September 2, 2005
Finally, yesterday after a long and difficult wait, I have heard from some of the congregation in the Hattiesburg/ Ellisville/Laurel area ...those of Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church. I serve both that congregation and the church in Jackson, UUCJ, in a shared ministry. Both congregations thus far report no injuries to their people.
The church in Jackson is fine structurally, though of course without electricity. Yesterday, I heard the same is true of the church in Ellisville, MS, from a member that spent 24 hours sheltered within the church during the storm as she and her husband normally live in a lovely mobile home near the church. "Our Home" is celebrating its centennial this year, and it appears it is good for another 100 years! I continue to here that Laurel and Jones County were hit very hard, perhaps from tornadoes as well as Katrina's sustained winds for hours Monday.
I have had an email from Keitha Whitaker, the president of the board of the Gulf Coast congregation at Gulf Port. She had evacuated with her family, and at that point not been able to contact other church members. I spoke with Jim VanderWeele, the minister at Community UU Church in New Orleans, and he spoke of being a minister of a diaspora. I can not imagine how that must feel, to him or the congregants! I understand David Ord, minister of North Shore weathered the hurricane in his home next door to the church. Marta Valentin, the new UU minister in New Orleans has communicated with the UUA, she evacuated and is safe. There is little communication among them and congregants at this time.I met just last Thursday with these ministers as well as Steve Crump and Earle Ramsdale at Ralph's on the Lake( Pontchartrain) in New Orleans for a delicious lunch, and great joy at being together again. Little could we know how drastically all would change in just three days!
Communication has been an enormous problem in MS and LA as cell, as well as land phones are nonfunctional. A few have been restored to service here. Highways and roads below I-20 and Jackson are closed to private citizens trying to go south. They are asking that we not try them as the roads are needed for disaster relief.
In Jackson most are without power, few gas stations are open or groceries because of lack of power. I understand that most businesses open are cash only as they have no way of transacting credit charges, etc. Gas, ice, water and of course generators are the premium items, here. I understand that is true in Hattiesburg/Laurel area also. People are hot, but counting their blessings.
I was not able to minister to the Our Home congregation, or really to check on all those of UUCJ because of the lack of phone communication, or email, so I have been working in the shelter at the Coliseum in Jackson. The first night I returned home and asked those in my neighborhood for baby clothes as there were three babies under three months old in the shelter. I took those directly to those Moms the next morning.
Wednesday clothes, food, toys, blankets,diapers, underwear began piling into the shelter from the people of Jackson. The shelter actually got so much they had to ask people to wait a few more days to bring anymore stuff. I agree with messages I've been hearing, there is enough now, but don't forget these people; their largest problems are ahead of them. They are living that nightmare of falling into a void without anything familiar to hang onto. ..many do have closest family members, but are worried about others. If you can imagine, no home...no address, no job, no family mementos, unfamiliar surroundings with no privacy. Not even the comfort of a comfortable chair to sit in!
Yesterday I tried to comfort a young mother who had planned to ride the hurricane out in New Orleans, but had the great good sense to let her aunt take her ten month old baby to Texas when she evacuated. When she and her husband realized they had to evacuate, she said the counter flow of traffic was so confusing that she and her husband ended up in Jackson, MS. I suspect it was impossible to go west at that time. She has spoken with her aunt and knows the baby is safe, though asking for “Mama.”
Most sheltered people in the Jackson area have been very appreciative, and are looking out for each other. UUCJ has a house for its RE, but it is still without power. Though I have offered it for shelter, at this point, even those most unhappy in such public surroundings have chosen to stay with the air conditioning, medical care and cooked food that is available in the shelters. Many have air mattresses, some are sleeping on the floor on blankets and comforters, with pillows and blankets. Many have their space, which is merely their sleeping area defined by folding chairs to prevent children running through them. Yesterday when I left, a band was setting up to play for the folks, volunteers from local colleges and others have played with the children in organized activities. Amazingly until yesterday, I was the only minister available to these evacuees for pastoral care, though St. Andrews Episcopal Church seems to be organizing cooking food and serving meals ...a very necessary ministry! I will not say though, that pastoral care is all I have done, as I been seen sweeping, giving directions in an effort to eliminate some of the confusion, and sharing information in an effort to keep "wild" rumors from flying, unpacking clothes boxes, etc. The county sheriffs have been very hard at work in the shelters, doing much more than protecting individuals, many were laboring alongside others to get clean clothing, etc. to evacuees.
Some of the evacuees are coming to terms with the fact they will not be returning to New Orleans for awhile and have already found work in Jackson. There are several New Orleans taxis in the parking lot, many thought to pack the tools of their trade as they left, others thought they would return home in a couple of days.
I have spoken often with a young woman from Gretna who is a truck driver; she drives eighteen wheelers and evacuation buses. She is having a very difficult time emotionally as she just wants to get home to find her family, which she left in order to help a friend evacuate her elderly mother. They arrived in Jackson at 2 am Sunday evening. Tuesday morning the friend and mother left before dawn with others, leaving her alone, but with her car. Wendy believes her home is not flooded on the west bank, but the roads as I have mentioned are closed. Several from that area are planning to head into Louisiana this weekend, and trying to enter the area from the west.
Another father of a brood of children tells me his 23 year old daughter wouldn't come with him when he evacuated the family. She and her baby stayed with her boyfriend. He has no idea whether they survived or not. As we spoke he loaned his cell phone to an elderly man who is alone to try to reach his family. He had tried the pay phones, but couldn't get through; this time he was successful. The first morning I went to the shelter a man approached me and asked if I could help him get a pair of shoes. His feet were sore from the concrete. I was able to reach a member of UUCJ who brought a pair of leather sandals and clean socks to the Coliseum. The lack of gas is beginning to limit my movement around the city as well as what others can do. I do expect that situation to be relieved as soon more stations will have power. Today, I am going to visit the Hospice Residential Home as I have been caring for a Unitarian there.
I have discovered in times of crisis UU ministers need a way to identify as ministers; next week I will order a blouse with a collar. I dressed in a navy blouse and gray slacks and carried a Bible at times. I was addressed as "Sister" by most until I could clarify. Some ask to hear favorite Biblical passages ...the 23 rd Psalm. I considered my stoles, but they are long and would tangle me up as I sit on floor or air mattresses to listen to the evacuees. Getting up is awkward enough as is!
People are asking what UUCJ is doing, and I must tell you that there is precious little we can do at this time; we are all feeling frustrated in our desires to help. If any UU reading this needs housing, or anything else please contact me, Jacqueline Luck: revluck [at] uujackson [dot] org. UUCJ is also limited by conditions in Jackson as all are being encouraged not to drive in order not to use gas needed for rescues and restoration of power. I will continue working at the shelters, we will have a Joys and Sorrows worship Sunday as we gather in community. UUCJ is here and as anxious as you to alleviate the pain of our brothers and sisters. Let us not move on to the next news story and forget those who have a life time to rebuild in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Yours in faith,