Sometimes a simple question is all it takes … for a door to open. With Hurricane Katrina devastating much of the Gulf Coast (including Ocean Springs, Mississippi), the door for Answers in Genesis to minister to First Baptist Church was all but closed. The AiG conference, scheduled just a week after Katrina hit, was not going to happen. Surprisingly (but not to God), a different door opened when AiG staff asked the question, “How can we help?”
The answer came in various forms-all of which involved helping this Bible-believing church reach their hurting community, especially children who were preparing to head back to school. The door of opportunity to reach the entire public school system in Ocean Springs had just been opened.
Thanks to a generous outpouring from AiG friends and supporters, that “something” came in the form of helping equip the almost 4,000 public school students with backpacks filled with much-needed school supplies as well as supplying toiletry kits to those in need. In most cases, these recently bought items had been lost in the devastating storm that took the homes of at least 40 members of First Baptist Church.
An overwhelming response
Within days of announcing the relief effort on the AiG website and in a special email to the ministry’s friends and supporters, donations came from Australia, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, South Africa, UK and the United States. People everywhere were hungry to help this community so devastated by Hurricane Katrina, as was evident through emails like this one from a California couple:
Last summer we survived three hurricanes that came through Central Florida. We can in many ways sympathize with Hurricane Katrina survivors! Thank you for giving us another way to reach out to them. We know that we can trust you to use our contribution wisely and to point others to our Creator - our only real hope!
The response by local people who stopped by the drop-off location at the AiG Creation Museum was overwhelming. From September 10-21, people dropped off loads of supplies which included an assortment of school supplies, baby wipes, diapers, coloring books, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bars of soap, toilet paper, lotion, trash bags, cleaning supplies, mops, shaving cream, pillows, blankets and other items we so often take for granted. Dozens of local volunteers (including a church youth group, homeschool group and students from a local Christian school) helped AiG staff stuff the backpacks and toiletry kits.
When the tractor trailer (paid through the generosity of several companies) pulled out of the museum parking lot last Thursday (September 22), 26 pallets were packed high with almost 3,000 backpacks (filled with school supplies) and boxes of toiletry items and other basic necessities. With contributions totaling nearly $50,000, the entire Katrina relief project had been totally funded!
When asked why the apologetics ministry was involved in the Katrina relief effort, Ken Ham, president of AiG-USA, said, “Our purpose is to help Christians understand that the Bible is true. The Bible calls Christians to reach out to their neighbors in need. This is a bit outside our normal daily operation, but fully in line with our calling to live out our faith in Jesus Christ on a daily basis.”
Making a special delivery
Last Friday (September 23), the team of 12 AiG staff members delivered the backpacks to the nearby school campus where the parking lot soon filled with teachers, volunteers, and even local and statewide media (view the news feature from WLOX ABC/TV channel 13) as a “bucket brigade” was formed to get the packs from the parking lot, down the hall, and into the storage area.
“To say that those present were surprised by the outpouring of support and love represented by these school supplies is an understatement,” said Tom Miller, AiG-USA Director of Outreach, who coordinated the relief effort. “To say that they were blown away by the generosity of our supporters would be closer, but still not an accurate representation of what we witnessed. These folks were just overwhelmed that anyone would care enough to do something like this for them and the kids,” he added.
The following card was inserted into each backpack, with the message of the gospel, including the reason we see death and suffering in the world, on the back. Pastor Barnett said the outreach by AiG and its generous supporters “gave the gospel credibility with a lot of folks.”
During the transfer of backpacks from the truck to the building, one of the local teachers asked Jessie Hughes, an AiG staff member about the organization. After hearing about Answers in Genesis, the teacher responded by saying, “So you guys stuffed these [backpacks] with your literature?” When Jessie proceeded to tell the teacher that they simply inserted a card telling the kids that these packs were supplied through Christian love, the man softened and asked more questions.
“The Lord has enabled us to do some things we weren’t able to do before,” Pastor Barnett said regarding the effort to reach out to the public schools who had previously kept a safe distance from the church.
“It put us on a good relationship with them in order to work with them in the future. They know now that when we call them and ask if we can do something for the students or with the school, that we don’t have an agenda other than to help them and minister to them,” he added.
Seeing the enormity of the destruction
Later that day, the AiG outreach team had a chance to visit some of the most devastated areas and deliver some hygiene kits. Several team members offered their firsthand accounts of what they saw in the trip reports that traced each leg of the journey.
Here are just a few of the observations shared by members of the team:
Pictures and television cannot convey the enormity of the destruction and the overwhelming sense of loss. I will be forever impacted by what I have seen here, and I trust that I speak for each member of the team when I say thank you to our supporters for lending a hand to these brothers and sisters. We saw houses ripped from their foundations and set back twenty or more feet. Steps that once lead to those famous southern front porches now end in mid air. They lead nowhere and stand only as reminders of what used to be there.
- Tom Miller, AiG-USA
Boats and boat parts were scattered all over the neighborhood, as were automobiles, hot tubs, porches, trees, walls, toys, tools, books, televisions, stairs, dolls, doors, pillars, fallen pillars. Simply try to envision everything in your home, then see it scattered and piled up in every mishmash way imaginable for block after block after block, along with everybody else’s things in the neighborhood. We were able to give some folks small packets of hygiene products and they were appreciative but the packs seemed like such small tokens when we’re standing on their front yard and you can see right through their house to what was their backyard. Some wept. Some, we prayed with.
- Steve Carmack, AiG event coordinator
Sunday service with Dr. Tommy Mitchell
The Sunday service at First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs was declared “Public School Sunday,” where school superintendent Anna Hurt accepted the backpacks on behalf of the school district before addressing the congregation. Then Dr. Tommy Mitchell, a medical doctor and AiG’s newest speaker, gave a sermon on the topic of why a loving God allows tragedies like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (be sure to look for Dr. Mitchell’s upcoming web article on this site). We were thrilled to learn of at least one decision to follow Christ that was made during the invitation.
After that, the outreach team stopped at a couple of “tent cities” and a nursing home to drop off some toiletry kits. The residents had been evacuated prior to the storm and were due back on Monday. The supplies provided by AiG supporters will be used to make sure their homecoming is a little more complete.
As the team prepared to say goodbye to Ocean Springs, Miller said “a piece of our hearts will always remain here in Ocean Springs. It somehow seems sad to be leaving with so much still to be done, but God has called us to serve at AiG, and we trust that He will use others to complete His plans for this area.”
We thank the thousands of generous supporters who allowed AiG to link arms with our friends at First Baptist to help share the love of the Creator in a practical way.