Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Everyone who has participated in a Katrina Relief Mission Trip especially the Christmas Blitz is invited to a reunion meeting to see the pictures and DVD presentation of the trip. We will meet at 2:30 PM at 2nd Presbyterian Church, Knoxville for what is planned as an hour of reflecting, fellowship, exploring the future and food. Grab a quick lunch after worship and come for snack and meeting. If you have pictures bring them to share.

The next big trip supported by the Presbytery Disaster Response Team will be March 18-25. The major thrust of this trip is to get college age people to go on their spring break on this trip but all ages - high school and up are invited. Look here on the blog for more info but the same application and contact for application (Rick Kulhman) will be in place for this trip.

If your church or several churches together would like plan their own trip we will be happy to facilitate your work and plug your people into the network. We have proven this can be done all you need is the desire and a few key leaders. Groups of 8 and up are welcome.

Skills are needed in the following areas for all trips. Roofers, truck owners, big delivery trucks and pick-ups electricians and builders.
Thanks for all the support we are experiencing a wonderful generosity and God’s grace is working on us as we work.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Are you looking for a way you can help those devastated by Katrina? Then I strongly recommend volunteering for the next mission trip to Biloxi. Having just returned from being a part of an indescribable roofing mission blitz to Biloxi Mississippi, I can tell you, that together Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Lord have put together a fantastic support infrastructure that makes it very easy to apply whatever talent you have to assist the folks in need. What is needed most is time and service of people willing to do the Lord’s work in this place. Work needs have been identified and prioritized. Tools are available. There is a place to sleep and to get fed, and opportunities to worship. The recent trip had workers from age 11 through 79+. All found a way to contribute. All you have to do is sign up and go. A word of warning: you will not return as the same person. The encounters with the Lord’s work and incredible spirit of the people you will meet will change you forever.

Dave Nippert – Crew 5 Leader

Peaks and Valleys

I have been on a number of mission trips and work projects, and thought I had fully experienced the wonderful ways in which the Lord and the Holy Spirit work. Not so! The Biloxi roofing blitz revealed a whole new level! First a super support infrastructure had formed just in time to support the host of over 200 servants from East Tennessee and Hamilton Ontario. The infrastructure included all the tools, materials, eating and sleeping arrangements needed for the week. Second, most of the homes where service was needed and welcomed had been identified and work crews were assigned.

As we were starting to put down the singles on our first home, a roofing professional appeared and asked what we were doing and if we were professionals. He said he had been in the area putting on roofs, but most of his fellow workers had taken off for the Christmas and New Year break. He wasn’t sure what, but something had led him to our home and gave him the desire to help. He showed us how to organize a roofing team and helped us get the process started. An hour later, another professional roofer appeared. This one was puzzled by some of the work he saw on our roof. He explained that the valley he could see had been started incorrectly. He asked if he could help. After being sure he understood this was all voluntary in the service of the Lord, he said he still wanted to help. He went up to the roof and started a discussion with our first “professional” roofer. They agreed the first valley was done incorrectly and agreed on a way to fix it. They and our team jointly continued to work on our first house. It had 6 valleys that needed to be done. By the end of day, three of our work team had been trained in doing valleys. At the end of day the second professional roofer asked for a ride to where he was staying in Gulfport. While taking him home, he explained he and a partner had roofing and fix up crews working in the area. He was from Texas, and had done fix up work after storms for most of his life. He also explained he likes to visit the Casinos, and had spent last night there, losing over $500. He thanked us for letting him have a chance to practice his profession until his associates returned from the break. Without the help of these two professionals, the roofing of our first house would not have been of as high quality as it turned out. Both professionals said it was an extremely good job. By the way, this was Cassie Massie’s home. An earlier group from Tennessee had demucked her home and formed a special relationship with her. It was important to all that job we did be exceptional. With the Lord providing us the two professional roofers we were able to leave her an exceptional roof. I also believe the two roofers also became closer to the Lord as a result of working with Crew 5.

Cassie Massie’s home also had a laundry room separate from the main house. It had been lifted off its foundation on one side by the roots of a fallen tree. The Lord had arranged for two members of crew 5 to have the interest and talent to fix this. Using car jacks, saws, and expert construction advice, they were able to right the laundry room and set it back on its foundation. When Cassie saw what had been accomplished, she cried with Joy.

As we started our second house, the first professional roofer came by to see how we were doing. Later he, brought by two of his workers to see how we were doing the valleys. What the second professional taught the day before, was better than the way the first roofer did valleys. At another team home near our second house, they had a valley and asked our crew to teach them how to do valleys. Thus, as a result of teaching of the second professional roofer, there will now be many roofs in Biloxi that will have the best roof valleys possible.

There were many other ways the Lord was involved to the blitz make both the home reconstructions a success and the spiritual growth all involved growth to new levels.

I truly thank the Lord to have an opportunity to be involved.

Dave Nippert – Crew 5 Leader


It was an amazing trip. This was my second time to the gulf, I went with the UT students in Oct. and had to go back. While I didn’t get to see as much outside the church as I would have liked I saw enough to make me committed to many repeat trips.

My Kitchen crew this trip was fantastic and after a day we really seemed to have it all together. Jane, Jan, Mary, Marsha, Laura and Phyllis all seemed to give it their all to make things go smoothly. My thanks also to Faith and the others who filled in at the end!! We very seldom met as a small group because we tried to get some people loose for bed before all were done but we enjoyed a couple of minutes on News Years Eve and shared some thoughts. The ladies had time to visit more of the work sites than I did and they got to spend a bit more time together. What really struck me was that every time I went to the store or out side the church area there were always people that thanked me for being down there to help or who helped me with things like loading the car. I am truly looking forward to planning more trips to the area to help. I hope my cooking was up to the task, but I know that from all the thanks I got you were all pretty happy with the food.

Mike Kirkland Head Chef, and leader of a GREAT Kitchen Crew

Reflections on the Christmas Blitz from the Big Hooah!

What a trip! School has started back for the middle and high schoolers and college is just about to begin for our college students. The adults are back at work in their usual occupations; life for our team is just about back to the normal routine. As we look back to last week, it was only the Holy Spirit that could have united such a diverse group of people, most of us having never even been on a roof, let alone knowing how to put one on, into a focused effective force that courageously set out on a very challenging, untried mission. I am sure there were those that thought we could not succeed in our project, but those doubters left God out of the equation. As we continue to reflect back on this time together, remember this is a perfect example of the Body of Christ working together. All of us had our jobs to do and no job was less important than another, because all were critical for successful completion. None of us will ever look at a disaster the same way again and we will always fondly remember the grateful survivors that we had the opportunity to help! We also have made many new life long friends among our group.

For me I consider it an honor and a pleasure to have been able to meet and work with such a positive, enthusiastic body of believers. I felt the effect of the many prayers that were prayed on our behalf by the many that might not have even been with us. Once again it reiterated to me the power of prayer! Your love for each other and willingness to serve people you did not even know was incredible. Your crew chiefs told me of their crews voting unanimously to finish their roofs instead of just felting them, even though it meant a longer work day, you laughed and joked about the tenuous shower situation instead of whining and complaining, you cleaned up the church without hesitation, and rose very early every morning eager to go out and serve! You now have great stories of roofing and mucking, and listening to the survivors' tales. All of us may never be together again as a group until we all meet in Eternity. I will applaud as our Lord presents each of you with the crowns of reward for your service to His children of Biloxi as you sit on the Bema Seat of Christ!

We roofed 15 homes, 5 more roofs nearly finished ( 2 very complicated and one started later on the last day), 4 de-mucks, 3 homes sorted out personal effects, and even found a wedding ring! We had no serious injuries, listened to countless stories from the survivors of Katrina and brought “Hope out of Chaos!” We interacted with our Canadian and Jewish friends, making this an international and ecumenical experience as well! We must always remember that all things are possible with God. I also encourage you to consider returning to the Gulf and again giving of yourself to serve others!

Christmas Blitz Stats

Total team............................181
College Students....................54
High School.............................49
Middle School...........................7

Manhours at work sites......7740

Roofs Completed....................15
Roofs nearly completed..........5
Houses De-Mucked.................4
Other homes affected..............3

Rick Kuhlman
Trip Lead

The Lord's Roofs

I came across an article today that, I believe, if paraphrased could be a very accurate news article of the future. Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity was asked why the Habitat houses in South Florida were spared by Hurricane Andrew when so many others were flattened. Using his answer because he said what I feel better than I can, I imagine this as a future news article:

Dateline -- Biloxi, MS, Sep 16, 2009: This is Sam Scoop reporting for station WBIL. I am with the coordinator of the Presbyterian Disaster Relief effort of 2006 to ask him just why the roofs remained on all the houses his group roofed in 2005 & 2006 when nearly all others were blown away in the category 5 storm just two weeks ago.

"There are three reasons Sam. First, we roofed the houses on rocks."

"Rocks? What rocks? The roofs are nailed to wood, not rocks. Even the houses are only built on mud and sand!"

"Oh no Sam. There are rocks if you know where to look for them."


"In the Bible. Don't you know the Bible? It plainly says that you should always build your house on the rocks. If you build it on sand it will be destroyed in times of storms. It's the same for roofs! The rock we built upon is the spirit with which the work was done."

"Oh! What's the second reason?"

"We put love in every nail and shingle, and that love holds the roofs together."

"And the third reason?"

"The third reason is that all the work was done by volunteers. Their only pay was the satisfaction of a job well done and a sense of being about the Lord's work, which should always be done right. Not being sure of themselves as roofers, when the directions called for six nails, they used eight or nine. Hence, this last hurricane didn't stand a chance against one of our, or I should say the Lord's, roofs."

Tom Cooper
Team 2 Crew Chief

The Sacrement of Roofing

At 6:30 am the Tuesday after Christmas, I found myself in a ragtag group of folks very loosely associated with my church, sleepily falling into a van headed to a church in Gulfport to be part of a 180+/- Americans (mostly from Presbytery of East Tennessee and 50 more Canadian college students - with one purpose in mind - to roof as many houses as possible in a 6 day school/work holiday break. I know what you’re thinking…too many people…not enough space…exactly! Except…it was more like the parable of the loaves and fishes in somewhat reverse…this time, mankind learned to adapt and work as a well oiled machine with just what God blessed them with rather than being gifted with “more” even though, now that I think of it…the net gain was just the same either way…”just enough”…manna from heaven.

Lots of meetings a nice dinner, “small groups (where would we Presbys be without our small groups???) ”, and marching orders - high hopes, lots of enthusiasm pretty much covered the rest of the night.

I could give you details of worship services, instructions to “beginner roofers” ranging in ages from 12 to 82+. I could tell you about the men sleeping in the sanctuary and the women sleeping on the gym floor; I could talk forever about the clothes, the plastic bags, the endless debris still hanging from the trees...and how it reminded me of that Billy Holiday song "Strange Fruit", and I saw the significance between her original meaning and what was happening here: I could tell you that I took my massage table and worked on more backs than I could count…weeks end….BUT the first massage I gave was ironically the father of the last massage I gave before going to bed last night. But none of that matters, really. .

This is what matters…

It is ALL that matters…

NO ONE is rebuilding anything!!!!! Or, better yet…the GOVERNMENT is NOT doing anywhere near enough. Everywhere I went. I saw religions of every name and denomination set up with their own recruits doing volunteer work. Even now…Biloxi Mississippi looks like a war torn America …. And ONLY volunteers are there to help …the first time I saw FEMA? I saw it stamped on tarps yesterday that we were folding after our volunteers tore it off, tore off the old roof and put on a new one…in one day. There are people still living in tents, with nowhere else to go …and no money to get there. Government relief?!? I didn’t see any... No where…for no one…you just have to see it…for yourself...

The people of Biloxi and Gulfport are so very gracious. It was somewhat unnerving at times… here are folks, just like you and me , and they’ve lost everything…absolutely everything…I met a family on the beach with 3 children…the youngest still in daddy’s arms….the water rose so fast, they grabbed the baby and the 2 older kids …and watched helplessly as they lost their dog…… their cat……..their ferret……gone….. All possessions …gone….. They still managed to worry over a duck Debbie and I had found with a possible neck injury, unable to moves it's legs and feet. And yet, they are all so very thankful that we’re there…that anyone is there…helping them or their neighbor…because they are really so forgotten. Honestly, the only people I saw working on rebuilding who were being paid were the folks working on the casinos…all the rest…every all volunteer.

And you wonder why they didn’t leave when they were warned, but once you’re there, you realize that the warning came too late and it somehow seems safer to take your chances at home than gridlock on the gulf coast highway…if you’re lucky enough to own a car. I finally get it.

Yesterday morning, I walked the streets of downtown Biloxi , taking pictures, and never met a soul. Do you realize how BIG that statement is???? I was downtown Biloxi at noon on New Years Day…and NO ONE was there?!! When I returned to the neighborhood where my crew was working, I was joined by Miss “T McGee”.

“T McGee” is 5 going on 6. She rides a mean hand me down boy’s bike, wears some old worn out “Shrek” slippers and loves to engage in conversation. She has an older sister, Jessica, and a younger brother, Taylor. She taught me an important life lesson when she taught me how to remember your months by touching your forehead, nose and mouth…..hardheaded, nosy and talks too much….and I tried to impress on her and her sister how wonderfulbeautifulspecialawesomelovelyfunnyand kind they each were. I was Santa a week late with Charlie brown coloring books and stockings with chocolate. Miss T McGee insisted on a picture of her grandma’s house follow the picture of her.

I said

“T Mc Gee, Now I can say I have a picture of T McGee when she was still 5 but just right before she was 6 because she’ll be 6 on January the ninth, even though people say “T, I thought you were already 6!”

And she’ll giggle and say “Yeah, they say that…take a picture of my grandma’s house…”

And I say “I think I’ll take 2”

And T and I make Jessica laugh and pose for her pictures.

And T wants to go for a very long walk with me…..

But, no kidding, the junkyard dog got loose when another wreck was towed in with police escort…

(Jessica was so afraid that dog would bite her…even though I promised her I wouldn’t let it, and we never REALLY saw it)

But the rain was real

And became faster and more real

So the girls went in

And I went back to my roof

I should tell you about eating MRE’s with a lady whose roof got finished ands she wanted to feed us ….or the pit bulls we all wanted to rescue… or maybe I should reflect on new year’s eve

It was absolutely the most grueling day for those on the roof(s)

I take no credit…and deserve none that day, as these were my duties….

First, I was a “nurse” onsite as triage and first aid….

2nd , I was the massage therapist for the group - yes I stayed busy

3rd I was ground crew for the roofers

4th I was co-ruler at the showers

So, new year’s eve…the roofer’s were exhausted…but we had steak for dinner and a special concert from a group that was a part of the Canadians working with us (they brought 150 and 50 stayed with us) the night started with everyone singing along to “dead puppies” sung and played by my very new favorite local artist…let’s hear it for…ethan norman who is so awesome*.


Last night I was so very blessed. to be present to take part in the most meaningful sacrament I’ve ever experienced and it was all about mankind and brother/sister/hood all inclusive.. the only requirement? That you’d been there and left a small mark… I now have among my most prized possessions, 2 small pieces of cloth, cut from material that would have otherwise been tossed aside, but that will always remind me that we are all God's children and woven into a grand scheme. When I look and touch these small scraps I will also remember how we were all moved by the singing and playing of "Be Thou My Vision" throughout that night.

My prayer is that you find yourself a part of that ceremony soon

First, because of them…..because when the volunteers stop…so does the hope…and so does the work

Second, because of you….because it is the most meaningful thing you will have done with your life

And lastly…because of all of us…without “u” there is no US ! Without us….

Please find some time for yourself and Mississippi…..

God’s blessings to you and yours in this New Year

Denise Martin

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A message from the drivers seat:

Our second day of work together I was “elected” to fill the very big shoes that Joe Fielden had filled from the pre-planing stage to the afternoon of the second day of work. Driving the coordinators support/supply truck gave me a unique look not only at our work, but at the community. I met many of the residents we were helping and was able to listen to their stories. Stories like this one... “There were 11 of us and the dog who spent hours in our attic wondering if the water would ever stop rising. We were thinking of swimming for the big pecan tree at the corner of our lot but only two of us could swim, three if you include the dog. And all this time the wind was tearing at the roof and slamming things into the house. Then we spent the next two weeks with nothing to change into, no water, no food, and when help finally came they set it all up on the other side of the bridge 3 miles away and told us to walk - I’m 73, so’s my wife, and with no water, no food, no car to drive, and no place safe to stay, how was I suppose to get to help on the other side of the bridge!”
This was not the only such story, they went on and on. I also was able to get a look at each of the roofing crews. Each one was special in its own way. All were willing and wanting to do a good job. All were talking to the owners and listening to their stories and to their hopes for the future. All experience a startling grace from the people of the neighborhood they were working in. All worked hard to do what they could to help. All were being gracious very hard working parts of the body of Christ.
I also had the privileged each day to have lunch prepared by homeowners. Now, those of you who weren’t there understand something. There are no kitchens except in the FEMA trailers. But when I visited several of the homes the owners had set up tables with table cloths in what remained of their living rooms, set out pizza, hot dogs, bread, cold drinks, cookies, snacks, anything they had - and much of it was borrowed or scourged by people who still had very little or nothing. They were feeding us as well as or better than they were eating. They were offering hospitality to those who were in their homes in the very best ways they could. The words “amazing grace” come to mind many times.
As I drove around I also looked at the homes we had finished the first day or so. Even without inside walls, kitchens, working bathrooms, or furniture, some people were moving back in! Sleeping on the floor, drinking from bottled water, using the working bathroom down the street in a neighbors FEMA trailer, they were HOME! If that’s not a sign of the hope we were able to give what could be?
God truly is good - all the time. I was very proud of our work and our workers. But remember, pride in what you can do in God’s name is righteous pride only if you follow it up with “Who get’s the glory? God does! God does! God does! There were well over 200 people from our group and others who were doing just what God would want us to do as we struggle in this fallen world to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and love others as we love ourselves. Praise God and, now that we know what we can do and how to do it, get ready for spring break... see you on the roof.

Rev. Rob Mellgard
Pastor New Hope Presbyterian Church
Christmas Break Katrina Mission Trip CEG - Chief Executive Go-for.

The Return

I sit here in my nice warm office in my comfortable chair at my nice desk, thinking back, reflecting on my experiences in Gulfport/Biloxi/Bay St. Louis and my head is so full of thoughts that I cannot keep them all straight. I am mostly grateful for the people who made all of this happen for me, for my family, for our presbytery and for the folks whom we met and who touched us so deeply last week. That is the way my mind works, I can't help it.

I think of Joe Fielden and Paul Risk, masterminds of our work, dedicated to the work of our Lord and giving of their expertise to make an impossible job very possible. I think of Bethany Benz, sick in bed all day our first day with whatever was going around, asking for a shot not a pill, getting on a roof and becoming one of our leaders quickly. I think of Mike Kirkland and especially of the kitchen crew who lamented their lack of involvement in the work, and then worked 18 hour days to make sure we were all fed and happy. I feel like a piker only having worked 8 hours that day. I think about Ethan Norman and his crew, working hard all day and then leading worship night after night after night. I am no musician but I think I might have had trouble keeping my fingers nimble enough to play a guitar after swinging a hammer all day.
I think of Terry Chumley and Ernie Wiles and all those other crew leaders, none of whom had any idea what they were walking into the midst of, who nonetheless grabbed an unruly bunch of do-gooders and made us into roofers. I think about Denise Martin and Debbie Hyder and Chuck O'Connor, caring for the sick, giving massages until late into the evening, getting people back to work quickly and enthusiastically. I think of the drivers, the group leaders, the showers and every mundane little thing that made this experience work, that could have sabotaged the week but went so smoothly and so well, and I am in awe. I have missed many and know that everyone there worked for the good of the people of Mississippi and for the good of each other. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

And then I think about Pete Bloss, Clerk of the Session of Westminster.
Pete talked to us about listening, about connecting with folks and just hearing their stories. So I did. I asked Pete about his story and I fear that I will never have the guts to do what Pete is doing for his God, for his church, for his neighbors every day, day after day after day. His law firm was destroyed, his staff is scattered and suffering, his income is threatened and he is trying to recover what he can of that and care for his partners and employers as well. And he was with us an awful lot, doing what God has convicted him to do, giving and giving and giving. As a lifelong resident of Gulfport, he suffers with his friends and neighbors, and yet he is a giver to a degree that inspires me. I think about Pete Bloss and his congregation, struggling now without pastoral leadership, and doing the work of God's creation more now than ever before.

From the comfort of my home, sleeping again in my own bed and comfortable again, so many miles from Gulfport, I feel the connection that is the Presbyterian church and I am forever changed by that. I go this afternoon to Louisville to do more of the work of our denomination and will take with me not only East Tennessee but more specifically the people that I spent last week with, forever in my heart and in my work.

Peace and grace
Steve Benz
Sierra Group - Team 1

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What an amazing week it was!

It was inspiring to hear the stories as everyone filtered back from their day, clean, tired and hungry! A kitchen crew of seven fed the never ending line. My day started at 5 am as I slipped back into the clothes I left next to the sleeping bag when I took them off last night. Then off to the kitchen where Chef Mike already has the water heating. Fill the coffee pots first thing. Note to self: do not plug them in near each other, the circuit breaker will blow. Set up the lunch line, and then start some small pots of coffee so the crew chiefs will have some ready while the big one perks. In the kitchen Jane was making orange juice and lemonade, Jan was cooking sausage, Laura getting the eggs ready for Mike to cook while he finished the grits, Phyllis was cutting up the coffee cakes and Marsha was getting out the cereal and milk. By 6:30 the line was open and it was time to keep an eye on the need for refills of the fruit, cheese, ham and turkey as everyone fixed their sack lunch. As the buses and trucks rolled out to work I got my breakfast and it was soon time to put everything away again, grits pan and egg pans and sausage trays to clean.

Time for a shower and clean clothes! Head back to the kitchen, 36 dozen cookies to bake for evening snack. The stories we hear as our groups come back make us want to see what is happening first hand. On our road trip to Biloxi-what devastation there was, yet how wonderful it was to see our kids and new friends working on roofs and cleaning houses and yards. I was truly amazed when I asked Sylvia McCray where she had been during the storm and she told me she “Right here on the porch,” with the water rising eventually to chest high. Hearing stories first hand has such a completely different impact than listening to the nightly newscast does.

I got a call from Bri, who has my van on the job site. It’s not an emergency she said, just a nail in the tire. Pastor Dave put on the spare and took the car to a station to get the tire patched. A local gent observed Dave’s Presbyterian T-shirt, declared that he himself was a Presbyterian and paid the bill. Volunteers are appreciated!

By late afternoon dinner prep is well underway. Kids are straggling back, comfortable in their evening gear and the cooler of soft drinks is soon empty again. Make more coffee and more lemonade. At 6:30 open the doors and watch the faces light up. Steak! Roast pork! Turkey and dressing! Hamburgers! Yum! The lines seem never ending, but as worship time nears the kitchen crew finally sits down to eat. But the day is not over yet, there is still dinner cleanup and evening snack to set out and clean up again. Finally it is bed time at 11:30. The room is quiet, the snoring gentle and the kitchen crew is soon asleep.

Mary Roberts
for the Kitchen Crew

Katrina Grief Observed

Every morning, she appeared in the yard beside the house we were roofing – 70-year-old Eddie May – shuffling among the piles she’d rescued back from the street after the first wave of Katrina clean-up crews.

“They threw my stuff away,” she muttered, surveying her piles, wearing the same green skirt that looked suspiciously like an old towel, the same stained t-shirt, and different Mardi Gras beads every day.

“Is there anything we can help you with?” we asked.

When she said she’d like some help cleaning up her yard, I thought she meant cleaning up the bags and piles cluttering the front of her FEMA trailer. And so I sat with her for several hours as she picked through rusty necklaces and wrinkled photos and ruined cassette tapes. This was harder work for me, I found, than lifting shingles. Each item held, considered, remembered – most simply moved to another pile. In my logical mind, she wasn’t making much progress. But for her, these things could not be thrown away. Holding on to each small trinket, she held on to her life and her memories.

Then she wondered if we might rake her yard. I knew her house was scheduled for demolition the next week; flat and low, it had filled to the brim with Katrina’s fury and had been condemned. Why bother with the yard?

But we raked, Emily and I, and we tidied, and we brought to her treasures found beneath the leaves – clippings pressed in a soggy book, plastic toy animals, more beads. It would have been easy – and more “practical” – to toss them along with the leaves. But by then, we had seen that these things, for her, held great value.

And then – the image that will forever be etched in my memory – Eddie May picked up a broom and began to sweep her mildewed, broken front porch, the porch that would probably be demolished first. She picked up a rake and began to rake the dirt yard around the porch – gathering broken glass and bits of trash from who knows where. The swish of the broom against faded Astroturf, the scrape of the rake across concrete and dirt, the swaying motions – familiar sounds and familiar strokes from 30 years of living in this place

“When they come to tear down my house, they won’t have to deal with all this trash,” she said, raking out the old flower beds – carefully, tenderly – as though preparing a body for burial.

Molly Garnett
Quebec Group, Team 3
January 1, 2006

A Tribute to our Roofing Blitz Homeowners

You took a risk when you let us into your homes and onto your roofs –
A volunteer crew of kids and adults from far away,
Old and young,
Some quite experienced, most not at all.
Graciously, you opened your hurricane-ravaged doors
And your temporary FEMA trailers
And shared your incredible stories of horror and loss.
With faraway looks in your eyes,
You re-lived Katrina for us,
Letting us in as much as you could
To an experience we could hardly fathom.
But you did not dwell on fear and loss,
But spoke of faith,
Testifying of God’s presence in times of trouble.
And then, you spoke of ordinary things –
Flower beds and families and tools and jobs –
Teaching us that life goes on,
So that next time, when it is our turn to face tragedy,
We will remember.
We worked – and laughed – and chatted – and laughed some more,
Roofs going on even as friendships grew deeper.
We entered a broken building as strangers.
We left holy spaces as friends –
Richer, deeper, and strengthened to face our own storms.
Thank you.

Molly Garnett, Quebec Group, Team 3


As I have had time to reflect on our trip I simply received the greatest gifts of all:

1) The gift to help those who have lost it all.
2) The gift to give of the talents God has blessed me with.
3) The gift to meet and work with the most incredible people I have ever met.
4) The gift to work with Paul Risk, Rick Kuhlman, and Mike Kirkland.
5) The gift to spend quality time with my son Josh.
6) The gift to receive so much love and gratitude from the people that live in all of Southern Mississippi.
7) The gift to be a child of God.

Thanks to all for all the GIFTS!

- Joe Fielden

Saturday, December 31, 2005


Today has fostered a multitude of emotions. Help me be steadfast, God.

Today, as we traveled to the work site along the coastline, I was struck yet again by the magnitude of what I was seeing, hearing, and feeling. When something so big and horrific has devastated these people in such a thorough way, how can a person as small as me do anything of importance? To my right was a peaceful, serene stretch of ocean, a sight which always humbles me, while on my other side was one of the most moving and ghastly spectacles I have ever seen. I often pride myself on being well-traveled and “wise” in the ways of world poverty and devastation. As I have come to think, I’ve done my fair share of poverty tourism and seen the worst of the worst. Driving to Biloxi, however, floored me. This, I had to remind myself, is America. This is not a third world country, yet it is the most humbling and heart-jerking scene I have ever seen. Drew, the driver of my Tahoe transportation, pulled over near a particularly trashed creek and we tentatively stepped out into a full-blown war zone.

I walked with trepidation through the wreckage of someone’s home, carefully trying to avoid the broken china and glass that was scattered across what was formerly a beautiful beachfront backyard. As I walked toward the destroyed brick house, I saw an amalgamation of stuffed animals, clothes, and household appliances littering the lawn. The side of the house had a spray-painted X, a symbol I had seen previously on many houses and buildings in St. Bernard Parish. The X on each building signifies that it has been searched for bodies, and the number in the X signifies the number of bodies found in each building. Seeing this spray-painted X with the number one on the side of what I’m sure used to be a well-loved and beautiful house struck me in a way nothing else had.

After absorbing the destruction as best as could be done in a time span of ten minutes, we reloaded the Tahoe and went on to the work site: Sylvia’s house. Sylvia is one of the sweetest women I have ever met. Yesterday, after seeking a listening ear and finding one in me, she told me about the hurricane. She, her husband, and her son were on her front porch when Katrina hit and she described the acute fear she felt as she heard and saw the storm approaching. She told me how a wall of water from the sea came from the left, while from the right came a wall of water from the bay, and she watched as the two walls met and exploded in front of her house. She doesn’t know how to swim and told me that she has never known a fear as terrifying as when the water began creeping up her body at a steady pace. I talked with her for a few minutes, and she gave me a cursory tour of her trailer, welcoming all of us to “borrow” her facilities at any time. After talking to her about her experience and discovering her undaunted optimism, I realized that even though her house had been destroyed, her home was still within her. Her home was the community, not just confined to the four walls of her house. She also articulated that everything had been put into perspective; her possessions were not as important as her family and community and faith.

The unflagging generosity of Sylvia and her husband astounded me. We arrived each day expecting nothing in return for our efforts, yet Sylvia and her husband provided us with clean bathroom facilities (thank goodness!), cookies, chips, cold drinks, and a ready smile. Sylvia even bought a mechanical back massager and worked on our tight muscles during the lunch break. Our work crew from Tennessee and Canada was there to help them, to fix them, yet Sylvia was the one fixing us. She taught me about optimism. She taught me about compassion. She taught me about hope and generosity and faith. She seemed to be the one healing us, but we’re not the broken ones… are we?

Help me be steadfast, God.

Sarah Terpstra
Group Charlie - Team 3

As Told To Me…

Daryl Fansler came up to me tonight a few minutes after midnight (Knoxville time) and told me a story. It was sketchy, and I might screw up the details, but I wanted to pass it on…

It seems that last November a crew from Knoxville, Daryl included, came down here on a work trip. One of the jobs they did was drywalling Jimmie Lamey’s house. Jimmy was pretty despondent at that time. His wife and family had left for more hospitable environs, his job was in jeopardy, and he really didn’t know what the next step was going to be. Daryl and crew drywalled his house and went back to Knoxville.

Tonight, Daryl called Jimmy to wish him a Happy New Year. Jimmy was exuberant. His wife and family had returned, he was back in the house and a celebration – complete with excited kids voices -- was obvious in the background. Jimmy told Daryl that since he’d moved back into his house, things were looking up. Since November, he and some of his friends had mucked out over 20 houses in the area, bringing hope to a small but growing number of his neighbors.

A marvelous and heartwarming example of paying it forward.

We’re changing lives and bringing hope on the Gulf Coast.

- dan terpstra
for Daryl Fansler
Group R - Team 4

On The Fourth Day

Today was our fourth day of work. I have been working with my 11 year old son, Sam. We spent the day on the ground, cleaning up the mess created by taking the old roof off. We talked to the owner of the house, Larry. His home insurance did not cover flood damage, so he was doing all the reconstruction himself and – according to his wife – about killing himself doing it. She was the one who appealed to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on his behalf. Their house had seven feet of water in it.

Insurance companies are looking very bad in the wake of Katrina. They are trying to weasel out of paying homeowners for their legitimate claims. May God bring justice against the insurance companies and for the homeowners.

On the brighter side, my son and I are learning to use new tools and learning some valuable skills. We are very tired at night and sleep soundly every night. We are most grateful to Fritz Schilling and Rick Kuhlman and the others for planning all this. And thanks to Mike, the food has been great!

David Garnett
Group P - Team 6

What's in Your Heart?

We’ve worked for four days now and I feel like I have learned enough to build a new roof on my house if I ever needed to. Yet, within those four days, I still haven’t figured out if my heart could withstand the loss and struggle that the people of Biloxi have endured. I had the opportunity to talk to one of the families we were helping. The mother, Renee, told me that she, her son (Gregory), and her neighbor (Frank), were able to get out and leave, only to come back to a house that was wind beaten and doused with 27 feet of water. Sixty percent of their neighbors remained during the hurricane and 100% of them lost practically everything. Forty-seven people had to be rescued on their street from one of the few two story houses that was high enough to keep them from the rising flood. It’s been over four months since Katrina and this particular street has barely been touched. One resident commented that they felt like the abandoned street of Biloxi. The first images our team of volunteers saw was that of gutted houses, tarped roofs, trashed streets, and boxes or tents against the sides of the houses holding the few things that were found to be salvageable. It would be so easy for people like Renee just to give up, but their hearts wouldn’t have it. They are rebuilding and surviving. They have the attitude of Jesus and a faith in both themselves and in Him that just floors me. We might be coming to help them, but they continually ask what they can do to help us. For example, several people along the street we are building on go to help serve at the church mission set up to help volunteers and others in the community. It is Biloxi’s way of saying, “God bless you for volunteering to work.” But all I want to say is: “God bless you, for loving Jesus so much.” This trip has made me wonder I would have the same faith and endurance if Knoxville wasn’t there one day. My small group and I had a good discussion about this question. The comment was made that even though we are here now, we are still only experiencing Biloxi’s stories second hand. We have gotten past the media’s interpretation of Katrina, but we still haven’t experienced anything like this first hand. Would I have bounced back like they have been able to down here? Are enough of my treasures in Heaven so that if all I had was lost, you would know that my heart lies with Christ? I hope the answer to that question would be yes, and this trip has reminded me that now more then ever I need to live with my heart on fire for Christ not just on these mission trips, but everyday, regardless of whatever craziness I experience in my life. I want people to know where my heart lies, and that it lies with Christ.

- Leslie Wallace
Group Golf - Team 2

Friday, December 30, 2005

On The Bus

It’s Friday morning, if my memory serves. Time tends to blur in the whirlwind of activity that is this mission trip. I’m sitting on the bus, awaiting departure for another day on the roof on Magnolia Street in Biloxi.

Yesterday morning the bus took us along Highway 90 and the Gulf Coast between Gulfport and Biloxi. We pulled out of the church parking lot with a steady hum of morning chatter. As we turned onto 90, that hum disappeared as an “awe-ful” silence descended over the bus. Although I’d been to Louisiana earlier, and had seen the destruction in Slidell and in St. Bernard, I suspect that this was the first time many on the bus had seen the effects of the power of Katrina.

Even for me the sights were often overwhelming: hundred-year-old oaks toppled like bowling pins; piles of rubble that once were mansions; 3 story stairwells leading to nowhere; high rise hotels and casinos with the first two floors reduced to empty concrete caverns; and of course, the photogenic floating casinos on the wrong side of the street.

The silence on the bus was punctuated by occasional exclamations of surprise or amazement at some particularly striking example of Katrina’s fury. These sights provoke difficult and perennial questions for Christians: Was Katrina evil? If so, where was our God? If our God is all good and all powerful and in control, what happened on the Gulf Coast on August 29? Is what we are doing here an “act of God” or of selfless good, or merely an inadequate response to much deeper problems of poverty and inequity and injustice in the richest country in the world?

I wish I had answers. I hope we as a country continue to be willing to ask the hard questions and struggle to find those answers, wherever the search may lead.

The bus turned off Highway 90 and drove the few blocks to the poor neighborhood behind the expensive beachfront. The morning chatter resumed and we piled off the bus to start another day on the roof on Magnolia Street.

Dan Terpstra
Group Golf – Team 2

Becoming Disciples

If you can get up again on the fourth day, then you can get up day after day. By this time we are beyond tiredness but each day brings a new, interesting aspect of the project, new people to help and a better understanding of the team members we work with. How is it with the families that live here? For them it is not four days of getting up again, but four months. Like some of them, we are sleeping in a tent and it is chilly at night. Like them we are frustrated when the coordination doesn’t work out, when the supplies are promised but not delivered. We wait. They have waited for a very long time.

But the projects are moving forward. Some roofs are complete. From our roof top we can see three other crews on roofs. Beside our house there are two FEMA trailers, one of which our house owner lives in. The neighbor across the street watches all day as we work. He speaks to us with a dialect we can barely understand but we make out that he has no food to offer us but there are some cold drinks in his refrigerator. Another crew reports that “Linda’s gumbo” is unbelievable.

Yesterday we met Liz, the mother of three foster kids. She and her husband both teach high school in Bay St. Louis. The insurance refuses to pay anything from a house that was completely destroyed. All they found were some pots and pans and many pieces of pottery from their large collection of mugs, teapots and platters. Many beautiful pieces survived but were still covered in muck four months latter. They are overwhelmed by life and amazed that a crew is at their door to help. We cleaned and stored for them until they can get back on their feet in their own house. Another mother of three whose entire house we mucked out is living in a shelter. She is unable to store anything and her kids could not understand why all their things had to be discarded. Everywhere are piles of peoples lost dreams. The trash pickup cannot keep ahead of the work. It will be years before the towns of Biloxi and Bay St. Louis are able to put Katrina behind them. Yet the mood is upbeat, people are hopeful that things are getting better.

Bonhoeffer writes that discipleship comes with a cost, that there is no cheap grace. Many of the young people here are high school or college age and have begun to struggle with this idea of discipleship. They know that something is being asked of them and they are working hard. I am continually surprised by the joy that dawns through these young people as they gradually unmask their cool airs and you see what makes them laugh and shine. The older folk celebrate their aches and pains and gladly pass the heavy lifting jobs to the kids. It is a microcosm of the passing of faith and hope.

- John Drake


It’s our third day of work. We split our large group into two smaller groups in order to work more efficiently. Our groups came together at lunch to see how things were going. While eating my lunch, I got to watch some people talk to Cassie Massey, the owner of the house we were working on. It seemed to give her some relief to get to share her story with some of us. She shared about her friends being trapped on their roofs for up to 6 hours. Some houses were completely under water. She also shared the sad story of a friend of hers who had bad arthritis and didn’t have the ability to get to his roof. The man ended up drowning because he had no help. She also talked about trying to rebuild her neighborhood. She lost all her belongings except one bed. Underneath all of Miss Massey’s sadness and loss she expressed joy that we were able to help her start back to a normal life. It is amazing how much it helps those people just to talk to them. By the end of the day, Cassie Massey had a new roof, a new smile, and was well on her way to a new life. It was a day full of hard work and strong emotion.

- Alan Harris
Team Juliet – Group 5

Serving and Receiving

It's funny how we attempt to serve other people but always end up receiving more than we ever give. Today at our work site Mrs. Linda, whose roof we were reapiring, spent the entire morning preparing us homemade crazy delicious Mississippi style gumbo. YUMMY!

Group 7

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Unexpected Grace

My God is a God of surprises. On our drive down to Mississippi, I was certain that I knew what He wanted to teach me through this experience – but in the span of 48 hours He has begun teaching me about something completely different.

We have two jobs here in Biloxi: “mucking” (cleaning out) houses and roofing houses. As we talked with the owner of our first house, we learned that the residents on her street, Magnolia Avenue, called it the “forgotten street”. It was clear that Katrina had caused her to lose most of her joy. In that same hour though, we witnessed sheer elation from a young boy, Gregory, whose family was getting a new roof. The contrast was truly striking.

Later, as we were mucking a house, a girl in my small group named Genevieve came to somewhat of a realization: we weren’t mucking junk; we were throwing this family’s (former) most valued possessions into the street – things that used to have so much meaning. The fact that we were treating these possessions like trash bothered Genevieve so much, but later she realized something that God was trying to reveal to her: these were only possessions – and there is so much more to this life than things.

On the drive home from this first day of work, we saw an incredible sunset. The beauty of this showed me perhaps the most important lesson God has been trying to teach me: He is in control. He is sovereign over this all. He may have given me some surprises, but He is surprised by nothing. He reminded me that Magnolia Avenue is not the forgotten street; instead, it is a place where He is showing Himself more clearly every day.

Jamie Butler
Group Bravo – Team 2

We Have a Roof!

A work crew in Biloxi completed our first roof today, cleaning off the old shingles and installing new architectural shingles on a residence. This is a new thing for the relief efforts in the Gulf region, most will not attack this task due to liability and training issues. The mucking out, though, is about done and new tasks need to be tackled. Our own Joe Fielden of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, in conjunction with Fritz Schilling and the teams on the ground in Mississippi, mapped out an ambitious plan to put roofs onto houses so that people could then more easily continue the work of wiring and plumbing and sheetrocking that cannot be done until a roof is on.

We have 9 crews on roofs in neighborhoods in Biloxi where insurance is either non-existent or folks are way under-insured. We have completed the first roof today using the system that Joe and Paul Risk, our man on the scene, built and trained us on. We have nine more roofs underway and will begin five new ones on Friday. What a joy it is to see the results of your work, to experience the new and exciting next steps with a family that has been out of their home for more than four months now. The excitement among our folks, most of whom have never even been on a roof, much less installed one, is high and the energy level continues to be excellent.

We will write more as we go along and give a full report upon our return. This is exciting work that we are doing and fun. Spring Break will be upon us before you know it and we hope that many more East Tennessee Presbyterians will want to spend it roofing.

Peace and grace,
Steve Benz
Sierra Group – Workteam One

The Bay St. Louis Experience

I’ve participated in a “mucking out” crew in Bay St. Louis rather than in a roofing crew in Biloxi. I got to view the full impact of Katrina’s fury. On the outskirts of Bay St. Louis I began to see the “Wizard of Oz” houses. Buildings uprooted and deposited in unusual locations in unusual orientations. We moved in to start cleaning out some houses that were still standing. Part of the crew I was with tackled a two story house where the water had gone over the roof. My team ripped out dry wall in a large house that saw three feet of water. The retired, disabled homeowner had ridden out the storm while the water rose to the top of his bed. Things had dried out pretty well in the past four months so it was mostly hot, dusty work. We finished the day by driving down to the gulf. Over several square miles it looked like a bomb had hit. All that remained were foundations covered by timbers and an occasional roof. It was a stunning contrast to have this incredible devastation on one side of the road with a glorious sunset over the gulf on the other side.

The first day was just a warm-up for our second day in Bay St. Louis. We worked in a house today that was about a quarter mile from the gulf. The inside was something out of the news stories we’ve seen on TV. Mold all the way up the walls and even across the ceiling. The light fixtures attached to the ceiling were completely full of water. We hauled out all of the furniture and gutted every inch of the interior. We also spent some time helping the homeowner salvage some pictures of her children. A large part of my day was spent cutting out soggy carpet and hauling it to the street. My work clothes are now safely packed away and will hopefully never again see the light of day.

I have had two very emotional experiences in these first two days. The first was from viewing the large FEMA “X”s written on the sides of the houses. These were used to record when the houses had been inspected. One of the quadrants indicated the number of dead found in the house. We never saw any with a number other than zero but I still found these “X”s incredibly poignant. The other experience was less ennobling. While working in close quarters with sledge hammers and crow bars swinging in every direction I became frightened and angry. Rather than try to deal with this in a constructive manner, I became sullen, sarcastic and rude. This experience brought out a dark side in me that I recognized but couldn’t control. This evening I asked for my team’s forgiveness and understanding and I prayed for God’s guidance.

Tomorrow we move out of the muck and up onto the roofs with the other teams. We pray for continuing good weather.

- Dave Mullins
Group Delta - Team 4