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NCC sees hope, lethargy
in gulf coast rebuilding

Washington, D.C., June 30, 2006-No one would have ever thought that installing dry wall into a house would be a sign. But in New Orleans that's just what it is, according to Rev. Cory Sparks a United Methodist pastor who has been very active in the efforts to rebuild the city.

"The dry wall is a sign of hope. It is important for us to see neighborhoods that can come back," said Sparks.

Sparks was in the nation's capital this week with Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, chair of the National Council of Churches' Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and Rev. Donald Boutte, pastor of St. John Baptist Church in New Orleans, to meet with Congressional staff and to participate in "Moving Toward Recovery and Restoration: Working for A Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast," a spiritual reflection and briefing sponsored by NCC.

Their report was grim. Ten months after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the resulting failure of the levees in New Orleans, the efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast are lethargic at best. Neighborhoods are still without electricity. Debris continues to fill the streets in many neighborhoods. Plans to rebuild the city have not
been finalized. Families continue to wait for information about insurance claims. Homes stand in ruin and lives are hanging in the balance while anxiety about this year's hurricane season intensifies.

"The task to rebuild is far greater and more complex than we could imagine," said Bishop Talbert in referring to the work of the Special Commission, which has been coordinating NCC's efforts to advocate for
justice in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

In spite of all of this, there are signs of hope--like the dry wall and the many collaborative efforts taking place on the ground to rebuild despite the challenges and slow response of elected officials (the federal government just passed legislation that would finally get funding for rebuilding to the region at the end of May).

One of the "most energizing" efforts according to Rev. Boutte is Churches Supporting Churches, a program to help rebuild 36 destroyed or damaged churches in 12 predominantly African American neighborhoods of
New Orleans.

For example, this weekend CSC sponsored a retreat for pastors and their spouses to help them process the trauma and destruction of their churches and homes in order to help their members and local community
leaders' deal with the Katrina reality as they return. The retreat is being facilitated by the Strategies for Trauma Awareness Resilience (STAR) Program, a team of African American specialists in pastoral care that was established for pastors by Church World Service and Eastern Mennonite University in response to 9/11.  More than 65 couples signed up to participate.

There are also other signs of new life: architects and city planners from Vietnam who have drawn up the plans to rebuild the Vietnamese community in the eastern part of New Orleans putting their rebuilding efforts months ahead of other parts of the city; the training that pastors have received on policy development so that they can be a prophetic voice and influence in the process of rebuilding; and, the businesses that realize the importance of having affordable housing in the city in order to have a viable workforce.

But the rebuilding process is tedious and more difficult than many imagined, while bureaucracy and injustice continue to be the enemy of those impacted by the storms.

"Elected officials seem to have already forg otten about those struggling to rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There are many justice issues that are not being addressed," said Bishop Talbert.

One of the more glaring justice issues to come up in recent months is a controversial landfill that is scheduled to be situated about a mile from the same Vietnamese community that has made almost miraculous strides in its efforts to rebuild. Rev. Sparks and many others in the community believe this landfill is unnecessary and its location will make it a health hazard to those living nearby. Efforts are underway from community and faith groups to fight the landfill.

Bishop Talbert believes that people in the faith community may have to do more to make sure justice issues, like the landfill, do not get ignored.

"We may have to take drastic measures to call attention to what is going on and we are willing to do that," he added.

NCC's Special Commission will meet to plan next steps in New Orleans at the end of August. They will also tour and meet with religious leaders along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.

Picture: Gulf Coast Rebuilding Initiative
NCC News contact:  Rev. Leslie Tune, 202.544.2350,



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