By Sharon Dunten
The survivors of Hurricane Katrina have lived two lives. One life was pre-Katrina. Another life is now post-Katrina. It is interesting to listen to the survivors about what life was like before Hurricane Katrina.
Life was easier. Water came through the pipes; it was clean and cold. Electricity was plentiful; it only took a flip of the switch to turn it on. Flushing the toilet, well, it flushed. Children played in courtyards, tourism was good, and the stunning white sand of the Gulf was a place for walking and sunbathing. The huge, white live oak trees were majestic and shaded 100 year-old homes; Church steeples stood pointed toward heaven. Then Hurricane Katrina hit August 29, 2005.
Life became hard. Water was shut off. Or it was contaminated. Electricity was shut off. Generators needed gasoline to run. But the pumps didn't run without electricity. Flushing the toilets was not a good idea. The sewer system was gone. Over half of the children have moved north to new schools and friends; tourism has evolved into "volutourism" and the pristine beaches are marked with trash and debris. The live oaks are either dead or damaged. The 100 year-old homes are either gone or have been gutted. The steeples have fallen. But the look toward heaven has not changed.
Even though houses were swept away by 30-foot storm surges and levees broke flooding eighty percent of Louisiana's largest city, the faith of Katrina survivors has been steadfast on Christ's promise of hope.
When a church became the only building dispensing food and water in the area, the exclusive congregation became inclusive by opening up their doors to strangers in their community for the first time.
Katrina's winds battered as well as destroyed church buildings. But congregations consolidated to form new faith communities joining services and hope for fractured congregations.
Faithful denominations came together with city leaders to address the social needs of evacuees. Neighbors checked on neighbors. Churches became dorms for volunteers. Food stations filled fellowship halls. Chain saws became more valuable than a plasma TV.
Bibles were soaked. Bibles were replaced by another church.
Worship services continued even if outdoors.
When in doubt where to go, survivors went to churches.
Semi-trailers full of supplies, with no instruction on where to unload, dropped off lifesaving cargo at the local churches in Mississippi and New Orleans knowing the churches would be open in the communities.
Through the terror of the storm and its aftermath, many sought God for answers; many sought solace in knowing God was there even through the worst of times.
Many called Hurricane Katrina an act of God; many said it would be how the church acted after Katrina that would be its destiny.
Many cried; many still cry; but most still look to the heavens to survive.
Sharon Dunten serves as a photojournalist and writer. She lives in Indianapolis.