By the Thousands, Faithful Toil to Resurrect Gulf Cities

Washington Post

Wednesday 8 February 2006, 6:54 pm

Sojourners in the South Leave Behind Jobs, Schools, Lives

By Jacqueline L. Salmon, Washington Post Staff Writer

Since arriving in Biloxi with a convoy of supplies and volunteers from his Fairfax County church, Lord of Life Lutheran, shortly after Labor Day, Bart Tucker has spent a total of eight weeks here. He goes home only to raise more money and recruit more volunteers.

His efforts have rippled across Northern Virginia. Other faith organizations have joined in -- churches, Habitat for Humanity, Bible study groups -- sending members and money, forming partnerships with Biloxi churches and adopting families.

More than 10,000 religious people across the country have poured through the stricken Mississippi Gulf Coast in an unprecedented volunteer effort.

They sleep in church sanctuaries, RVs and tents. They leave behind jobs, schools and retirement for labor pilgrimages of days, weeks or months.

Tucker doesn't question God's purpose for his presence. "I'm just here," he said. "Whether I'm called in this direction, I'm not sure. I'm here."

The volunteers' focus: a seemingly endless horizon of destruction that stretches 70 miles. In Mississippi, 35,000 homes owned by residents who had no flood insurance were destroyed. Tens of thousands more were heavily damaged. Beyond this is Louisiana, where 77,000 homeowners with no flood insurance saw homes destroyed.