It’s been nearly eight month since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast region, and almost seven months since her sister, Rita, also paid a devastating visit to the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Today, residents in those areas have begun to gear up for another storm season, one that is predicted to be as bad or worse as the hurricane season of 2005.

Mike Paxton is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kinder, La., a small town about 60 miles from New Orleans. His small church, together with other churches in town, rallied to feed as many as 5,000 meals per day to evacuees from the hurricane damaged areas last year.

Kinder is unique in that even though its a small town with just two restaurants, it has a casino, so there are about 3,000 hotel rooms in the area. As evacuees hit the interstate to escape the storms’ fury inland, Kinder became a popular stopping point.

While Katrina brought only evacuees to Kinder, Rita also brought damaging winds and rain, tearing up roofs, snapping trees and creating other damage in the town that was still preoccupied with serving Katrina’s victims.

Since the storms, members of Edmond’s Waterloo Road Baptist Church have sent two missions teams to Kinder to help Paxton and their sister church help the people of Kinder repair storm damage. Last week, Paxton, his wife, Pat, and the couple’s four children came to Oklahoma to visit Waterloo Road, where Mike preached at both morning services on Sunday.

He termed Katrina and Rita as “perfect storms” for how they transformed his small, sometimes stagnant church into a place where God became real.

“We had people from all classes evacuate in Kinder,” Paxton said. “From the dirt poor to the filthy stinkin’ rich, and you couldn’t tell any difference in any of them because God took away everything they had to bring them closer to Him,” Paxton said Sunday.

“The world as we know it is only temporary. What is it in your life that’s most important to you?”

In the weeks before the storms, the church had been praying and fasting for God’s direction for their congregation, Paxton said. Their hope was that God would use their church to be a place where the hurting and needy could come and be welcomed, he said.

They just had no idea God would answer their prayer in that magnitude.

Helping people rebuild after nature’s storms is one way a church can help those who need Jesus, Paxton said. Helping people through life’s emotional storms also is important.

“We’ll all jump in on a roofing job if that’s what the need is, but if someone’s marriage is in trouble, we don’t want to get involved,” Paxton said of the typical response from many churches.

Forecasters predict another active storm season for the region because the temperature in the gulf is already 10 degrees warmer than last year, and it’s that heat that fuels the storms, Paxton said.

If history repeats this summer, the churches in Kinder will respond again like they did last year, but they’ll be better prepared this time,” Paxton said.

“We’re better organized. We have a list of resources that we can pull from now.”

When it comes to meeting immediate needs after storms like hurricanes, people shouldn’t put their faith in FEMA or the government, Paxton said.

“We rely on each other as neighbors, and churches are the best at organizing neighbors helping neighbors,” he said.

I the coming months, Waterloo Road Baptist will send more teams of workers to Kinder, where many needs still exist. Most of the homes in the area have the necessary external repairs finished, but interior work like damaged drywall still needs to be replaced, Paxton said. And the church has been so focused on helping others that repairs to church itself from damage caused by Rita have been overlooked.

Future teams will help meet those needs as the area braces for an uncertain summer and fall, Paxton said.

“We still need those human resources,” Paxton said. “If there are people who want to come down and do stuff, we’ll put them to work.”

(To donate time or money to the relief effort in Kinder, contact the Waterloo Road Baptist Church at 341-9024. David Hartman can be reached by e-mail at dhartman@edmondsun.com)

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