Katrina Anniversary Marks Three Years of Continued Covenant Aid

Post a Comment » Written on August 29th, 2008     
Filed under: News
PHOENIX, LA (August 29, 2008) – Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, members of Evangelical Covenant churches from across the country continue to come to the New Orleans area to build homes. Now that all of the funds initially donated to Covenant World Relief have been distributed, Covenant organizers of area relief work are considering the next phase of rebuilding.

More than 2,000 people from roughly 250 Covenant congregations have worked in Phoenix, Louisiana, and other parts of Plaquemines Parish, where Phoenix is located, says Jim Sundholm of Covenant World Relief (CWR). Some congregations have sent multiple teams, with many volunteers returning for numerous trips.

Hillcrest Covenant Church of Prairie Village, Kansas, initiated the Covenant’s work in Plaquemines Parish. Michael Gromer, a building contractor from the congregation, has coordinated Covenant efforts, as well as work groups from outside the denomination. “I hope that our presence and our faithfulness are a huge testimony,” says Gromer.

Covenanters working in Plaquemines Parish of New Orleans have helped reconstruct more than 225 homes and have built 26 new houses, says Sundholm. Nine more new homes are scheduled to be completed this fall.

There were 180 homes in Phoenix before Katrina ripped through the area and left just 15 repairable houses standing. The community was home to more than 300. Gromer says he believes roughly 80 percent of the people have now been able to return.

Most of the work has been completed in Phoenix, says Gromer, and efforts are now being concentrated in other parts of the parish.

Crossroads Covenant Church in Loveland, Colorado, has worked in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Members of Connexions Covenant Church in Dexter, Michigan, have worked with a neighborhood association in New Orleans to revive a portion of the city.

The leadership at Crossroads in Loveland chose to work in Bay St. Louis because it was where Katrina came ashore, says Dennis Anderson, pastor of adult ministries. They worked with a local congregation. The church has sent numerous teams, with some members returning as many as five times.

Crossroads recently completed the three-year commitment it made to work in the community and is now searching for other projects, Anderson says.

Ron Gelaude, pastor of Connexions, says his church has worked with the Broadmoor Association, which represents a neighborhood that New Orleans did not support rebuilding. With additional help from organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, that neighborhood has since made a comeback.

CWR recently completed distribution of the $1.1 million in donations from Covenanters for aid to those hit by Katrina. Those funds will help fund the work through December, Sundholm says.

Gromer says he hopes additional funds being solicited from other sources will help the work continue at least through May. “There are no plans to stop immediately,” he says. Covenant churches have scheduled trips through next spring.

Construction has slowed over the past several weeks, as it does at the end of every summer. August begins the hurricane season, and work is especially difficult when temperatures and humidity frequently reach the upper nineties.

Church teams from as far away as Washington and New York have been eager to work in the area, which provides a unique opportunity for members to discuss issues of compassion, mercy, and a range of justice issues, says Bruce Baehr, associate pastor of Grace Evangelical Covenant Church in Clay, New York. Bruce has traveled to New Orleans six times in the past year and a half.

“We realized the compassion and mercy piece was already there, but we had to be very intentional to add the justice piece,” Bruce says. Adding that focus created a more holistic experience for the participants.

Many people still have little idea of the breadth of devastation and how much still remains to be done for the area to fully recover, say participants in the trips. “Our students remarked to me that as we traveled down to the area by plane people were asking them where they were going and what they were going to be doing,” Bruce says. “When the students told them they were rebuilding homes destroyed by Katrina, people would say things like, ‘Really, the homes aren’t all rebuilt yet?’ ”

“Many lower income families are still waiting to have their homes rebuilt,” Bruce says. “Our students had a pretty good idea about what needed to be done as several of them have been here before. One student has made his third trip.”

In April, Grace Covenant traveled with Zion Covenant Church and First Covenant Church in Jamestown, New York, as well as a non-Covenant congregation. Joint efforts like theirs were common among churches across the country. Jay Baehr, youth pastor at Zion, says that making the trips together was beneficial.

“Probably the biggest benefit was having different perspectives from students and adults,” he explains. “We intentionally divided them into different work groups in order to achieve new cooperation.”

Anderson, of Crossroads, and others praise the work of CWR. “They really enabled us to do a lot of stuff that we could not have done. They really, really came through.”

CWR provided logistical support, consultation, and finances throughout the region. Money was distributed in stages. According to Sundholm, funds were distributed in the following manner:

  • The first $75,000 went for immediate evacuee support, with all funds distributed through local churches on evacuee routes.
  • The next distribution went to support evacuees in their new locations.
  • Funds also were released for volunteers to assist with “clean-up and muck-outs.”
  • The largest amount of money went for building supplies and tools.

Sundholm praises Gromer for the work he has done in Plaquemines Parish. He commuted between his home in Kansas City and New Orleans, spending weeks at a time on-site. “This wouldn’t have happened without Michael,” he says.

In some of the busiest months, Gromer has been home for as few as three days. “It’s a challenging thing to be away from home, but if I didn’t, I’d feel like I was being disobedient.” Besides, he adds, “I enjoy what I’m doing and love seeing people work for the kingdom.”

To read previous coverage of the Covenant’s work following Katrina, enter “Phoenix” in the search window on the home page of the Covenant website. To see more photos of work in progress click here.

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