Feeding the 5000 in Mississippi
A student's account of the Andrews relief trip
I just returned at 7:30 this morning from Bass Memorial Academy in Southern Mississippi where a team of over 90 students, faculty, and staff from Andrews went to lend a hand with relief efforts. There are several stories I could share, but let me just give you one or two that paint a little picture of what took place.
The story for me began here at AU where we heard on Thursday morning that a group would be leaving to help with the relief effort over the holiday weekend. I knew I wanted to go when I heard about it, and made plans to do so. Little did anyone realize that almost 100 students would sign up to go--at first there were plans for a van, then that turned into a bus and then in the end we had to take two busses and a van! The second coach we had planned on taking broke down before it even got to us, so half of us ended up riding in the AU school bus all the way to Mississippi (almost a 19 hour trip on the way down, and 16 or so coming back up)! The spirit of cooperation and readiness to serve was amazing among the students. On top of that, most of the students paid $250 just to go. I was so impressed by the immediate response of Andrews University to the call to go down. We weren't the only ones either—Southern Adventist University sent a busload down, too (they beat us only because they are closer!).
The damage at Bass is extensive: most roofs are destroyed and will have to be replaced--the gym and church roof coverings (not the roof itself but the tar/tin covers) are basically completely gone; there is extensive water damage; some walls are down; trees are down...you get the picture. It is not nearly as bad, however, as what lies to the south. Just 10 miles further down the road toward the Gulf, it is much, much worse. In the midst of all this destruction at Bass, it would be reasonable to conclude that they’d have enough to deal with even if they just focused their efforts on rebuilding the academy. Many of us who went worked on the roof of the boy's dorm for instance, which had lost so many shingles it would have been a disaster if it had rained. Amazingly, it was nearly completed by the time we left! But that’s only a very small part of what was going on--the main focus of our work was not the Academy but helping the community.
I praise God for what He has done over the past several days and is doing through both Bass Academy and the Adventist Community Services and ACTS (Adventist Community Team Services) from Florida. While Bass and ACS and ACTS have plenty of problems to deal with on the campus alone, they are not content to look inward--they have chosen instead to focus outward. The communities of Purvis and Luberton, MS, now have Bass Memorial Academy as their chief distribution center of relief services and supplies. The mayors of both cities have both expressed how thankful they are for what is being done at Bass.
Every day since the operation began, thousands of people have been fed two hot meals per day by the cooking team from ACTS in cooperation with many of the students I was with over the weekend. On Sabbath, almost 5000 people were fed at a center just a few miles from Bass in Purvis. Every day hundreds of cars file through BMA's driveway filling up with food and other necessities. People began lining up in their cars at 7:30 am (it was already hot by then, let me tell you!) for the 9:30 line opening. Sabbath afternoon, we loaded up the busses as full as we could and drove out into the countryside, passing out boxes of food as people flocked to the bus desperate for food.
Let me share one story before I close, and this is related to what I just mentioned about the roughly 5000 people that were fed on Sunday. Saturday night, at our nightly meeting, the ACTS director David Canther informed us that we needed to have special prayer because our food supplies were running dangerously low. On Saturday they had fed several thousand people, but supplies were getting to the point where they weren't sure if it was going to make it for Sunday. We prayed that God would provide. We were just wrapping up our evening meeting of testimonies and singing when I noticed the lights of a large truck pulling into the main entrance. The truck had left Virginia early that morning, not knowing where they would end up, but with a load full of food and relief supplies that people had donated to help with efforts there (I don't know where they were from--they were not from the Adventist church). Everywhere they tried to drop it off on their way south they were turned down and told they couldn't be accommodated. Finally, they heard by word of mouth that there was a distribution center that needed help near Purvis. By 9:30 pm they were pulling into our driveway! Our prayers were answered before the meeting was even finished.
But that's not all... the next day 11 more semi trucks arrived, bringing tons more of food and supplies! These were not planned for--many started in Texas and had a similar story to the first... they had been turned down, or not allowed to go to New Orleans in the case of some of them, and so they ended up finding us. I share that because it made a deep impression on me of how God will provide in the midst of our needs. And not only provide, but do so beyond what we could ask or imagine! So if you question where God is in the midst of all the tragedy, just remember that He fed 5000 last Sunday in Mississippi. I guess miracles still can happen.
-- Kyle Allen