The lives of 43 adults from East Side Grace Brethren Church in Columbus, Ohio, will never be the same. They just returned from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina as they ministered for a week in Slidell, Louisiana, a northeastern suburb of New Orleans near Lake Pontchartrain.
Before Katrina, 30,000 people called Slidell home. Today, the number of residents is far, far less, nobody really seems to know for sure. However, to appreciate the population loss in the region, the city of New Orleans went from a population of 500,000 to 144,000. The New Orleans schools went from an enrollment of 60,000 to 9,800.
Hospitals, schools, shopping malls, and homes are deserted, looking like the hurricane happened last week, instead of six months ago. Large trees, roots and all, still lie on top of crushed homes. The insides of some buildings literally have mold dripping from their ceilings.
Home after home after home in Slidell features a horizontal brown stripe five feet off the ground marking the water level at the height of the flooding. One good-sized church estimates the cost of cleaning up its facility from Katrina to be $500,000. Although the building was left structurally sound, all the drywall, carpet, and floor tile have to be ripped out, then reinstalled, followed by painting.
Under the direction of East Side’s Senior Pastor Chip Heim, the men and women from East Side split up into eight teams, with each team assigned to help a Slidell family. Tasks included general cleaning, tearing out and hanging dry wall, putting in insulation, spackling, painting, electrical, plumbing and roofing. When it was time for East Side to leave, other teams from other churches were scheduled to come to continue the work.
While the amount of work accomplished in such a short time seemed incredible, Pastor Chip offered this analogy. “Imagine 43 people standing on the shore at Lake Erie and each person takes a bucket of water from the lake and pours it into a tub of some sort. If you look at the water in the tub you could say, ‘Wow. That’s a lot of water we poured in there.’ But then when you turn around and look back at the lake you think, we didn’t make a dent in the water level.”
The work won’t be finished in days, perhaps not in years according to those at East Side who have viewed the incredible devastation.
If your church might be interested in ministering in Slidell, call Pastor Chip at (614) 861-5810.