Storm Portraits (Part 1 of 2)
Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later
September 1, 2006 - Many in the Gulf Coast area are looking to God as they continue to cope with physical and emotional devastation since Katrina.
by Amanda Knoke
“The fire department is not an organization that lets a lot of people in. We’re kind of like a family,” concedes Fire Captain Craig Peyton. But Peyton says that chaplains like Al and Toni New have helped firefighters “keep their faith up” and have earned the department’s acceptance and respect. Peyton admits that it’s hard not to have depression set in when his whole community has been destroyed, but he is a Christian and has found that words of Scripture have kept him going and have sustained his faith. He quotes from Job 38, “God answered Job from the whirlwind: .... ‘Where were you at when I framed the world?’” Peyton understands that God’s perspective is different from ours. “You can’t figure Him out,” he says. “Observing God, believing that He’s good and that I don’t understand the rest—basically that’s how I keep going.”
Deputy Chief AJ Seruntine, a third-generation firefighter, lost the St. Bernard Parish home that he had lived in for 39 years. When Seruntine, along with chaplains Al and Toni New, went back to his home, now gutted and sprayed for mold by Samaritan’s Purse, he recounted to them the experience of coming to see the house with his parents, who had lived with him. The firefighter grew emotional. “Once in a while it gets to me,” he said. The firefighter described what he saw last August: “You thought Armageddon was here— —when you see water coming at you that just keeps rising and rising. I said, ‘God, please stop the water’ … I asked Him several times, and He stopped it at the second floor.” Seruntine added with a half laugh, “It was more than I wanted, but evidently it was His mark.” Before leaving Seruntine’s home, Al prayed for his firefighter friend: “Father, we pray that You be with AJ, strengthen his faith and show him that there is hope, that even though things look real grim and dreary right now, there is a purpose in this and that whatever that is, Father, You are going to receive glory for everything that’s taken place.”
Ronnie Wester, left, a Rapid Response Team chaplain based in Kiln, Miss., stands with Betty Gillan, of nearby Waveland, on her front lawn. Gillan’s home was recently gutted, re-floored and dry-walled by Samaritan’s Purse. Her voice falters as she recalls how her ruined belongings were taken to the ditch in front of her home. Wester reminds her fragile friend that she has Jesus in her life now. “He has helped me a lot,” Gillan acknowledges. Wester again encourages her, “You’re never alone with Him ... You’re never alone.” Since receiving help from Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA Rapid Response Team, Gillan has been dining with the workers and chaplains weekly and attending church services at their Kiln volunteer site, Bayou Tallu Fellowship.