Saturday, September 10, 2005

My Conversation with Ron

Got off of the phone last night with the driver, Ron Brenneman, who took Shawnee UMC's load of water to the Gulf, and he confirmed what TV reporters had already told us.... the Gulf region is a wreck.

Ron's journey down there has been an interesting one. After volunteering to take the load south last weekend, Ron left Wednesday with over 40,000 pounds of water and baby wipes. Originally, he was heading to Broadmoor UMC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but about an hour before he supposed to arrive, his contact asked him to forward the load to Slidell, Louisiana. Ron agreed, but after covering the additional distance, upon his arrival, the coordinator of the disaster relief center there asked if he could, instead, take the load to Gulfport, Mississippi. R0n, once again, agreed, however, upon arriving at a Salvation Army corps, and discovering that it might be a day or two before his truck could be unloaded (as there were three trucks ahead of him, and only a few tired volunteers doing the unloading), the corps captain asked if he could take the load into the heart of Biloxi, Mississippi. Ron, of course, agreed, and (thankfully) upon arrival, he found willing volunteers and a long line of cars looking for water, there waiting on him.

So, Ron has seen quite a bit of the south. Here are some of his reflections.

Ron told me that the first thing he noticed driving across Louisiana and Mississippi was the smell. "It smells like Haiti down here", he told me, which is an ominous sign. If you've ever traveled in that part of the world (Haiti), you'll never forget the pungent aroma: A mix of burning charcoal, raw sewage, diesel fuel, and rotting garbage. It is the smell of poverty, a lack of infrastructure, and people struggling to survive. Such is the case right now in the south, as people live with out all of the basic services (water, garbage pickup, electricity, etc...) we often take for granted.

The second thing Ron relayed to me was that the people living, or volunteering in the region are dog-tired. There are police officers that have been working non-stop for over a week keeping order. Residents who are spending their days with chain saws, mops, shovels, and other implements requiring hard labor, sleeping in homes with no electricity or running water in 90+ degree heat. Volunteers, many living in tents, who are spending their days delivering, or distributing necessities, aren't getting a good nights sleep in their primitive conditions. People are tired, and so it's good to hear reports from all over the country of people traveling down south to volunteer, because they will form a greatly needed " second wave" of strong backs and optimistic attitudes. They can't get there too soon.

The final thing Ron made clear was that everything you had been hearing and seeing on TV about the destruction in that part of the world is utterly and completely true. Large water-based casinos washed blocks inland. Virtually every building made out of wood, leveled. Trees snapped in two like pixie sticks. Pictures and video can't convey the level of devastation, and the amount of work it will take to reconstruct what amounts to a coast line that extends from Western Alabama all the way to the Louisiana-Texas state line. It will take contractors, volunteers, and government agencies years to get to all of those that are in need.

So, this truckload of water can only be the beginning of an ongoing effort on the part of our congregation, and the Shawnee community, to help put back together what has been for many of us, a great place to play. Work that will, one day, help result in Ron calling me from Biloxi after making run down there with a load of steel for a booming factory, telling me, "Buke, it's hard to believe there was ever a hurricane down here. It's totally rebuilt."

That'll be a great day. Help play your part.

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