At recent Katrina remembrance events across the state, former Governor Haley Barbour lifted up the multitudes of volunteers who first responded to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, then helped Mississippians recover.
“We got so much help from so many people,” Barbour said. Over 954,000 volunteers registered with the state over a five-year period.
“I want everyone in the country to know what people did for us.” That, Barbour said, is a major reason he, with help from Jere Nash, wrote his Katrina commemorative “America’s Great Storm – Leading Through Hurricane Katrina.”
He tells a story about a huge tent a Mormon aligned group set up on the Coast right after the storm to house and feed up to 700 volunteers. When he visited the tent he noticed a group of Seventh-day Adventists doing the cooking.
Barbour wrote that when he spoke to the 200 or so eating volunteers, “I asked how many in the crowd were Mormons, and there were twenty or so, but only about one-tenth of the crowd. I asked for a show of hands of Seventh-day Adventists, and there were eight or ten who had helped with the meal. The vast majority were Catholics or mainstream Protestants, consistent with our local population. Most weren’t from the Coast or even from Mississippi, but they had come to help as part of church groups from their hometowns and were being directed by the local churches affiliated with their denomination.”
“This was typical of hundreds of thousands of volunteers for years to come,” he wrote. “Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Catholics were organizing missions of service from all over the country, and when they arrived, they became part of a stupendous religious charitable outpouring where they worked side by side with Pentecostals, Mormons, Adventists, Mennonites, Church of Christ, Church of God in Christ, Jews, and Muslims.”
Barbour followed this story with another, saying as he walked back to his car, “an older man approached us. He introduced himself as Harold and said his son was a rabbi in New York City, where Harold lived. He said, ‘Governor, I asked my son if I should come home to New York for the High Holy Days. My son said, no, Dad, you are likely closer to God down there than if you returned home.’”
“This old Jewish gentleman made a powerful point,” Barbour told audiences across the state. “Many, many of the wonderful volunteers who came to the Coast to help their fellow Americans did it out of service to God. It was a mission of religious conviction.”
“I think that says something great about America,” Barbour, a Presbyterian, said.
It also reminds us of the importance of religion to America, from our founding values to our ongoing role as the best hope for peace in the world.
And, it reminds us to be intentional about embracing religion and the freedom to practice it in the face of those who would abolish it.