(May 31, 2007) — John and Mary Mueller left their home in Cape Coral, Fla. to volunteer as longterm regional project directors with Brethren Disaster Ministries. The following is excerpted from a letter received from the Muellers on May 24:
“John and I are feeling incredibly blessed to be here in Chalmette, La., in the St. Bernard parish (parishes are a unit of government like counties) doing disaster response work. For those of you who have done disaster response before, Chalmette is a different disaster project in many ways. We are sleeping in trailers and eating at a place called Camp Hope. It is different, but different is not the same as bad. We are still being the hands and feet of Christ to hurting people.
“Part of the reason we feel so blessed is that the people here are wonderful, caring people who make you feel welcome right from the start. They feel that if it wasn’t for the faith-based community, they would be forgotten, and so they thank us for coming.
“This is a very intergenerational community with parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins all living in the area and helping one another. Most everybody lost everything. Every house and every building was flooded. People had to wait on their roofs for days to be rescued. And yet I see a predominately positive, giving, grateful attitude in the community. We see the community rebuilding. Every week there are more businesses opening up or reopening. People are moving back, getting back into their homes.
“Everybody here has a story and all you have to do is stop and listen. Mr. Gonzales misses his wife who died in February. They got married when he was 18 and she was 14. Miss Lillie evacuated to another area and stayed with family but wanted to come back. She is over 80 but tells of how she cleaned out her back yard, using a wheelbarrow to get it out to the street for pick up. Councilwoman Judy tells of being up on the roof for days and nights with nothing, and not knowing when or if help would come. Many of the volunteers who have been here have met Karen. She, her children, and her grandchildren lost everything, yet she insists on cooking for all the volunteers every week that we are working on her house. And cook she does! Everyone who has spent a week eating her food would have to decide if the chicken was the best thing, or the spaghetti and meatballs, or the jambalaya, or the…you get the idea.
“John and I are very impressed with the people who we have been getting the work assignments from so far. Most disaster projects traditionally get houses assigned to them by the longterm recovery committee. While we recently did receive some requests from them, which we accepted, it has taken them a long time to start allocating the work. Remember that all the committee members lost everything too, were scattered who knows where, and had no place to hold meetings once they did find each other.
“In the meantime, we have been working with a group called the St. Bernard Project, which was started by two people, Zach and Liz, who had come down to volunteer in Feb. 2006. When they returned to their home in Washington, D.C., they just couldn’t go back to their lives as usual; they knew they had to do something. They moved down here, formed a 501c3, and started helping people get back into their homes.
“So far, they and their organization have helped more than 70 people! They did not have previous construction knowledge, but Zach will tell you, ‘This is doable. This is America. We can help people get back in their homes.’ He says that at times they were scared because they didn’t know what they were doing, but that when they needed an electrician, Pete showed up; when they needed a plumber, Bob showed up; when they needed more help, the Church of the Brethren showed up. I shudder to think of what would not have happened–who would not have gotten help–if they had not followed the leading to do what they could do.
“One more very important thing that John and I would like to say is thank you, to all the volunteers who have come to help the people here. It is important to remember that the whole program’s success depends on you who make it happen. I pray you realize how important you are to those you have helped. It is the power of one, as each one of you did what you could and together you made a difference to those who felt overwhelmed and forgotten. Week after week I am continually encouraged, challenged, impressed, and blessed when I see your willing hearts and the dedication you bring to the building site. Surely, giving of your time and talents is just another way to obey God’s command to love one another.
“We encourage all who feel God nudging them to come and join us. Please remember the people here, the volunteers, the work, and us in your prayers,”