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ugust, Captain Christina Bell is charged with building a corps program in Harrison County. She works out of the facility that housed the Gulfport Corps, while merging with the corps family the members of the former Biloxi Corps - whose building was leveled by surgewater brought ashore by Hurricane Katrina.

Major Frank Duracher of the
Southern Spirit staff interviewed Captain Bell just after she completed her first month in her new assignment. SS: The corps family you now pastor is essentially a combination of Army congregations in Biloxi and Gulfport. How do you minister to families still reeling in their recovery following Hurricane Katrina?

CB: I have many families in this corps that lost much, if not everything. Every day is still a struggle for them. The nightmare is still very much a reality for these families. I am here to oversee their spiritual well-being - which is a great task. It really is!

SS: Do you feel overwhelmed?

CB: At times I do. I found out in mid-July that I was coming here, and I began to pray that God would equip me for being here. I've felt not only overwhelmed but completely inadequate - but God reveals through key people that I am going to be O.K., and that this is where He wants me to be. I'm reassured of that every day.

I certainly can't do it, but God can do it through me.

SS: Weren't you in Belize when you got your orders to come to the Gulfport/Biloxi area?

CB: Right. I was co-leader of the Salvationist Service Corps this summer. That in itself was an amazing experience.

Looking back, I know that God sent me to Belize for the summer in preparation for coming here to the Gulf Coast. It's a completely different culture there, but the climate is very similar, and the people I met there in Central America are broken very much like people here are still suffering from the disaster.

I was in Belize during the rainy season, and some of the storms were severe - not like a hurricane, mind you, but some did some damage. And in many places in Belize there are entire neighborhoods still devastated by hurricanes that came through long before I got there.

Back here where I'm now serving, I drive through neighborhoods that are still in need of repair, and my mind often goes to our ministry for those weeks in Belize. Having someone cry on my shoulder is the same here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as it is in Central America.

I love the way God prepares us for times like that.

SS: What were some of the things you did in Belize that you will also be doing in this corps?

CB: Our group ministered at several corps and outposts, conducting vacation Bible schools, youth and Home League camps, and League of Mercy visitation. We were able to plan all of the night programs, and it was a lot of fun carrying those out. We also had Bible studies and visitation.

Of course, there were many work projects. I think that a few weeks into our stay the officers there realized that we meant it when we said, "Anything you need us to do; we'll do it." So we did a lot of building, painting and repairs. We worked extra hard, trying to help them as much as we could.

We all came back far more blessed than we could have imagined.

SS: You seem energetic and eager to get things done here. Is your youth an advantage for an appointment like this?

CB: I think so. I have some fears, like saying "yes" to too many things at one time, or taking on things for which I've had very little experience. But my age is an advantage because I have ideas for new things and the corps people seem open to take chances. In the midst of rebuilding, there are a lot of children and teens coming. I have so much to learn, and Majors Rob and Janine Vincent (area command leaders) are giving me wonderful guidance.

SS: What is the mood of the people here on the Gulf Coast?

CB: Hopeful. These people are my heroes. They have survived and want to rebuild their homes. One soldier is in her 70s, and her husband (also in his 70s) has done so much work on their home. What they have done on their own is unbelievable.

Many families are still living in (FEMA) trailers, but they are looking on the brighter side of things. I haven't met one person yet who is complaining, but rather they're talking about how to make this community better.

I've never lived through a storm like this, and before Katrina the storm everyone talked about was Camille - that was before I was born! So I wonder if I can relate to their suffering; but they don't wonder - they have opened their hearts to me.

SS: What do you see as the most daunting task in this new corps arrangement?

CB: To say that these people have been through a lot is an understatement. Besides the monumental task of rebuilding after a storm the size of Katrina, the people of the corps in Biloxi and Gulfport have been through three officer changes within the last several months. It will take some time for all of us to settle into the swing of things.

I don't know what normal was for them because I wasn't here. On the other hand, they can't remember what normal feels like. We need time to figure out what works, but God will help us do it.

Also, about one half of the two congregations have left, either because they were displaced by the storm, or are busy reclaiming their lives, or maybe even indifference. We will be trying to get as many of them back as possible.

SS: Have you had an unforgettable moment in this appointment yet?

CB: Definitely. At our first Home League meeting we went around the room introducing ourselves. They, of course, know that my first name is Christina.

One lady introduced herself and added that she had a daughter also named Christina. Then she sadly added that the daughter and a few other family members lost their lives because of Katrina.

She and I already have a close bond. In fact, we all do.

  Booklet brings Army's Katrina tales to life

 

In reaching out to the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, The Salvation Army has been

stretched and tested in unprecedented ways. Some 14 months after the hurricanes ravaged the Gulf coast, the Army remains heavily involved in helping the region rebuild.

The stories of human suffering, courage and the will to overcome seemingly overwhelming odds are legion, and the stories of the effort to meet the needs of the survivors are in their own way compelling. Those stories are brought to life in "When the Winds Died Down," a 32-page full-color booklet published by the USA Southern Territory.

Copies of "When the Winds Died Down" were sent to territorial heaquarters, divisional headquarters and ARC commands across the nation.

The booklet is beautifully illustrated with the photography of Jez Coulson, whose images have appeared in magazines around the world, including Time and Newsweek. Coulson's photos illustrate not only the devastation of Katrina, but the indomitable human spirit shown by the survivors. In addition to Coulson's work, the compelling images of Major Frank Duracher, Ron Londen and other photographers tell the story of Katrina and The Salvation Army's work among the survivors.

In addition to a brief narrative of the hurricane, a timeline of the relief and recovery effort and facts and figures related to the disaster, the story is told through the words of Army officers, employees and others who played key roles in the effort to help the people of the region recover and return to the business of living their lives.

 

 






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