S.C. volunteers faithful in helping rebuild Gulf Coast

Two years after Katrina

COLUMBIA -- People of faith in South Carolina continue to provide relief to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.

People of all ages and all denominations have participated, from Southern Baptists to Presbyterians, Episcopalians to United Methodists and beyond.

"There is unbelievable joy" in providing the help, said Lee McMillan, secretary-treasurer of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, an organization overseen by the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. "In mission work, you get so much more than you can ever give."

On average, the Methodist conference has sent out three teams a month with more than 1,400 volunteers involved in the rebuilding of the storm-damaged region.

Southern Baptists, with one of the most sophisticated standing relief efforts in the nation, have been at the forefront of the mission effort, and continue to send teams to build houses and minister to relief victims.

In 2005, 1,452 S.C. volunteers on 111 teams traveled to the storm-ravaged area, clearing debris, constructing houses, providing hot meals and entertaining children, according to statistics provided by the S.C. Baptist Convention.

In 2006, 450 S.C. volunteers on 44 teams headed south, and more continue this year.

Those figures don't take into consideration Baptist congregations around the state that send teams on their own, partnering with regional helping agencies, said convention spokesman Amanda Thompson.

This year, the S.C. Baptist Convention is shepherding Katrina volunteers through Operation Noah Rebuild program, a program of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. That program is aimed at rehabilitating 1,000 homes and 20 churches.

Columbia's Shandon Baptist Church has sent three teams since the Katrina disaster, said Jerry Long, Shandon's minister of evangelism and missions.

Host churches, in addition to serving as the launch point for rebuilding projects, also provide sleeping accommodations and a place for volunteers to prepare meals.