By Linda C. Hoops
Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated more than 90,000 square miles, killed nearly 2,000 and changed the lives and futures of countless people along the Gulf Coast, Recovery Assistance Inc. Ministries (RAI) continues to house and coordinate volunteers coming to New Orleans to help people rebuild their lives, homes, churches and communities.
RAI operates Camp Restore, located at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and School in New Orleans East. In 2006 LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Laborers For Christ, Orphan Grain Train and the LCMS Southern District led the effort to establish the camp for “Restoring Faith, Home and Community to Victims of Katrina.”
To commemorate five years of restoration since Katrina’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, RAI is holding several “K5” events, including a decommissioning service for Camp Biloxi in Mississippi, a sister camp to Camp Restore. The service will be led by LCMS President Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick and LCMS Southern District President Rev. Kurtis D. Schultz at 10:30 a.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, where Kieschnick served in his first call as pastor from 1970 to 1973.
Camp Biloxi, which began as a “tent city” to house thousands of volunteers eager to help immediately following Katrina, is located on the grounds of the church and adjoining land west of the property. The city of Biloxi, which twice named the camp its “Nonprofit Volunteer Organization of the Year,” has asked that it discontinue its operation and return the church grounds to their pre-Katrina condition as part of the city’s efforts to bring Biloxi “back to some semblance of normal.”
Kieschnick and Schultz also will lead a 5 p.m. worship service at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and Camp Restore in New Orleans later that day.
“As a result of Hurricane Katrina, the nation’s economic recession, and the recent oil debacle, residents of the Gulf Coast have experienced more than their share of difficulty and disaster,” he told Reporter. “So I want to do anything I can to help restore a sense of hope that the providential care of our gracious God will bring better days and that, in spite of the turmoil and trouble of their lives, they are able to see the peace of God that passes all understanding, through Christ our Lord.”
A Chicago connection
Some 950 miles to the north, a group of churches in the northwest suburbs of Chicago who have formed the Chicago Area Mission Partnership will gather to hold a K5 fundraising event for the restoration of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward.
Trinity is the last LCMS church still standing that has not been rebuilt since Katrina. Located just blocks from the levee that failed, the church filled with more than 12 feet of water. Its members were displaced throughout the country and the decision was made to disband the congregation. The goal of the partnership is to restore Trinity as a place of worship and a community center focused on youth by Easter 2012.
The Aug. 29 event, which includes food and activities for children, will take place at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Barrington, Ill., from 2 to 5 p.m. At 4 p.m., a prayer service will be held to remember those who continue to struggle in the aftermath of Katrina.
Dave Moll, a member of St. Matthew who has served as leader of two volunteer teams from various Chicago churches to Camp Restore, emphasized the goal of the event is threefold:
- “To remember what happened in August 2005 and continue to keep the people of this area in our prayers.
- “To reunite our mission teams of past years, as it’s been great getting to know brothers and sisters in Christ from other congregations.
- “To restore Trinity Lutheran Church by fundraising, inviting people to actively take part in a mission trip to the area and by becoming prayer warriors for this effort,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Besides the decommissioning of Camp Biloxi, RAI is undergoing other changes as well. Rev. Dave Buss, who served as RAI’s executive director for the past four years, is returning to parish ministry. His successor is Rev. David Goodine, who also was installed as pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church Aug. 15.
Also this summer, the Capital One–University of New Orleans Charter School Network approached Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and RAI Ministries about housing Pierre A. Capdau Elementary School in the former Prince of Peace Lutheran School Building, which has been home to Camp Restore since 2006.
The camp has been relocated to bunkhouses on the back lot of the Prince of Peace campus as well as the church building and a portion of the school building.
During the transition, Camp Restore continued to feed, house and equip volunteers each week, including more than 500 youth who stayed there for the weeks immediately before and after July’s National LCMS Youth Gathering. In addition, 600 more youth worked on restoration projects throughout the city, including homes, churches, parks, schools, youth centers and homeless shelters for two days prior to the July 17-21 Youth Gathering.
At its Gathering booth, the camp offered youth the opportunity to practice their drywall mudding and taping skills — one of many projects volunteers regularly engage in through Camp Restore.
‘Fun Camp’ for kids
Also in July, the camp co-sponsored a three-day “Down ‘Da Road Fun Camp” for about 100 children of fishermen whose daily work schedule was curtailed by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The oil spill hadn’t just affected the employment of the father or the mother, but for many it had affected the whole family’s way of life,” Michael Pieper, a Camp Restore intern and event organizer, wrote in a blog on the camp’s website. “I also learned that since the main or only source of income had recently slowed or ceased, some of these families were now living without electricity. With no electricity indoors, it being in the heat of the summer outdoors, and, ultimately, without the routine activities of participating in fishing, children had ended up with no other option than to stay indoors with little or no activity.”
Volunteers from Camp Restore played games with the children, led art projects and “were absolutely incredible with the kids, nothing short of blessings, straight from God, into the hearts and smiles of these children.
“Every single child,” Pieper added, “experienced the gift of fun and joy, but gave it back tenfold to us ‘grown-ups.’ Throughout the three days, I heard a number of kids say how much fun they were having, especially compared to how boring most days have been this summer.”
The co-sponsoring of the children’s camp with the St. Bernard Project, which helps families in the Orleans and St. Bernard parishes to rebuild their homes, is representative of the more than 60 churches, schools and nonprofit organizations RAI has partnered with in the New Orleans area.
“In addition to restoring homes, volunteers are equipped to use their diverse gifts on a wide range of projects that reach far beyond brick-and-mortar,” said Kurt Jostes, RAI’s director of advancement. “Many volunteers have been inspired to engage in similar efforts in their hometowns and around the world in partnership with LCMS World Mission.”
Lessons learned from RAI’s volunteer camps have also been included in congregational disaster-response training provided by LCMS World Relief and Human Care (WR-HC), as part of the organizations’ continued partnership.
“Camp Restore and RAI have rebuilt, rehabbed or repaired well over 6,000 homes,” said WR-HC Executive Director and Synod President-elect Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. “There’s a lot of work yet to do, and RAI and Camp Restore have the capacity to do it.”
WR-HC Director of Disaster Response Rev. Glenn Merritt said he can testify to the care shown by RAI for the people affected by Katrina.
“For the staff and thousands of volunteers at Camp Restore and Camp Biloxi over the past five years “Restoring Faith, Home and Community” is more than just a slogan, it is a commitment to compassion,” he told Reporter.
“Through Camp Biloxi and Camp Restore, over 33,000 volunteers have changed the lives of those in the community,” noted Buss in a newsletter. “Romans 8:28 says that God works for the good of those who love Him, in all things. This has certainly been true — even in something as devastating as Katrina.
“Here along the Gulf Coast, He has worked good for His people through His people: those who prayed, volunteered, encouraged and gave of their time, talents and treasure. To be part of this ‘Good Work’ has been both humbling and exhilarating.”
Linda C. Hoops is a freelance writer and a member of Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, Sunset Hills, Mo.
Posted Aug. 18, 2010