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Commentary: A mission trip takes me back 'home'

The McCullough family relocated to Oklahoma City from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Aloise, 20, (center) was a member of a work team from Quayle United Methodist Church where her father, the Rev. Victor McCullough (right), is pastor. It was Aloise's first trip to her former hometown since Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. A UMNS photo courtesy of the McCullough family.

A UMNS Commentary
By Aloise McCullough*
Aug. 29, 2007

It has been two years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the U.S. Gulf Coast. The storm made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005. The recovery effort goes on.

New Orleans had an estimated pre-Katrina population of 454,863, including my family.

Today the population is estimated at 187,525 people, or 60 percent less, according to an October 2006 survey. My family of seven has relocated to Oklahoma City, where my father, Victor McCullough, is pastor of Quayle United Methodist Church. He formerly was pastor at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in New Orleans.

In August 2005, I was starting my first year of college. My classes began Aug. 22. One week later, my family was no longer able to live in New Orleans.

But we were only one family among the many affected — a reality that may allow others to begin to grasp the impact of the natural disaster and why United Methodists continue to extend help in the Gulf Coast.

Volunteers in Mission

According to Volunteers in Mission, 718 people on 54 Oklahoma VIM teams have served the affected region since Katrina struck.

In March, a VIM team of about 25 members from the Quayle church made the journey to New Orleans in the church's first-ever VIM project. I was among the team members, and this was my first trip back to my former hometown since we fled the storm.

"… The Quayle VIM mission gave me the closure I needed. … It was definitely a spiritual encounter between me and God."

Irving Baccus, in his mid-20s, led the team. He had the vision to form a church team to minister in New Orleans after he accompanied my father on a trip to the city in the summer of 2006. The March 2007 mission "was the first of many to come," Baccus vowed.

There were many hurdles, but Baccus focused on "getting everything organized and being real patient."

The team worked on one New Orleans home and also at Napoleon Avenue United Methodist Church.

Baccus said one of the most rewarding aspects of the mission was the positive reaction from people in Louisiana. He said it was rewarding "just getting feedback and seeing God’s work be done." He already hopes to lead a return mission.

Team member Sally Ballard described how the trip changed her outlook. "It has been a growing, learning, letting-go and letting-God experience," she said. "It has helped me to be a more humble person and more willing to help others … and just be more caring and more loving.

"This is a humble, wonderful experience for everybody because you can learn to share. If you don’t meet strangers, you will never make friends."

Ballard was ill in the weeks prior to the mission and feared she would not get to go. She praised God for strength and healing for herself. "It was my hope and prayer that I would be able to come, and here I am by the grace of God," she said.

As for me, the Quayle VIM mission gave me the closure I needed. It was good to see familiar faces and hear again the New Orleans dialect. I was glad to be with both of my church families. It was definitely a spiritual encounter between me and God.

*McCullough, 20, is an intern for the Oklahoma Annual (regional) Conference's communication department. She is a journalism major at United Methodist-related Oklahoma City University.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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