Lutherans Still Making Impact in New Orleans—and Beyond—Five Years after Katrina

by Paula Schlueter Ross

It’s been five years since the Aug. 29, 2005, landfall of Hurricane Katrina.  And today–even with five years of restoration efforts involving millions of dollars and untold hours of volunteer labor–the parts of New Orleans that were damaged are still only “26 to 60 percent recovered,” according to Rev. Kurtis Schultz, president of the LCMS Southern District.

Add to that a still-struggling economy and the Gulf oil spill–which may cost more than 20,000 jobs in Louisiana alone–and you’re talking “major challenges,” Schultz says.

But the Southern District has not wavered in its resolve to help Katrina victims get the help they need to “rebuild their lives, homes, churches and communities.”

Taking part in an Aug. 29 worship service in Biloxi, Miss., to commemorate five years of Hurricane Katrina recovery are, from left, LCMS President Emeritus Dr. Gerald Kieschnick; Rev. Errol Montgomery Jr., pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Biloxi; and Rev. Kurtis Schultz, president of the Synod’s Southern District.

Photo: David Goodine

As long as the district continues to receive much-needed financial and prayer support and volunteers, says Schultz, “we will stay until the end”–10 years, 20 years, whatever it takes.

“We will continue to utilize all the resources that have been provided to us by God to do the work He has called us to do,” he says.

The district’s disaster-response network–Recovery Assistance Inc. (RAI) Ministries–has so far housed and fed 30,000-plus volunteers and managed construction efforts on more than 6,000 Gulf Coast projects.

Perhaps surprisingly, volunteers continue to arrive at RAI’s Camp Restore in New Orleans.

“There’s something about Katrina that has caught the hearts of people,” says Schultz.  Some volunteers have returned again and again, he says– as many as a dozen times– to install drywall, paint walls, lay flooring and perform other needed tasks.

The district president thanks the church at-large “for the tremendous amount of support we have received in so many, many ways–not only financially but through prayer support and through [the] physical presence” of volunteers, who “represent the body of Christ to us–and to the city.”

Lutheran volunteers have made a huge impact on New Orleans, Schultz says, and residents “are very aware of their work.”

The district also is thankful, he added, “for what we’ve been able to give back” to the church–namely, the volunteers, who “return to their congregations with a new spirit and a new desire to do ministry.”  These are Lutherans who are “re-energizing ministries in churches across the country,” he said.

In that sense, revisiting New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina is more than a story about the restoration, or the volunteers, or the work that still needs to be done.

Rather, says Schultz, “it’s about the ministry of the church at-large–and how we function and how we are able to support each other in our ministries, no matter where we are located.”

To read more about the Synod’s work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, see the Reporter Online story, “RAI Ministries marks fifth anniversary of Katrina.”

September 2010

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