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Ohio church comes again—and again—to Gulf Coast

Volunteers from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, work on a home in Slidell, La., damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
UMNS photos by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Aug. 20, 2008 | SLIDELL, La. (UMNS)

As soon as the winds of Hurricane Katrina died, a United Methodist church in Ohio was among the many groups sending work teams to help.

Erika Manis, 22, a medical student and Ginghamsburg member, lends a hand.

For members of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, however, the 14-hour drive from the Dayton area to New Orleans would become an especially familiar path.

In the three years since Katrina hit landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, the congregation has sent 42 work teams to the Gulf Coast—and it's not finished yet. Church leaders pledge to keep dispatching teams until the work is complete.

"You realize that at any given moment, you could be in the situation that these people were in," said Jim Meyer, a church member helping rebuild a home flooded by the storm.

Ginghamsburg draws more than 4,500 people weekly to its campus and has an active mission ministry ranging from local food pantries to international mission experiences in Africa, Europe and Asia. Trips to the U.S. Gulf Coast are the most popular, however, as people ranging from students to retirees step forward to offer their time and skills for a week at a time.

"We don’t call them volunteers at Ginghamsburg," said Nate Gibson, a team leader who is church's chief financial officer. "That’s part of our DNA. We call them servants."

Erika Manis, 22, a church member and medical student, enjoys stepping out from her circle of friends at college.

"Often times, going to school, you’re surrounded by a lot of very similar people, and you don’t often see what’s outside of your own window," she said. "I’ve also learned more about teamwork. It takes all of us and all of our different talents to come here and to finish this house."

Ryan Stammen has made three mission trips to the Gulf.

Andrew Gibson (front) and Jim Meyer install new flooring.

"It’s hard not to be overwhelmed and to think the work will never be completed," he said. "But people like us keep coming and that’s how it will get done."

The teams bring their own tools, trailer and generator to paint, hang sheetrock and lay ceramic tile and wood flooring.

Those tasks are signs of progress. When the first teams arrived in 2005, the work centered around cleanup—tearing out walls, hauling debris and gutting houses.

For Slidell resident Margaret Russell, 75, volunteers such as the Ginghamsburg crews have become her only hope after the assistance from FEMA, the Red Cross and her own insurance was not enough to cover rebuilding costs.

A retired nurse, Russell plans to live in the resurrected house with her grandson, whom she has cared for since her daughter's cancer death in 2002.

"If you could just see my heart, how much I thank God for every last one of you all for coming out to help us," Russell said. "My children, they’ve been coming over and seeing and they say, 'Ooh, mama, the house don’t look like the same house.' They’re just beautiful people."

Work on Russell’s home was coordinated by Northshore Disaster Recovery, organized by the United Methodist Louisiana Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief to help people whose homes are uninsured or underinsured. Established in October 2005, Northshore has helped more than 7,500 residents and coordinated more than 23,000 volunteers.

Frustrated by government red tape, Russell finally sought help from Northshore. "Everybody has been so nice and so wonderful to me. They have been so beautiful to us, in helping us out in every way they can," she said.

Homeowner Margaret Russell, 75,
 thanks team leader Nate Gibson.

Meeting Russell was a highlight of the mission experience for Jeremy Greth, who was installing tile at her home. "It kind of raised my spirit a little bit, seeing how happy she was," he said. "I couldn’t imagine going through it."

Gibson estimates recovery efforts in the New Orleans area could continue for another four to seven years. Meanwhile, homeowners like Russell say the volunteers are a godsend.

"They gave me new hope and new faith," she said. "I thought I had a lot of faith, but they gave me new faith—and a new home."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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