Pastor Barnett was invited to speak to the entire school board at a rally where he shared the gospel with school officials and teachers.”
We at Answers in Genesis are thankful that we were able to play a small role in assisting the victims of this storm, and we are blessed to know that God has used this outreach initiative to open doors throughout the Ocean Springs community. Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated $150 billion in damage (the number is still growing) and claimed approximately 2,000 lives. A year later, people are still suffering and need our help and prayers. Most importantly, many still need to know Jesus as their personal savior. As Christians, we need to understand why terrible catastrophes like Katrina happen, and we must know how to share the message of hope with others.