Southwesterners help with Katrina relief in Mississippi

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (BP) -- While most media attention was focused on the effect Hurricane Katrina had on New Orleans, sometimes over-looked was the damage inflicted on areas in Mississippi. But one student from The College at Southwestern took off for a week recently to help with the post-Katrina clean-up in the state and in the process connected with a Southwestern alumnus serving there.

Clay Black joined a group of 18 men from Travis Avenue Baptist Church and drove from Fort Worth to Hattiesburg Sept. 5 to “fill work orders” that a local church had ready for them to do.

“We took a van load and truck bed full of diapers, canned goods and water to be distributed as relief,” Black said. “We also took chain saws, ropes and saws to cut trees and remove brush. We had to cut down damaged trees. We also helped clean out an elderly man’s front yard.”

The trip was led by Charles Hanks, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary and associate minister for missions and evangelism at Travis Avenue. Black said he got an email from Hanks calling for volunteers to respond to the needs of a former Travis Avenue member in Hattiesburg who needed help.

“The spirit of our group was phenomenal,” Black said. “We were as diverse a group as you could come up with: students, businessmen, lawyers, church staffers, you name it. The camaraderie was icing on the cake. There were no conflicts within the group. I think it was because God purposed for us to do this.”

The group got the call on Friday, Sept. 2, and put together the whole trip—equipment, trucks, supplies and manpower—in one day. The group stayed in a home in Hattiesburg.

“We had cold showers at first and no electricity until the middle of the week,” Black said. “But it was such a positive result that it inspired us to think about starting our own disaster-relief program and men’s fellowship back home. So, God worked through our efforts and in our group at the same time.”

The whole group stayed in Hattiesburg for three days; then five workers from the group responded to a call from Danny Davis, a Southwestern Seminary graduate serving as pastor to Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Meridian, Miss. They stayed there for four days putting a roof on a building in 100-degree temperatures.

“The shingles were melting to our feet,” Black said. “Let me tell you: putting on a roof is much harder than cutting up trees.”

There were so many reasons not to go, Black said. But he had “a strong conviction” that that was what God wanted him to do. Once he made the commitment, things like money, food, transportation and even class work “kind of fell into place,” he said.

“At first it was intimidating to worry about how professors would respond to being gone for a week of classes. But I found that the professors wanted to know how everything went, shared it with classes, and it was a real positive response,” Black said.

Black told of a woman whose yard they cleared. She was in her late 70s and suffered from lupus. After the yard was complete, the lady was tearful with gratitude.

“She asked all 18 of us to come to her door—because she couldn’t go outside—so she could thank each of us personally,” Black said. “That by itself made the trip worthwhile.”

Going on a relief mission is “a good way to put into action what you learn about in class here. As hard as it was and physically draining as it was, it was the most fulfilling week I can remember. The emotional and spiritual rewards far outweighed the physical hardships,” he said.

Established 1908 Fort Worth, Texas