North Carolina volunteers got South Mississippi back on its feet

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Jeff Lawson – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - There were so many organizations, church groups and individuals that came here to help South Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. One of those groups was the North Carolina Baptist Men. Most people around here had probably never heard of that group until Katrina hit. But the North Carolina Baptist Men quickly became our heroes.

The numbers were astonishing. An estimated 30,000 volunteers spent about 1.5 million man hours rebuilding 715 homes. One of those homes belonged to Felicia Harper.

Like so many others, Felicia's Pass Christian home, was heavily damaged by Katrina. She couldn't find anybody to help her. Then, she heard of the North Carolina Baptists, and a wonderful man by the name of Eddie Williams.

"Mr. Eddie was like, 'Do you have a roof on your home?'" Felicia remembered. "I am like, 'No sir.' He said, 'We will get someone out there.'"

And they did, the next day. But it didn't stop there.

"It was just awesome, because they were here all the time," Felicia said.

Like with so many others, volunteers labored through pretty miserable conditions to rebuild a home for Felicia. Leading the charge, Eddie and Martha Williams. But they would be the first to tell you, it wasn't just them.

"Everybody joining together to help fill a need. That's what we were taught," said Eddie Williams.

Eddie and Martha spent 29 months here.

"I remember the faces of the people of South Mississippi," Eddie said. "We remember the sadness right after the storm. But as work progressed, able to help those in need, you started seeing smiles."

The North Carolina Baptist Men operated out of a church parking lot on Pass Road in Gulfport, and then the old armory. They were here within days of Katrina.

"Well before any federal agency or anyone else showed up," was how Eddie remembered it.

Gulfport's mayor at the time was Brent Warr. He said he was amazed and astonished at all the North Carolina Baptist Men did.

"Their behavior is the most Christian, humble and servant hearted behavior I have ever seen," said Warr.

But to Martha and Eddie, they received so much more than they gave.

"I will never forget how well we were treated, and how nice the people of South Mississippi are," Eddie Williams noted. "The strength, resilience and courage of those people, it just made them fight harder, and become stronger."

When Eddie and Martha finally went back home to their North Carolina home, they left behind not just rebuilt homes, but thousands of lives they touched.

"When it was done, it was really just like, how blessed can you be?"

Although Eddie and Martha Williams are back home, their work with the North Carolina Baptist Men has certainly not ended. They are now helping to build housing for 200 volunteers in Shelby, North Carolina.

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