Thursday, January 05, 2006

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 bit...is 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*.

Anyway

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

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