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Lincoln University's Wesley Foundation Organizes UMVIM Trip to Mississippi

By Craig Fitzsimmons
February 7, 2006

On December 10, 2005, eight students and three adults traveled from Lincoln University to Mississippi to participate in a United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) project to help rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The project was coordinated and led by the Rev. Dr. M. Craig Fitzsimmons, Director and Campus Minister of the Wesley Foundation at Lincoln University. The team left Lincoln on Saturday afternoon following the fall commencement since one of the team members, Katari Key, graduated that morning.

Using the United Methodist connectional system, the team spent the night at the Wesley Foundation at Memphis University and finished the trip to Moss Point, Mississippi on Sunday. They arrived at the Dantzler United Methodist Church where they were warmly greeted and shown their accommodations in various Sunday School rooms. Monday morning they began work repairing the interior walls of a home that was flooded by the storm surge more than a dozen blocks away from the coastline.

While the most visible damage to houses was along the immediate shoreline, as you drove around there were white trailers parked in front of many of the houses which looked from the road to be in relatively good shape. These were FEMA trailers that had been connected to electric and sewer lines so residents had a safe place to live until their homes were once again habitable. It wasn't until you went into the homes that the devastation was apparent. The second home the team worked on, the homeowner told the workers that she had lived in that house since the mid 50s and had never seen water above the curb. However, the waterline during Katrina reached four feet in the house and thus all the walls and insulation below that level had to be removed. Most of the people did not have flood insurance.

The team spent the week replacing sheetrock, wainscoting, compounding, sanding, painting and replacing doors and bathroom fixtures. A third house they worked on at the end of the week needed a ceiling taken down due to leaks in the roof. The ceiling and insulation had been saturated after the roof was damaged by the high winds.

Those being assisted had contacted the church and were interviewed by the church's disaster c oordinator and placed on a list. The Dantzler UMC, which was spared major damage, has become one of the staging sites for the Mississippi Conference Disaster Recovery Ministries. The congregation and its pastor have made this a priority for their ministry. Volunteer teams are given the space needed and all other groups using the church have been informed that they are to work around the volunteers' schedules. The church has even installed temporary showers for the volunteers.

For most of the team members, this was their first experience with an UMVIM project. There was great concern and support by the students of the University. The Student Government Association contributed half the funds necessary so the students could make the trip. First UMC, Jefferson City donated the use of their 11 passenger van and trailer to transport people and material to Mississippi as well as making a cash contribution toward the costs. Scruggs Lumber donated some tools and materials and Lowes gave some tools at cost to the team. David and Susan Mason of Norwood, MO saw the information on the OCM website and signed up to go with the team after speaking with Dr. Fitzsimmons. Their church contributed $550 toward the cost of materials. That money was presented to the Mississippi Conference.

The team traveled back to Missouri on Saturday, December 17. For all those involved, Christmas had an even more special meaning. The Wesley Foundation at Lincoln University will once again sponsor a VIM trip during Spring Break. Some of those who went in December have already volunteered to go again.

Perhaps the best summary of the week came in a Christmas card/ thank you letter from one of the homeowners:

"When you and your team arrived to help me rebuild my home, I was amazed that perfect strangers were willing to give up their holiday time, travel so far, spend money for supplies, sleep in less than ideal conditions, etc. Your smile, your tireless energy comes from God's love for you.

"The devastation has affected all of us and I never dreamed that my home would be livable in the near future. I think it is wonderful that you and your fellow Christians were able to help one of thousands without flood insurance.

"God has really blessed me by providing help from wonderful people like you. Your generosity is sincerely appreciated!"

Photos by Craig Fitzsimmons