Faith: Mississippi is Their Mission
Members of Grace Baptist Church work to rebuild what Kiln, Miss. lost.
By Tammy Marashlian Signal Staff Writer
The destruction of Hurricane Katrina may be out of the minds of most Americans, but for Grace Baptist Church, rebuilding the southern states that were torn apart by the 2005 storm has turned into a series of relief missions focused on aiding the area’s devastated churches and families.
Right after ringing in the New Year in 2008, a team of Grace Baptist members took a trip to the small Mississippi town of Kiln to frame the building for the city’s First Baptist Church.
But that mission wasn’t a one-time thing for the Valencia church.
For the past couple of years, members and leaders of Grace Baptist have been visiting Mississippi to offer hands-on help that goes beyond dropping change into an offering plate on Sunday.
However, before giving any help, Grace Baptist had to get in touch with families in need by traveling to Mississippi.
Paul Leitzell, administrative pastor for Grace Baptist Church, said after Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005, the church saw a need to go down to the area and understand what needs could be fulfilled.
“We didn’t want to hit and run,” Leitzell said. “We wanted to make a long-term commitment.”
Knowing they could cause more damage by visiting the area unprepared, members and leaders from Grace Baptist conducted a series of “survey trips” to Mississippi to meet with contacts from Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization that offers assistance to people in need.
“We tried to assess where we could make an impact,” Leitzell explained.
After getting an understanding of what could be done, Grace Baptist took on the major project of building a home for the family of Pastor Willie Tebo in Mississippi.
But rather than traveling to the state, in 2006 Grace Baptist Church dedicated the patio space of its hilltop church to building the framework and walls of the house.
In coming up with blueprints, Leitzell said the structure was built so that it could be taken down and driven across the country to the town, and then reassembled on site.
As a personal touch, Leitzell said Grace Baptist members and supporters signed their names on the framed home as a way for the Tebo family to remember them.
One of the assemblers was Stephen Beckwith, a Grace Baptist member who has been part of the mission trips since 2006.
“We got it completely sealed from weather, dry wall and plumbing,” Beckwith said.
From there, Leitzell and Beckwith said the relief work continued to include a 2007 visit to build a garage for the Herron family, a local family that had adopted children over the years, and the donation of care packages to 200 families in need.
Grace Baptist’s charity work was topped off earlier this month when Beckwith and six other men framed a church for the First Baptist Church of Kiln.
During the six days in the small town, the seven men applied their construction skills to securing a hurricane-resistant structure.
While there, the group found that the people of Kiln and the church members had faith in God, despite the trauma that Katrina had created.
“I was definitely expecting people to be totally devastated,” Beckwith said. “It definitely was the opposite of my expectations.”
Although Beckwith said he’s been to Mexico to do charity work, he had never taken part in a relief trip on the same level as the Mississippi one.
He hopes the visits to Mississippi will become annual, but understands that planning additional trips will be difficult financially and time-wise.
Regardless, Beckwith said, “We all want to go back.”
Justin Klopfenstein was also on Beckwith’s team that went to Kiln.
Although he had been part of the logistical planning for the previous trips, this was his first time he went to Kiln.
“It was an eye-opener to just how much work has to be done,” he said, noting that the focus has always been on the city of New Orleans rather than Mississippi.
“If nothing else, you see just how people can help other people,” he said.
Even though Klopfenstein had never been to Mississippi, the Grace Baptist member is familiar with doing charity work as he previously spent summers teaching English to people in the Czech Republic.
As for what draws him to do charity work, he said, “I enjoy it, first of all. It’s a lot of fun to help people.”
He also sees the experience as a way to share the teachings of Jesus Christ and a message of hope.
Ultimately Klopfenstein believes the relief work is a way to bring people together.
“That’s the coolest thing I could bring back,” he said. “Seeing two separate churches coming together ... helping each other in a time of need.”
Copyright: The Signal