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Arkansas hosts evacuees

"Everywhere I look, I see God working in and through us so we can help evacuees."

BY BOYCE BOWDON | JONESBORO, Ark. | October 4, 2005

"Hispanics, African Americans, Anglo Americans, and others are working together harmoniously."

—Mark Massey

"Everywhere I look, I see God working in and through us so we can help evacuees," said Mark Massey, pastor at a United Methodist church in rural Arkansas.

Massey's community is an hour's drive from Jonesboro but he has traveled to the city to work with relief groups serving thousands of evacuees.

Jonesboro - home to some 60,000 people - took in thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees, and then started caring for additional evacuees after Hurricane Rita made landfall.

Massey, who also works with the American Red Cross, said that, a few hours after Katrina devastated New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas, Red Cross personnel met with key leaders of northeast Arkansas to prepare for evacuees they were expecting.

"We listed what we thought the evacuees might need most and discussed how we could help meet their emergency needs by pooling our resources," Massey recalled.

He says a compassionate and cooperative spirit prevailed at that meeting in August, and continues to prevail. "There's only one explanation," he says. "God was and is at work in the hearts of people in our area."

He says local government agencies have responded promptly and efficiently since the first evacuees arrived. Scores of northeast Arkansas doctors and nurses have provided medical care. Pharmaceutical companies have contributed medicines. Business and professional people, factory workers, farmers - people from all economic and social levels - have come forth with donations.

People have volunteered to do anything they could do - drive a van, sweep the floors at a shelter, play with a child, hold the hands of evacuees who have lost loved ones.

"Hispanics, African Americans, Anglo Americans, and others are working together harmoniously," Massey says. "Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Baptists, United Methodists, Catholics and other Christians are serving sided by side with Jews, Muslims and people who belong to other religious groups, as well as people who don't belong to any. We all look alike to one another these days."

Massey says as different as the volunteers are, all are focused on the same thing: helping evacuees. "When I see people working together like this, I know God is working in and through us so."

Another place where Massey says he is seeing God at work is in the faith community.

"At one time we had at least 4,000 evacuees in the four-county area," he said. "We had to have shelters for them. We couldn't use our schools because they were in session. Churches opened their doors to us. I don't know what we would have done without the churches. Hundreds of evacuees are housed in shelters at churches that have gyms with showers. Churches that donít have shelters are supporting churches that do have shelters. Their members are cooking, serving, and assisting in other ways."

But Massey says he is not only seeing God at work in and through people and churches of the area.

"God is at work in and through me," he says. "There's no other explanation for why I have been able to do what I have done as well as I have done it."

Massey thought for a moment, smiled and concluded, "I've not been acting the way I'm inclined to act."

He got specific: "I'm inclined to be a control freak. I want people to do it my way. But from the day the first evacuees arrived, I have delegated responsibility, backed off, and let people do their jobs their way. And they have done great work!"

Massey also admits that he has a temper. "When people blame me for things I haven't done, I usually get in their faces," he says.

"Not once have I lost my temper," said Massey, nodding his head in amazement. "God must have an angel on my shoulder controlling my temper box."

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