Homepage Photo by Edward P. Richards
FRED DE SAM LAZARO, guest anchor: Meanwhile, two years after Hurricane Katrina, long-term recovery efforts continue along the Gulf Coast.
In a new report, the U.S government said since Katrina, 1.1 million Americans have volunteered more than 14 million hours of service. Much of that work has been faith-based. For example, member organizations of the National Council of Churches sent more than 120,000 volunteers. And some 70,000 Habitat for Humanity workers have built nearly 1,200 homes.
But given the magnitude of the disaster, local activists say much more still needs to be done -- by religious groups and by the government. Kim Lawton has our special report on the many ways churches are still struggling to rebound.
Reverend E. J. SCOTT (Pastor, Temple of New Life Baptist Church, during radio program): Why, good evening my sisters and my brothers.
KIM LAWTON: In Dallas, Texas, Pastor E.J. Scott has a daily radio show.
Rev. SCOTT: You are the life-giver and God, when you give life, no one can take it.
LAWTON: Scott was born in New Orleans and had a thriving Baptist church there. Then Katrina hit. Now, he's building a new life and ministry 500 miles away.
Rev. SCOTT: Two days after the storm, Kim, is when God spoke to me and told me to start another church.
LAWTON: Two years after Hurricane Katrina, many churches are still struggling to rebound. Some are striving for restoration on the Gulf Coast, while others are starting over again elsewhere.
Scott and his wife Dee fled New Orleans and came to Dallas to stay with a friend of Dee's. They eventually connected with the Gaston Oaks Baptist Church, a predominantly White congregation that wanted to help victims of Katrina. Gaston Oaks is supporting Scott as he launches the Temple of New Life Baptist Church, which is currently holding services on Gaston Oaks' second floor. Temple of New Life already has a small core group of members including other evacuees from the Gulf Coast region.
Scott says God has given him an ambitious vision for the future -- not just for a church-- but also a school, nursing home, apartment building, and even a car wash to generate income.
Rev. SCOTT: When we came to Dallas and saw all of the land, I knew immediately, this is it! We would not have been able to build all of these facilities in New Orleans.
LAWTON: Back in New Orleans, his old church, Shiloh Christian Fellowship Baptist Church has a new pastor, but the building is still boarded up. Many church members were upset Scott didn't return.
Rev. SCOTT: Those that were very close to us have kind of disowned us, so to speak. And we understand that, because we had great visions.
LAWTON: Sometimes, Scott says, God has different plans.
Rev. SCOTT: If I did not know that God told me to relocated--there is something bigger for me than the New Orleans area -- but if I had gone back, we would rebuild.
LAWTON: New Orleans churches trying to do that still face overwhelming challenges, especially in the hardest-hit areas. About 60 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned to New Orleans, but here in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, only a small percentage of the residents have come back, and only a fraction of the damaged churches have been rebuilt.
One of them is St. Paul Church of God in Christ, which had been deluged by nearly nine feet of water. Now it stands as an oasis in an area still dominated by deserted houses and overgrown bulldozed lots. The church was rebuilt by volunteers with a faith-based relief group called "God's Pit Crew." Pastor Ernest Dison says the restored church is a testimony to what compassionate generosity can accomplish.
Rev. ERNEST DISON (Pastor, St. Paul Church of God in Christ): Individuals like from Virginia, Mississippi, Atlanta, Texas, California -- these people were sitting there watching, by way of television, all of the devastation. And I can imagine this and they started to shed tears, you know?
LAWTON: Prior to the storm, St. Paul's played an active role in the community, with a drug rehab center, a feeding program and a school of theology. Dison hopes they can repair the other damaged buildings on their property so they can resume those ministries.
Rev. DISON: This house here took on a lot of damage but we're going to try to save it.
LAWTON: But money is tight. Only about 60 of his 250 members have returned. Few of them have regular jobs or receive post-Katrina government aid. Tithes and offerings are sparse, and the church isn't getting any outside contributions.
Rev. DISON: We're going to continue to do exactly what we feel we've been called to do by God. We're going to witness Christ. We're going to serve people. We're going to rebuild and we're going to be a positive-- in the midst of crime, in the midst of drugs. And these services that this church offers, they will continue.
LAWTON: Last weekend, St. Paul's hosted a community memorial service in honor of the 22 children who died two years ago in the Lower Ninth Ward when the levees broke.