Thursday, July 19, 2007

Requiem: Gods's Katrina Kitchen RIP

On July 31, 2007, God's Katrina Kitchen will serve its last meal, and cease operations on August 1. The Long Beach city council met last Tuesday and denied our request to share a 10-acre site with a local church. Numerous other offers of property to move to have been received, but none of them included political support from the surrounding community and city.

Although GKK will no longer exist, the need and the mission continue. Current plans are to parcel out all of the donated equipment and bunkhouses to one or more ministries here on the Gulf Coast. There are more than 20 permanent volunteer staff associated with the Kitchen, but none of them have heard a call to stop ministering to the Gulf Coast. It is likely that most of them will continue to serve God's call, but under a local ministry with a different name.

Church Army Gulf Coast will continue to operate under the same name. We now have three volunteer residents of the NoAH program seeking to transform their lives from homelessness and alcohol/drug addiction into what God would have them to be. Our residential location as of August 1 is still uncertain.

Here I offer a photo requiem for God's Katrina Kitchen:

This composite overview photo was taken from the balcony of the concrete apartment building, shortly after GKK moved onto the site at 554 Camp Avenue in Gulfport, Mississippi. The following photos show the many improvements made to our home in the succeeding months.

Members of the public who come to eat at the kitchen enter across a flowered garden with a picket fence.

James planted a rose garden to grace the lawn beside the tent, and the owners of the property brought additional roses to plant last fall.

The south end of the lawn has the Cross and flagpole transplanted from the former site in Pass Christian,

and another flower garden graces the south edge of the slab on which the tent sits.

Okra thrives at the east edge of the slab.

Throughout the site, de- construction has already begun. Here is a trench opened up to prepare for the removal of the conduit and wires.

A massive power grid supports the tent, office, cabins, motor homes, and travel trailers that serve the Kitchen.

The power grid supports this laundry room, while wastewater drainage is routed through the sewer systems of the existing slabs, the only remains of a 120-unit apartment complex.


Cabin 88 is the residence of Tool Room John. This palm was transplanted here to grace the volunteer housing area.

North and south views of volunteer housing in the interior of the camp,

and the housing that faces the street.
This new neighbor is missing from the overview photo at the top, when the Waffle House site was an empty slab.
The fire pit is the late-night gathering place for the permanent staff. We sang to the Lord here this Monday and Tuesday.


Between the trailers near the fire pit is the Kid Parking Lot.



. And here is Mary Giles with two of the Giles grand-kids.
The sunflower garden runs up to a massive pokeweed plant. So far, none of us have tried to cook any pokeweed.



James' and Mary's front porch features a porch swing,




facing the vegetable garden with its tomatoes and peppers.

So now it's story time. Come August 1, God's Katrina Kitchen may seem like it continues only in the stories that will be told and retold, to grandkids of grandkids. But look closer: you may find that the work of the Kitchen never ceased, indeed never missed a beat. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soggy Retreat

Behold, a great and strong wind came and tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind came an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.

And after the fire, a still small voice.

Sometimes you just have to go camping.

At least, that's my motto.

The weatherman saith: scattered thunder- storms on Saturday, more thunderstorms on Sunday. But then, what does the weatherman know?

Sometimes you just have to go camping.

Besides, it was time to take Freddie and Van on retreat, to break from the frenetic rhythm of the camp, and to find a quiet place to listen for God.

And we each asked the Lord, "What am I doing here?"

And the Lord in a still small voice answered each of us.

And in reverse order from Elijah, then we had the thunder and the lightning and the wind. But we didn't notice any rocks being broken, nor did we notice an earthquake.

We did, however, notice the puddles inside our tents, and the wet sleeping bags and the soggy clothes. Saturday night's rain cancelled the steak, which had to be deferred to Steak and Eggs in the morning.

We also noticed the dead battery in the car. I had tried to entice Steve to come along with us, and thought the dead battery would lure him. But it was James to the rescue. Once the car was running again, we took a side trip to the flowered trail beside POW camp, then headed for Camp Avenue in Gulfport.

While we were getting our visitation at Bigfoot Camp, the folks back home also had a visitation. When the thunderstorm passed through, it was accompanied by a pretty significant waterspout just offshore of God's Katrina Kitchen.

REPORT: The Move is On?

In the meantime, the camp had been hearing mixed reactions from the councilmen of Long Beach about the impending invasion by God's Katrina Kitchen. But on Monday when the mayor returned to town, he invited WLOX TV to join him and the camp leadership and Pastor Larry of the church that invited us onto their property. Pastor Larry's impassioned speech was carried on the 10:00 news, along with the mayor's statement that he was not opposed to GKK coming to Long Beach.

Today, Tuesday July 17, at 5:00 the Long Beach city council will meet to consider whether to welcome GKK to their city, and what kinds of conditions they may wish to impose on us.

Today we are in prayer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sneak Preview: On the Move

As promised, I'm sharing the breaking news as it develops about our eviction from Gulfport. Please pray alongside us as we move closer to our July 31 deadline to move from our current property.

By a unanimous vote, a church in the interior of nearby Long Beach, Mississippi, has invited God's Katrina Kitchen and Church Army Gulf Coast to move onto their 10-acre church site. Last Sunday the staff from the Kitchen attended their service and we were received with open arms. Their church was in the forefront of the early relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina and was the site of one of the major relief supply distribution points working alongside the Kitchen.

Final approval for this move is dependent on the results of a meeting with the Mayor of Long Beach, who is on vacation and will not return until July 16. Please pray for God's favor for us, and for our favor in the sight of the people of Long Beach.

We also need prayer for divine help in coordinating and executing this massive move, involving an institution that houses 200 volunteers at a time and coordinates and sends out work teams for up to 200 additional volunteers housed elsewhere.

In the meantime, here is a SNEAK PREVIEW of GKK on the move:

(Some of you may remember this photo from my email post about our last move in October 2006)

Thanks to all of you,

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Widow's Mite; A Date to Move; Lives on the Move.


Jesus watched a poor widow put two very small copper coins into the temple treasury. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-3)

One street over and a block north of my bunkhouse at Gods Katrina Kitchen you may find a row of fairly nice homes along Woodward Avenue. Most of them were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but they are beginning to show new attractiveness as the residents make repairs and clean up their properties.

But just a few steps farther, walking north to cross the railroad tracks, you will find a different picture. Looking around, you might think the calendar had been rolled back to 1907 instead of 2007. Ramshackle wood shacks which were hardly livable before Katrina show decades of disrepair, with no sign of any improvements since the devastation of the hurricane. This is a neighborhood which speaks of generations of grinding poverty and lack of hope, a neighborhood neglected, ignored and despised.

Last week as I was walking back from the nieghborhood store I was hailed by a resident south of the tracks, who assailed me with the bitterness she felt about the presence of God's Katrina Kitchen a block south. She spoke of alleged crime and occasional litter, but some of her most bitter words were reserved for the residents north of the tracks who would walk through her neighborhood to eat at the Kitchen. Some of them were young mothers leading 4 to 6 small children for one or two meals per day. "This was a nice neighborhood," the woman said, "before all these people north of the tracks started walking through here every day."

A different viewpoint can be seen in this letter to the local newspaper from a woman who lives about four more blocks to the north:

This Tuesday while I was in the office trailer of the Kitchen, a young black woman came in, dressed as one might expect for one of those residents that live two blocks away--that is, north of the railroad tracks. She told office manager Vicki that she wanted to make a donation, and handed her a fifty dollar bill.

Vicki looked misty-eyed. "That's the kind of thing," she told me, "that makes it worth going on here."


Other donations have been coming in the last few days, along with a few offers of places for God's Katrina Kitchen to move to. You see, on Monday the city council of Gulfport denied the kitchen's request to stay on the property for one more year, and the city sent a notice to vacate by July 31. The council meeting was covered and reported by the local TV station whose article may be found here:

A video clip of the meeting shown on the evening news, with clips of founder Greg Porter and director James Giles can be found here:

The staff of the Kitchen have been kept busy for the last few days pursuing possible places for the Kitchen to stay, and following up on new offers. In the meantime, the Kitchen continues to feed 1000 to 1500 meals per day, and James' children's ministry has been reaching out to the kids in a neighborhood park, where the children share the turf with a local street gang.

What the future holds for the Kitchen and for the ministry of Church Army Gulf Coast has yet to be revealed, but no one here finds it easy to believe that God wants us to stop doing what we have been doing. Please pray God's peace for all of us as God unfolds his plan.


Three weeks ago the kitchen staff were steeling themselves for long hours and extra shifts after our cook Mister Bill (our first graduate from the NoAH program) moved on, and other cooks were expected to be on leave.

In the meantime, two men came to me and asked to be admitted to the NoAH program. They had heard about it from Eddie, who had recently left the program. Freddie and Van had met on the West Side Pier near the Kitchen, and in discussing their lives (and why they had to sleep on the Pier) resolved that they were never going to use drugs again. I showed them the NoAH covenant and, as usual, asked them to pray about it overnight before signing the covenant.

The next morning Freddie and Van were not to be seen, and we wondered what had happened. But late that evening they showed up at the Kitchen and told us they had been arrested for sleeping on the pier and had spent the night in jail. After being released, they had walked directly from the jail (in the north of Gulfport, 6 miles away) to the Kitchen. Nothing was going to deter them from trying to get into the program.

James and Steve and I found some lodging for Freddie and Van that night at the Rescue Mission in Biloxi, and interviewed them extensively the next morning before admitting them into the NoAH Life Transformation Program. Today is their 20th day, when they will be presented with their personal study bibles. They have been taking in all they could of what Church Army could give them: Morning and evening devotions, spiritual growth classes (Making Peace with Your Past), bible studies, AA meetings, 12-step classes, and work, work, work. They are doing so well that I am afraid to boast.

Oh, and did I fail to mention? Both Freddie and Van are seasoned professional cooks. They stepped into the breach in the kitchen and have been pairing off for the morning and evening shifts leading groups of volunteers to feed 1000-plus people each day. In addition, Freddie has been helping out with the outreach to the children at the neighborhood park.

God knew exactly who to send to us at exactly the right time when our programs here had matured to exactly the right level. Please pray for Freddie and Van as they look forward to new lives as New Creations in Christ.

I will try my best to keep you all updated on the news from the Gulf Coast. I pray that this time will be our time of blessing, and not the Time of Trouble.

In Christ,