Only a few days after Hurricane Katrina pounded the gulf coast, the New Apostolic Church USA Administration Office issued the follow statement:
“The catastrophe unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the surrounding states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi is the most severe in the history of the USA. The New Apostolic Church USA is issuing a donation for immediate relief efforts to the American Red Cross. In a brief statement the president of the New Apostolic Church USA, District Apostle Richard Freund, expressed: "We are all deeply affected by the heavy destruction that Hurricane Katrina has caused in vast regions of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. We pray especially for those who mourn the loss of a loved one, as well as those who have lost their homes or other possessions."
Since that day there has been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support by many New Apostolic members from around the world. As donations to the New Apostolic Church USA World Relief Fund were received, District Apostle Freund then wrote, “Many monetary contributions were made, many prayers were offered and many sacrifices of time and energy were invested to help those who are in need. All of this certainly is a reflection of the nature of Christ in His own.”
On September 2, 2005 the relief agency of the New Apostolic District Churches of Germany, “NAK-karitativ”, sent 50,000 Euro of immediate aid to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States. Additionally, the District Churches of Canada and Switzerland very kindly made generous donations. The many individual donations which were received were also very touching.
Apostle Hecht and Bishop Morse soon reported that our church building in Slidell had been affected by the terrible wind and rising flood waters. The community surrounding the church building was flooded with two feet of water and mud. Although the water had receded, the community was still in terrible condition. Our members are all safe; however, some of their homes and properties were severely damaged. A few of our affected members have been taken care of by members of the surrounding congregations. Other members have sought refuge with relatives further away in the USA.
On September 13, 2005 the USA District Church appealed to the membership to assist in the cleanup phase. Following is an excerpt of a letter which was read in each congregation:
“The next stage of the Hurricane relief effort is the cleanup stage. The Church will be sending teams of able-bodied and healthy members who are capable of working with chain saws and wheelbarrows, hauling away heavy debris, assisting neighbors in getting rid of their drenched belongings and furniture. Each team will consist of 13 volunteers broken down into ten workers, two cooks and a minister. They will volunteer four to five days of their time, after which the team will be rotated with a fresh team of 13 volunteers. This effort will last for at least three to five weeks. At the same time, we will keep the church open for lunch and dinner for the neighborhood.”
To date more than 350 members from all parts of the United States have signed up to assist in the cleanup effort and five teams have been successfully dispatched. The relief efforts of our members have been well received and much appreciated by the residents of Slidell.
The following are excerpts taken from a daily report which is filed by District Evangelist Hans Hinnen, the team leader of the volunteers who are currently working on the ground in Louisiana. The report gives a small window as to the scope of the cleanup efforts and feelings of those who have been affected:
“We found a family where a relative lives with her children. They literally lost everything and need clothes, furniture and food. We referred them to a shopping center lot where clothes are piled high. We can't help with furniture at this time, but bought them groceries from private funds, and will deliver them tomorrow. In the afternoon Pat (a team member) and I went down to Lake Ponchertrain. The devastation there is unbelievable; a magnitude greater than in Slidell. I see no opportunity for us to help there. You need primarily bulldozers, cranes and other heavy equipment to start the job. Most areas are secured by police and military.”
“We are pretty much buttoned down in anticipation of Rita. The southern part of Slidell, including our church is under an evacuation order. The police ordered private vehicles off the road by 2:00 PM. A tornado warning is in effect until 6:00 PM.
Rain squalls are coming and going. The wind is always present. All in all it is not bad, at least at this time. The concern is for another storm surge and the resulting flooding. Since we are east of the hurricane, the strong winds will come from the south. This piles the water up on the north shore of the lake. Hopefully, we will be far enough from the eye that the winds are not too high. Katrina's surge was 20 feet; this one is forecasted at 3 feet. This puts a scale on the situation. We don't think that the church will be flooded again.
We managed to work a few hours this morning clearing Alma Louis's (neighbor) yard. Ruth's (Sister Peller, a member who has opened up her home for the workers) roof was leaking again, in the area where the tree fell. We helped to cover the roof with another layer of tarp with the help of a neighboring family. We did the same at one of Priest (Jim) Dyke's acquaintances. By then the drenching rains came more frequently, and we had to stop working. We tried to help evacuate some people who did not have transportation, but in the last minute they decided to stay. We also gave a sheriff's deputy our phone number, in case they would need help with evacuating people. Our 12 passenger van could come in handy. We have not received any calls yet. We tried to get all the chain saws back in shape. Most of the stores closed at 2:00 PM. They will reopen on Sunday at 8:00 AM. We have to wait for the needed parts until then.”
“Due to Rita our start today was late. We only had strong winds, letting off some as the day wore on. We left around 9:00 AM. The 4 young fellows went to work at Alma Louis’s home, where we left off yesterday. Priest Dykes and I went shopping then set up for lunch at the church. Ruth's tarp loosened, and a couple of us went to secure it again. Later in the afternoon, Jim and Ruth canvassed the rest of the area around the church for jobs, and located two more. Ruth also has lined up two more jobs for us. We now may have enough to do for next week.
Tomorrow we plan to have service at 9:00 AM. Have a blessed Sunday, and don't forget us in your prayers!”
“We started the day at 9:00 am with a simple but touching service, sitting around the kitchen table. The word was most suitable for a guest service. I hurried off to Gulfport, only to find out half way that the group of 5 from Chicago was delayed. At about 2:15 they finally arrived, tired and hungry. I took them to Burger King, which was open and served a reduced choice menu. Off we went to Slidell. There was just enough time to change and drop them over at the current job near the church, where the rest of the team was working. The New Englanders went to see the worst devastation in Waveland, Mississippi, after the service, then started to do clearing at a house near the church.”
“We had another productive day, got a lot done and we also found a lot more work. We located some neighborhoods, where we could go in with one yard to do, and keep busy from there on for several days. We also made a few friends, who all want to come for our rededication celebration. One even wants to bring his special barbecue recipe to it. We have to get the church back in shape for this special event quickly, the sooner the better!
Doug (another team member) decided to stay for the rest of the week by about 9:00 AM. The need of the people, and the incredible team spirit convinced him. We also need him to keep our chain saws going. He will train chain saw experts for each one of our two teams.
For the first time the devastation and its effect on the population got to me. We checked out a job, and in the course of it I was drawn to the house next to it. There was a large pile of rubble in front. On top there was a big white stuffed teddy bear. Some other toys testified of a happy family. All doors were wide open; the house was empty except for a few lonely pieces of furniture. It was once a nice roomy home, obviously the pride of its owners. There was mud on all the floors, black ugly toxic mold on walls all over. A terrible stench permeated the air. The kitchen cabinets were bare. As I stepped into one room I noticed the picture of a grandmotherly black woman still hanging on a wall, very forlorn. On another wall, there were three pictures still hanging, one of a young woman, the other two of a baby and a toddler. It was then that I could not hold my tears back any longer. A shattered life, dashed hope, a family deeply hurt, perhaps torn apart. It could have been me!
It is here that our help, our caring and compassion will hopefully return a glimmer of hope into a world of hurt and turmoil. I am so glad to be here, and I know that our entire team feels the same.”
“The team from Buffalo arrived last night and set up their fifth wheel camper behind the church. They joined us today for work. Their camper will also be available to house some of our volunteers. With a crew of 17 we got done quite a bit. One job we did next to the cemetery where three burial vaults were washed across the road by the storm surge. They are still lying in the ditch, kind of forgotten. After clearing the fallen trees from the house, our team cleared also the cemetery from debris. Hopefully our efforts will also affect the souls in eternity.
After dinner we held a regular midweek service in Ruth’s home. Nineteen attended including two guests. We are all tired but in high spirits. Thanks for all the prayers to carry us through!”
“We cleared several more yards this morning and a couple in the afternoon. In one place there was a fallen tree completely covering up a pickup truck. The insurance company totaled the vehicle. We cut the tree down and found that the truck was only minimally damaged. We finished all the jobs on our list and need to go out and find new ones tomorrow.
During the first part of the afternoon we took a drive to Waveland, Mississippi, under Ruth’s guidance. The devastation in the former beach community is indescribable. We took many pictures, but they cannot convey the severity of the damage. There is not a single home around.
The roofs are found about 1/2 mile inland. The foundations of the stately homes are still there, sometimes a brick stairway leading to nowhere, a toilet sitting all alone on a tiled floor, here and there a car peaking out upside down from the rubble, a fixture or toy left like a child dropped it. Most debris is indistinguishable.
My thoughts drifted to Hiroshima. The recent pictures from the destruction from the Tsunami are tame in comparison. The biggest difference was that this community was almost entirely evacuated. Nobody who stayed survived!
We also inspected a home from one of Priest Dyke's coworkers. He wanted us to gut the house and clean it out. All belongings are still inside. The wood floors are buckled and caked with mud still wet, the walls are all moldy. We decided that this work was beyond our capability and too hazardous. After dinner we had a discussion session and got a lot of valuable input for future operations as this one, although we hope this will never happen again. The team is in high spirits, and it will be hard to say goodbye in the next couple of days.”
“We had another good day. It was mostly a new team, charged up and ready to go. We cleaned up five or six yards. In one case a woman called as a result of a flyer. She asked us to move all of her belongings, damaged by the flood from the back yard to the front that they could be hauled away. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to finish. In the middle of it she broke into tears when she saw the result of 20 years of work as a pile of trash. She was so glad we cared and helped her do that which was almost impossible for her to do.
We also booked a few more jobs. Doug left for home after training one more chain saw expert. The group from Chicago left this afternoon. The two young girls worked really hard in addition to their fine cooking.
We are thankful for your support and prayers.”
“We had a fantastic day. We worked all day with a combined team of 16. We cut trees and cleaned up yards in the Kingspoint neighborhood near the church. The first area consisted of 5 contiguous homes stretched over two cul-de-sacs. Several trees were broken about 20 feet above ground, with the tops still connected and resting on the ground. One tree was over a roof. We made an exception in tackling such a situation, because the owner was working with us. Our skill level has grown remarkable over the last few days.
The other job was a stretch of three houses next to each other not far from the first ones. We completed 8 homes all together. Working in a more concentrated fashion made more impact. We had many conversations with the homeowners. Many promised to come for the rededication. We were even called angels! The thanks and favorable comments received made all the hard work worthwhile. We are making a difference, and it is not just in the landscape of the homes, but more importantly in the hearts and minds of the people.”
"We had another productive day. We split into two teams, and one group started out checking a place belonging to one of Ruth's coworkers. The yard had already been cleared which left the house. When we entered it we found that nothing had been touched since the hurricane. All furnishings were still inside, rotting in the mud. The mold not only covered the walls, but even the ceiling. The stench was unbelievable.
The group then proceeded to see the destruction at Waveland and after lunch went to work clearing yards at an extra hard pace. The second group started out in the morning and worked all day. Frequent breaks are an absolute necessity in this hot and humid climate.
We combined the two groups to do the last job, two adjacent yards at Kingspoint. The mood got very somber when we looked at the house next door and saw that the mark spray painted at all the houses seemed to indicate that there were two casualties found inside. We were relieved when we got close and discovered that the apparent two was actually a zero with a line through it. Nevertheless, it reminded us of the almost one thousand who lost their life due to Katrina. We all must pray for them, and the families hurt by this terrible tragedy.”
“The temperature was markedly lower today, making hard physical labor a lot more pleasant. We started the day out doing a job in Bay St. Louis referred to us by the two girls from Denver. The homeowner, an elderly woman is the aunt of the receptionist where our two girls work. Even before we returned to Slidell, there was a touching thank you letter E-mailed to us.
While we worked at this place, a woman temporarily staying with a relative next door asked us if we could help clearing trees from the front of their house near a bayou in the forest. It is a total loss. This will enable them to put in a temporary trailer, which FEMA will make available to them. The woman kept breaking into tears while she related their difficult circumstances. She was so thankful when I told her we would try to help her. Somehow she found out that it was my wedding anniversary and she brought me a branch from a Camellia bush with a single flower that had survived the Hurricane.”
“We started Saturday out by driving 1 1/2 hours way out in the country where an elderly New Apostolic couple lives. There were a couple of big Oak trees in the back of their mobile home. The one tree had a root ball attached about 15 ft in Diameter. When we made the last cut to sever the trunk, the root ball tipped back into the position it originally grew. It was like a big hand pushed it back where it belonged. When I asked our brother Strickland what he was going to do about the stub, he said, "just leave it there.”
“Today was our last day of full operation. We did 5 more homes in the Kingspoint neighborhood. In total we were able to help 92 families on record, and a few not listed. All in all about 100, the list is attached. Most have promised to come and celebrate with us the church rededication. I also believe that many of the workers will return on their own for this special occasion. It has been a real joy to work with all of the volunteers. It's an experience I would not want to have missed for anything.
Somebody asked me which team was the best. Without hesitation I said: "Each team was the best!" The comment from the people in Slidell I heard most often during the last week was: "You are such a blessing to the community". To show that we care, and to kindle hope in those who suffered so much is indeed a very Christ-like thing to do, and you (the volunteers) did it. Thank you!”