This is a follow-up to Help Is On The Way In Gulf Oil Leak from two days ago. Written by Dr. Thomas B. Manton who went to Venice, LA to assess the situation and offer his expertise to the government in mitigating this disaster in the Gulf. Good news on that front could possibly be coming in the near future. Of course you will see it here and elsewhere when things become ‘official.’ But first this from Dr. Manton.
THE HUMAN FACE OF VENICE, LOUISIANA
The Pastor must take care of his/her Flock. That is what The Rev. Captain Jesse Morris has been doing for the last many years – through both the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and now the massive BP oil spill here in the Gulf just off the shores of this small fishing and oil servicing town.
On August 29th 2005 Katrina swooped in from the Gulf of Mexico and covered the place where we are now staying with 20 feet of water between the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. This town of Venice did not have one building standing here. Everything here has been built since the reconstruction of the town began in 2005-6. It has been a remarkable transformation that this town has gone through due to the energy and dedication and determination of its people.
Jesse Morris stands out as a shining example of this huge transformation. He would say that he did his duty as a Pastor and a shepherd to his flock. Yet his ingenuity and leadership guided so many people through the most difficult years of their lives and he continues to undertake that wonderful role during this time when so many of his flock (75% of his congregation are fisherman like him) have no prospect of work for years to come because of the pollution in the entire food chain. . If you are asking why can’t they be trained to do something else. Sixty percent of the fishermen cannot read or write and they are 4th or 5th or 6th generation of fishermen. Jesse’s father cannot read or write yet Jesse went to college and is a leader of the whole community. He is truly a remarkable human being.
In talking to Jesse and his lovely wife, Charlotte, this morning we learned that they were not permitted by the authorities to return to Venice until four weeks after the hurricane. They came back to the only building standing which was a composite structure made by a Calgary, Alberta based company – Sprung Instant Structure. Jesse immediately ordered new fabric for the structure….since the first one had survived, more or less, this category 5 hurricane. The new fabric arrived just 22 days after they ordered it from Canada and was a life saver since all the major relief organizations were working out of that building – the Red Cross, Salvation Army, United Way and a church relief organization.
Volunteers started to arrive and first it was a trickle and then a flood. Thousands came from all over North America to see how they could help. All of them had to be fed as they cleaned up the 250 lots within the first three months for the devastated citizens of this small fishing village. The volunteers came from church groups across the country, especially the Mennonites. The Amish came not only from Pennsylvania where they are famous but also from many parts of this great country. They rebuilt the church and lived in it as long as they didn’t have any other place to bed down….sometimes 50 to a room getting cots from the US Army and others. They served over 100,000 hot meals to these volunteers who had come at their own expense from all across the United States and Canada. They rebuilt 25 homes and built from scratch 13 new homes. The Amish set the record of building one of the homes in two weeks.
While this brave man and his family were helping people back into their homes, he and his family were given a trailer from FEMA. Within a month or six weeks the FEMA bureaucrats decided that Jesse and his family were not deserving of being in this trailer and told him to leave. After that, the trailer remained empty. That is how uncaring and unfeeling some bureaucrats can be. They then say – we are just following the rules.
Jesse, his family and his church folks were just following what GOD has commanded “when you saw us hungry – you feed us, when you saw us without a roof over us, you gave us shelter, when you saw us in sickness – healed us…..”
Now it was as if the experience of Katrina was just a warm up to the task Jesse and his flock are now facing. With 75% of his congregation fishermen, they were blocked from doing what generations of their families had done before them – fishing.
Three days after the BP rig burned and disappeared below the waves; Jesse got his church together and said we are going to have to prepare for the worst. Jesse was determined, in the great American tradition, that nobody was going to be dependent on government handouts and they were going to work for what they get. Early on Jesse, being an entrepreneur in addition to a Pastor and fisherman, said everyone coming here will need to eat. He now serves 1,350 meals per day as box lunches for the people that are the workers going out to clean up this huge mess.
Workers are being hired from all over this part of the country at a starting salary of $22.50 per hour being paid for by BP. They might work or they might not work, depending on BP. The last several days most of them were paid for sitting waiting for the call from BP. The dispersants that BP has been using – some of which have been banned by the UK government for use in British waters, but approved by the US EPA, have made many workers sick. Therefore, when the level of dispersants and oil which they are to disperse get to really toxic levels, BP pays thousands of people to sit on the shore.
Jesse’s flock want to keep doing what they have been doing for many years – work in their chosen profession FISHING. As mentioned above, they all want to work. Now they are working to prepare and serve meals – so many of Jesse’s flock are involved. They do this in the hope that someday it might be possible for their congregation to once again return to fishing – the livelihood known by their members as well as generations before them. These folks are the “salt of the earth”. They are honest, hardworking, and have always wanted to get paid for an honest-days’ work. They are not interested in hand-outs. They have been dealt a bad hand these last few years and have been relying on their ingenuity and entrepreneurship to change gears and find new work.
Jesse and his flock never asked for anyone’s pity. They have used the tools that God gave them to make a new life for themselves when a huge hurricane or massive oil spill crossed their path and prevented them from earning a living like they have before.
By now you might wonder how you could help this brave and resilient group who do not complain but just want to work to provide a living for they and their families. Go to www.cajununlimted.com
On this Memorial Day weekend may the LORD bless this community who have been through so much and come out of it standing on their feet. There are many others like them, but I have the privilege of meeting them and my life has been enriched by them. GOD BLESS THEM!
Dr. Thomas B. Manton, former President and CEO of the International Oil Spill Control Corporation, now living in Florida and wanting to save it from the oil spill.