“God did not intend us to face life’s hardships alone,” Jean Marie Peacock said at the Churchwide Gathering plenary session on the evening of July 13. “That is why God gives us the gift of community.”
The theme for the plenary was “Wonder of Hope.”
Peacock is associate presbyter for congregation development and disaster recovery for the Presbytery of South Louisiana. Her work is focused on hurricane recovery efforts in the greater New Orleans region.
She shared some of the many stories of recovery in the four years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Mississippi Gulf Coast and floodwaters poured into New Orleans, destroying thousands of homes and uprooting tens of thousands of people.
“Next month marks four years since Katrina. With each anniversary, we mark progress,” she said. “Another home is built, another family moves back home. And each time a home is built, or someone moves back, it inspires others to do the same. More people rebuild, and families move back into neighborhoods.
“Let me tell you about Charles and Winnie,” Peacock said. “Their home was flooded. Winnie suffered a stroke during evacuation. They lived in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailer for months. They had no flood insurance and felt completely alone. More than 300 volunteers rebuilt their home, carpenters gived time and talent, home supply stores gived materials and equipment. Their home was rebuilt. At the dedication of their new home, they shared their testimony. They said, ‘We couldn’t face the flooded home alone. All that has changed. The burden has lifted, because so many people joined their lives with ours.’
“There are so many stories of hope and so many areas of need,” Peacock said.
She quoted Isaiah, who said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me ... I have been anointed to bind up wounds ... build up the ruins, repair the ruined cities” (Isaiah 61:1, 4). She reminded the audience that “the process (of ‘building up the ruined cities’) is a tremendous challenge. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight.”
She praised the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the thousands of volunteers who have gone to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help the people of that region rebuild.
Peacock said that PDA has a five-year commitment in place and that she is grateful that PDA recognizes the church must be a partner in long-term recovery.
As so have many from the New Orleans area. Peacock pointed out that if it weren’t for the volunteer assistance of faith-based groups, the region would not be nearly as far along in terms of recovery as it is now.
While there are long-term needs in Louisiana and Mississippi, Peacock reminded Presbyterian Women that there are other areas that have been hit by floods and hurricanes. She praised PDA for its quick disaster response, and said that it has responded to 40 presbyteries, in 23 states and 25 countries since the last triennium.
Peacock recognized Presbyterian Women for its annual work trips to New Orleans and surrounding coastal towns, made in partnership with the group RHINO (Restore Hope in New Orleans).
So far, four work groups have gone to New Orleans, first to help with gutting flood damaged homes, then to help with PDA and Habitat for Humanity building projects, as well as visit Presbyterian-related community ministries.
“It makes me proud when I think of the ways Presbyterian Women support disaster relief and recovery efforts, through undesignated giving to the PC(USA), supporting the One Great Hour of Sharing, organizing mission projects, bringing gift cards to the Gathering and volunteering with PDA,” Peacock said. “I am thankful for all who have sent tangible signs of support.”
Peacock spoke about the third most destructive hurricane to ever hit the United States — Hurricane Ike, which struck Galveston, TX, and the surrounding area in 2008. Ike caused billions of dollars in damage and destroyed more than 100,000 homes, but Peacock said that Ike has not gotten the same response as Katrina and that recovery assistance is greatly needed in that area. Again, she quoted Isaiah, saying Presbyterians are called to be “repairers of the breach.”
Peacock urged Presbyterian women to support the work of PDA in stricken areas.
“Send a work team. Volunteers are badly needed,” she said.
Peacock told the story of Rudolph Jenkins, who stood in front of his new house built by volunteers, singing “Thank God, thank God, thank God, thank God,” to the tune of “Amazing Grace.” Jenkins had lived in a FEMA trailer for two years, waiting for his home to be rebuilt.
Presbyterian volunteers have built more than 200 homes in two years, said Peacock, concluding the plenary by recognizing the volunteers, saying, “Thank you for the wonders you do among us.”