Aaron Hoak of Grace Fellowship Church, Bremen, IN, gives this encouraging report on his recent trip to Lakeshore:
Lakeshore, Mississippi got the short end of the stick last week. I thought I might be useful down there. Along with 100+ other volunteers, I went down to assist in ongoing recovery efforts resulting from Hurricane Katrina. That’s right; 4 ½ years after Katrina (August 29, 2005) there is still recovery work to be done – lots of it. And not just in New Orleans. They got the big media coverage, but the eye of the storm actually made landfall at the unknown town of Lakeshore in Hancock County, MS. One mile inland, the water from the storm surge was 30-40 feet high and there were sustained winds of 150 mph. That kind of force brings destruction on an unimaginable scale, so recovery efforts are still going on today and will continue for years to come. 88 people died that day…in Hancock County alone; homes and lives forever ripped apart.
Into that devastation came Lakeshore Baptist Church. They were there before the storm and though their building was completely destroyed, they were there after the storm as well (a church is more than a building, after all). And all indicators point to their presence in Lakeshore for years to come. LBC, led by Pastor Don Elbourne, spearheaded a relief/rebuilding effort that put the needs of the community first, and for the last 4 ½ years volunteers have been coming in droves to help the church reach the community with practical physical help and the gospel of Christ. So finally I went too. Surely I could be a help to those who were still in so much need. Funny how things work out. I trust that by God’s grace I was able to do some good in Lakeshore, but I received far more blessing than I gave. Like I said, Lakeshore got the short end of the stick.
Upon arrival I was paired with 3 others to do visitation and ministry. Under Pastor McDearmon’s able leadership, I along with Paul, Ruth, and Caitriona (and 3 other teams) set out to visit those who had been helped in some way by LBC. We went to their homes to listen to their stories, to fellowship with them, to share the good news with them. We met and talked with people with names like Carl, Russell, Miss Gayle, Oscar, Denise, Archie, Lily, Wilbur, Mrs. Green, and Jack. We heard stories; stories like you wouldn’t believe: spouses lost in the storm; all belongings swept away; ongoing unemployment and poverty; injustice; hopelessness; no faith. We saw unspeakable squalor and poverty. But we also saw remarkable strength and faith in the midst of such unspeakable suffering; the strength and faith that can only come from the God who plants his footsteps in the sea and rides on the storm. We saw God work in remarkable ways to create opportunities for sharing His word with those who needed it most. Men and women heard about Christ from our lips; I saw 6 Spanish speaking people enthralled at hearing the gospel in their own language; a hitchhiker got the ride he was looking for and the good news too. After a week of visiting and inviting, over 60 people came from the community to a dinner and evangelistic service Friday night! We’ve sown seed, watered, and only God knows what growth He will bring about.
I went to Lakeshore because I knew people not only needed their houses rebuilt; they needed the good news of God saving sinners through the work of His Son, Jesus. After all, Jesus Himself ministered both to the physical and spiritual needs of people. When the crowds learned where He had gone, “They followed him and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11) LBC it seems to me is doing a fine job of meeting people’s needs and speaking to them of the Kingdom of God – true mercy ministry.
What happened in Lakeshore was that I was reminded of how much I need the gospel. I learned how far short I come in loving sinners. I learned how pathetic my complaints are. I learned how little I show real love to people in need. I learned how much growing I have to do. I learned how weak I am. I learned again how totally dependent upon God I am. I learned that I can deal with a little physical discomfort. I learned that His strength is made perfect in my weakness. I learned that I have a lot more to learn about mercy ministry (thoughts on how to translate what LBC is doing to our churches would be most welcome). I learned more about the joy of telling others of the hope that lies within me. I learned more about fellowship and communion of believers of like mind. I learned more of how the body of Christ operates. I learned that God moves in mysterious ways. And I’m still learning.
I went to Lakeshore to be a blessing to others, and hopefully I was. But what I know happened is that I was blessed. I’m thankful to each one who played a part in the experience of a lifetime – from my family (love you, E!) and church at home who prayed for me to those who were there with me. I pray now that I remember what I’ve learned, and I pray that God will continue to build not just houses in Lakeshore, but His Kingdom.