Volunteer Makes Sacrifice To Help Rebuild South Mississippi

"Everything else looking good?" Joe Brewer asked a group of Minnesota volunteers.

"Yes," they responded.

Joe Brewer is the engine that moves a growing disaster response effort in Gulfport.

"A saw. You don't have one?" Brewer asked. "We have one back at the office."

Brewer retired from his tire and automotive business in Brookhaven in 1994. But he's been hard at work, ever since Katrina slammed into South Mississippi.

"I came on down here just to see if there was something that I can do," Brewer said. "I didn't get to go back home, because there was something that we could do."

And Brewer hasn't slowed down since.  He is the coordinator of the Church Building Ministry, Inc., a non-profit group that specializes in building churches.  The group's mission has expanded to include repairing damaged homes.

"We got a house that needs to be cleaned out," Brewer told a group of Starkville volunteers. "I think they have a roof for you to put on."

Brewer has worked with some 3,000 volunteers since September. His job also involves making sure they have a place to rest and enough to eat.

"I want to eat catfish," a teen volunteer from Minnesota said jokingly.

"Tonight, we're going to have catfish," Brewer told him with a smile.

"I've not ever in my life had to sit down and talk to a person who had lost everything they had, and deal with things like that," Brewer said. "I'm going to say God called me down here and we responded. And we've helped a lot of people."

With so much need still present in the community, Brewer and his wife made a difficult decision. In January, the couple sold their home in Brookhaven, and they now live in a camper in Gulfport.

When asked why he moved, Brewer said, "When we turned in the driveway, she looked at the house and she said, 'My flowers are not smiling at me.' We went in and we talked about it that night. We just decided we'd sell the house, because we weren't there to take care of it."

Brewer says he'll stay in South Mississippi as long as the volunteers keep coming.  Homeowners, like 78-year-old Ethel Goff, are no doubt grateful for his dedication and sacrifice.

"He's just so good," said Goff. "I just love him to death. He's heaven sent, I can say that.  All his volunteers are heaven sent."

The Church Building Ministry is based at Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Gulfport.