BYLINE: By Greg Munno Staff writer
LENGTH: 485 words
DATELINE: Pass Christian, Miss.
When the bell rang out at Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church, it heralded the rejuvenation of this battered church, of this town and of a group of work-weary volunteers from Central New York.
Katrina flooded the church, knocking it partially off its foundation and filling it with muck.
The bell was a piece of the original church, which is exactly 100 years old. The volunteer workers from Abundant Life Christian Center in Cicero dragged it from the mud after finishing their grueling work in the hot Mississippi sun.
Harry Toussaint, Goodwill’s pastor, rang the bell and spirits soared.
“I’m really getting worn down, both mentally and physically, by this effort,” Pete Duchette, of Kirkville, said Thursday of his five days at the Gulf Coast. “But when the bell rang out, it made it all worthwhile. I just felt great. The best was that people from the neighborhood started coming by to see if a service was being held.”
There was no service, only an informal prayer, during which Duchette thanked the workers in English, Spanish, French and Creole the languages of the Mississippi Delta.
“That was really special,” said Lori Lybrook, of Pennellville. “As a nurse, I have stayed behind at the base most days as part of the medical team and hadn’t really seen much of the destruction. Seeing how badly that town was hit was heart-wrenching. But knowing that we helped get that church back to a place were it could start helping people again was a wonderful experience.”
The team of Central New Yorkers dug the heavy, foul muck out of a storage shed so supplies could be placed inside. They raked the property clean and set up a large tent that could be used for church services, to distribute supplies or as a place to sit down and have meals.
And a team of carpenters from the group whipped together a half-dozen sturdy tables out of plywood and 2-by-4s a design by Lance Hinman, of Kirkville. Hinman is one of the volunteers, and his improvised table design allowed the carpenters to make a bunch in a hurry for several distribution centers.
Toussaint said his church had wanted to expand, but couldn’t get the landowner next door to sell. That house like most others in the lower-middle class neighborhood in Pass Christian was destroyed.
“The woman who owned it called the other day and said, “Do you want still want it?”‘ Toussaint said. “And I do. I think we will come back stronger than ever, and I think that the ties established because of this with churches like Abundant Life will help bring us all closer.”
How to help
Volunteer relief workers from Abundant Life Christian Center in Cicero helped set up an aid center at Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church in the devastated town of Pass Christian, Miss. The pastor at the church, the Rev. Harry Toussaint, plans to serve hot meals from the center to residents returning to town.
To donate, send checks to: Hurricane Relief Fund, P.O. Box 4019, Gulfport, MS 39502.