A battered Bible and some other debris is all that is left of Seashore Mission United Methodist Church in Biloxi, Miss.
pages of a battered Bible, open to 1 Corinthians, are fanned by a stiff
breeze off the Gulf of Mexico where Seashore Mission United Methodist
Church in Biloxi, Miss., once stood. The church building was destroyed
by Hurricane Katrina. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #06G014.
Accompanies UMNS #171. 3/24/06
March 24, 2006
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
BILOXI, Miss. (UMNS) — Six months after one of the worst storms to ever
hit the United States, houses are rotting in mold, bent and twisted
church signs stand vigil over places where thriving congregations once
worshipped and people are in deep grief.
The Rev. Elijah Mitchell, a United Methodist regional storm disaster
coordinator, knows many of the people along the Gulf Coast in
Mississippi feel forgotten in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He
makes it his daily mission to let them know someone cares.
“I am responsible for 98 square miles of destruction,” he says,
describing his job. He puts devastated homeowners together with groups
eager to help.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
assortment of mismatched dishes are neatly stacked on the foundation of
what was once Seashore Mission United Methodist Church in Biloxi, Miss.
assortment of mismatched dishes stacked on a concrete foundation slab
are all that remain of Seashore Mission United Methodist Church in
Biloxi, Miss. The church building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A
UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo #06G015. Accompanies UMNS #171. 3/24/06
He was assigned to the region by Mississippi Bishop Hope Morgan Ward in
October after his two churches, St. Rock United Methodist Church in
Waveland and Seashore Mission in Biloxi, were destroyed by the storm.
Working out of a small office in Gulfport’s Gateway United Methodist
Church, Mitchell and his wife, Miriam, send teams out to homes, churches
On this day in early March, Mitchell has more than 100 people
sleeping in Gateway’s Sunday school rooms, halls and sanctuary. A
typical day for him starts at 4:30 a.m. and doesn’t end until late at
The Rev. David Jones, a friend and pastor from Oklahoma, has come to
Gulfport to help Mitchell but so far hasn’t been able to relieve him
from the long days and nights.
“I will do the devotions tonight; that will help him some,” Jones says.
Mitchell is a storm victim as well as the disaster relief
coordinator, having suffered the loss of his parsonage in Biloxi.
“Fortunately, I did have a second home,” he says.
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
The Revs. Jim Gentry (left) and Elijah Mitchell (right) discuss construction of the Seashore District Volunteer Center.
Revs. Jim Gentry (left) and Elijah Mitchell (right) discuss
construction of the Seashore District Volunteer Center going up at
Heritage United Methodist Church in D'Iberville, Miss. Gentry is
executive director of the Indiana Area Foundation of the United
Methodist Church. Mitchell is a district disaster coordinator in the
Biloxi, Miss., area. The center will house volunteer teams coming to the
area to work on Hurricane Katrina relief projects. At center is the
Rev. David Jones, pastor of Hulen (Okla.) United Methodist Church. Jones
was volunteering his help with Mitchell. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
Photo #06G016. Accompanies UMNS #171. 3/24/06
The day the storm hit, he was at his second home because he was “just
too tired to drive back to this end of town,” he says. He and his family
helped evacuate as many church members as possible before the hurricane
“I can remember the first five days after hurricane,” he says. Days
of no electricity, of standing in the hot sun for hours to get water,
ice and food.
Though many of the stores and restaurants are still out of business
he says, “It has gotten a lot better. If you look at the traffic today
you could never tell we were in a crisis state.”
Mitchell worries about the next hurricane season and is trying to
prepare. Warehouses were hard to find after Katrina, he says, and they
are needed for storing building materials and supplies such as
forklifts. Finding housing for volunteers is also a challenge.
A team of volunteers from the Indiana conferences is helping with that problem.
Hoosiers to the rescue
United Methodists from Indiana have pledged to build a facility
behind Heritage United Methodist Church in D’Iberville, Miss., that will
house 40 volunteers. The 50-by-75 foot steel structure was buzzing with
folks putting bunk beds together and installing walls the first week of
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Volunteers work on construction of center at Heritage United Methodist Church, D'Iberville, Miss.
from Indiana help construct the Seashore District Volunteer Center
going up at Heritage United Methodist Church in D'Iberville, Miss. The
center will house volunteer teams coming to the area to work on
Hurricane Katrina relief projects. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose. Photo
#06G018. Accompanies UMNS #171. 3/24/06
Mitchell says this team from Indiana is helping with one of his biggest
headaches—finding room for the thousands of volunteers wanting to come
to the state to help.
“People are staying all over the church right now,” says Gary Walla,
part of the Indiana team working at Heritage Church. He fears that after
a year, the “welcome” might wear off. “They need their church back,” he
Three to six teams will be working to finish the Seashore District
Volunteer Center by early May. It will probably be needed for relief
work for five years, then will become part of Heritage United Methodist
Church, organizers say.
The Mississippi Conference has pledged to raise the $200,000 that
will be needed to finish the structure. As of March 22, $76,264 has been
received from Indiana churches as well as several other states,
including Mississippi. More than 230 volunteers have registered to work
on one-week builds.
Mitchell says his work has three phases: emergency, relief and long-term recovery. Today, Mississippi is in the second phase.
As the teams go out to work, Mitchell tells them the key to success is
flexibility. Giving people time to work through their grief is one of
the most important tasks mission teams will do, he says.
“I tell them you might not nail a single nail today; you might just listen to their stories.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.