Externally, not much seems to have changed in this southwestern Louisiana town since Hurricane Ike barreled its way through the region last fall.
JOHNSON BAYOU – Externally, not much seems to have changed in this southwestern Louisiana town since Hurricane Ike barreled its way through the region last fall.
Most of the remnants of mobile homes seem to shiver in the early spring wind, with insulation material flapping from exposed studs like laundry on a clothesline.
The roof of the new (since Hurricane Rita in 2005) building of Johnson Bayou Baptist Church has been removed from where it lay last August, flattened atop the rubble of what once were church walls, but that rubble remains – clay-colored concrete block, red brick facing, hand-sized shards of glass, bigger sections of what might have been bathroom mirrors, lengths of wood with nails pointed skyward, a broken toilet and a shattered baby grand piano among the residue.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us,” are the words on a banner that hangs from the concrete baptistry, the only part of the structure still intact.
Hung by townspeople, it is the motto of the Johnson Bayou High School Class of 2006, who emerged triumphant after Hurricane Rita in 2005. The school, next door to the church, also was destroyed by Ike.
“About 75 percent of the population is gone,” said Jack Gandy, pastor since a year after Hurricane Rita hit in 2005. “About 75 percent of the church members are gone.
“We’re still waiting to see what the population does,” Gandy said in mid-February. “We will rebuild,” he added.
The congregation – which numbers between eight and 14 people on Sundays – has been meeting since November at the pastor’s home, a double-wide mobile home on high ground built up next to Hwy. 82. Johnson Bayou Baptist, the pastor said, has determined to fence the property, then to remove the debris this spring or summer, and perhaps next year to build – with the help of Louisiana Baptist Mission Builders – a 3,200-square-foot multipurpose building.
No help is needed or wanted at this time, the pastor said. What’s needed first is enough members back to care for the volunteers, Gandy explained.
“The feeling in this community is we will rebuild this community, but it will take several years,” Gandy said. “Right now we have two families – including the pastor’s – living in their homes. The others [who have come back so far] are in camp trailers.”
For Johnson Bayou residents, friends are gone, stores are gone, and recreation is gone, in addition to the demolished high school and church, Gandy said.
“I’m having to go from a traditional, building-oriented ministry to people ministry,” the pastor said. “I am learning to minister to a community that is not the community it used to be.”
The biggest thing he’s learned? “Patience,” Gandy said. “The nature of a storm is always destructive. The way we deal with the storm should be the same as anything else we deal with: Trust in the Lord to work it through, and learn to be obedient.
“My wife [Linda] has been to me the greatest source of encouragement through all this,” the pastor continued. “She’s the one who’s kept me positive.”