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Church revives spirits on Gulf Coast

 
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2:00 PM June 15, 2010 | BURAS, La. (UMNS)

The Rev. Dave Carlton (right) offers encouragement to Tony Frickey, a manager for the Venice (La.) Port Complex. A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
The Rev. Dave Carlton (right) offers encouragement to Tony Frickey, a manager for the Venice (La.) Port Complex. A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
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Hurricane Katrina devastated the population of this small fishing town  between the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of the Mississippi River. In some areas, one or two restored houses stand where once there was an entire subdivision.

And that was before the massive oil spill that produced a double whammy for this community dependent on both the fishing and oil industries.

Those who remain amid the sounds of helicopters and heavy equipment moving through town, with military personnel overseeing the response to the environmental disaster, need a message of hope.

“This is hurting the people,” said Tail Plork, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church. Tail and her husband, Phan, natives of Cambodia, fish commercially and have been forced to halt their trade.

That’s where the church is coming in.

Six-thousand “bags of hope” containing Bibles, devotionals and contact numbers for local pastors were assembled earlier this month at the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference meeting in Shreveport.

Trinity United Methodist Church is installing volleyball and basketball courts in preparation for summer camps to serve area youth.

“I often say, God promised us a rainbow,” said the Rev. Dave Carlton, Trinity’s pastor. “We’ve got to go through the storm to get there. And on the other side, there will be a new norm. We’ve faced it before.”

Coming back

The community already has come far by faith.

Gerald Tompkins, a Trinity member, said the population of Buras is probably about half of what it was before Hurricane Katrina.

Idled shrimp boats line the harbor in Buras. A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
Idled shrimp boats line the harbor in Buras.
A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
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Of those who remained, “a number of people just replaced their houses with double-wides. It was cheaper and easier,” he said.

Still, he said, “We were recovering, slowly but surely, from Hurricane Katrina.”

When he was appointed to Trinity a year ago, Carlton said, “I discovered that this church, in particular, has a true Christian spiritual outlook. After Katrina, the focal point was on the people. It was not just about rebuilding; it was about meeting the needs of the congregation and the community.” He said both attendance at Sunday worship and giving to the church have increased.

The latest catastrophe presents a substantial challenge, however.

Tony Frickey, a member of the Unified Command group responding to the spill, is concerned about the financial instability that local fishing workers are facing.

“Many in the industry spent the spring fixing up their boats in preparation for the May shrimp season. A lot of them tapped out their savings or used credit cards for new nets and equipment. Now those boats that aren’t being used in the cleanup sit docked, waiting for use in a fishing season that isn’t going to happen.”

Tail Plork echoed Frickey’s concern, saying, “We used credit to fix our boat, and we’re living on credit cards. I went to the bank and people there were saying that this will hurt a lot of fishermen for 10 to 15 years. They were saying we need to look somewhere else for work.”

To make matters worse, Frickey pointed out, many fishermen also are suffering from the moratorium on offshore drilling.

“A great number of these people will work in the oil industry during the off season when they are not fishing. So now, they can’t fish, and they will have no opportunities working for the oil companies to supplement their income. Towns like Buras have been built with both oil and fishing as their economic basis.”

Work crews clean oiled beaches near Houma, La. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Pinneo.
Work crews clean oiled beaches near Houma, La. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Pinneo.

People are anxious about how long the cleanup will last, and what the spill will mean for the fishing industry, Carlton said.

“They need to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Providing hope

Carlton handed out the conference “bags of hope” at a recent Sunday evening service at the British Petroleum campsite. He rotates Sundays with a Catholic priest in providing the service for cleanup workers.

Tired and dirty from working outdoors in the 100-plus degree heat, workers settled into the air-conditioned tent where Carlton led a communion service on June 13. Referencing Corinthians, he told the workers that like the Body of Christ, the responders are all sharing their gifts to achieve a common goal—the restoration of the Gulf and affected communities.

Carlton is concerned that the economic crisis can translate into family crises.

“Families are stressed; the kids are out of school. Parents can no longer afford to send their children to camps,” Carlton said. “The church can provide assistance with sports and activities camps, as well as Vacation Bible School throughout the summer.”

The efforts are appreciated, Frickey said.

“It means a lot to me to know my church family here and beyond is praying for us,” he said. “I need the prayer. I can’t deal with the madness without the support.”

*Backstrom is communications director for the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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