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Winter 2006 | Volume 29, Number 1 | My Reponse

Katrina Relief for the Long Haul
By John M. Perkins

Born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi poverty, John Perkins is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement. Today, he is president of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development in Jackson, Mississippi, and an internationally known speaker and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation and Christian community development.

In 2004, Perkins partnered with Seattle Pacific University to launch the campus-based John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development. When word reached SPU about Hurricane Katrina and its resulting devastation near Perkins’ home and ministry in Jackson, the community joined together to support Perkins through prayer and a pooled financial gift. Here, in his own words, Perkins talks about the disaster relief efforts he and his ministry have undertaken since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on August 29:

My SPU friends, I want to personally extend a fervent thanks to all of you who were involved in helping us during this crisis. I cannot express how much your gift will further the work we are trying to accomplish at this time. We are deeply touched by your thoughtfulness and generosity.

At present, we are laboring intensely to find permanent housing for the displaced people who are here in Jackson. Hurricane Katrina left thousands in nearby communities without homes, and many relocated to shelters in downtown Jackson, which were crowded and far from a homelike environment. After hearing stories about life in the shelters, I decided to make existing John M. Perkins Foundation houses available for evacuees, as well as purchase other houses to repair and renovate. This is done under the banner of our Zechariah 8 Community Project, which has a goal of purchasing 15 homes, renovating them (with the help of volunteers), and making them available to those evacuees who want to become homeowners. I am excited about how the community has pulled together and how God is opening doors.

To date, two families have moved into homes we own here in Jackson. Another two are considering moving into our houses once renovations are complete. These families are mostly from New Orleans and other devastated Louisiana communities.

Where homes were unavailable, we helped evacuees move into smaller church shelters throughout the city and provided both goods and small grants to these churches to help them care for displaced people, many of whom have large extended families. With the help of the American Red Cross and FEMA, we have also placed families in nearby apartments. When the renovations of our houses are finished, we are moving people from these apartments into their own homes. Our hope is that they will stay long-term and work to rejuvenate Jackson’s economy.

Our recovery efforts also extend beyond Jackson. We have identified several communities that were hard-hit by the hurricane and are sending volunteer work groups there to help with home repairs and clean-up efforts. In the coastal cities of Moss Point and Gulfport, Foundation volunteers have worked on 14 different projects. In the rural community of Tylertown in Walthall County, volunteers have repaired the roofs of four homes.

Among these is the home of disabled Tylertown resident Laura Magee. The uninsured homeowner didn’t know how she would fix the damage to her home and found herself in despair. “I’m not working because of a severe back injury, and I just didn’t have the funds to repair my roof,” she says. “The Lord sent me a blessing — a miracle. I’m so thankful for you and all those who work with you. I have one less thing to worry about now that my roof is repaired. It’s just beautiful. I don’t have to run and get towels and pots to catch the water when it rains. I have a brand new roof!”

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to assist people like Ms. Magee. Perhaps the most exciting thing for me has been seeing our brothers and sisters from all over the country step up and help us in this crisis. We welcomed a total of 55 volunteers who came to work on renovating our houses.

Hurricane Katrina has provided yet another opportunity for us to live out the principles of holistic Christian community development, to focus on ministering to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of God’s children. This project is about long-term development, and we know it means being involved for the long haul. Support like yours enables us to do just that. Thank you so much for all the help that you have provided. It is making a difference.

Editor’s note: In December, a group of Seattle Pacific students, staff, faculty, and alumni will form a SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reach Out International) team that will travel to Jackson. The team will assist hurricane-displaced families by helping the Perkins Foundation to build long-term housing in the city.

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