Volume 13, Number 3, September-October 2009

Lessons from Katrina

by Tommy Willis


Even as a lifelong resident of New Orleans, I didn’t realize the changes that I would experience with the coming of Katrina. We had never left for a hurricane before, but I followed the principle to make no decision without much prayer. And after praying, I felt God’s instruction to leave.

Water flows through the cab of an abandoned Red Cross “Disaster Relief” truck during hurricane Katrina.


We Are Not Immune!

Because most people in the USA have never lived through a war or natural disaster, it is tough to visualize it happening here. Even Bible prophecy students who are convinced disasters are coming often think they will be delivered and have no need for advanced preparation. Hurricane Katrina shows that massive disasters do happen on our own soil and that long-time believers have to endure them. It also showed that individual advance preparation helps. Future Servants’ News will contain articles showing how to prepare so when disaster strikes, you can be a blessing rather than a burden.     — NSE


After leaving for the storm and trying to get back home, my parents and I wound up sleeping on chairs in a restaurant for four days, and also in the car. We couldn’t leave the restaurant, because there was no gas. They needed what gas they had for government officials. Some people threatened the gas station owners. Nerves were tense.

We finally made it to some of the nearby smaller towns about 40 miles from New Orleans. And it looked like one of those apocalyptic movies with people strewn along the road sleeping in their cars or on the ground. Thousands of people flooded the small towns near New Orleans trying to get back home. Technology failed. Communication with the rest of the world was gone. No electricity, no TV, no cell phones, no Internet. All was out. It was really bad in the city itself. It was only later that I learned of all that happened with the people at the Super Dome with no water to drink.

Many people drowned in the storm. The water came up so fast the people could not get out in time. In some places the water went up to the roofs. They were still finding bodies in New Orleans a year after the storm. Many crawled into their attics to get away from the rising water, and they got trapped there. The death toll from those that died from the stress and agony after the storm cannot be estimated. Many lives were shortened.

I live in the east part of the city. It is mostly marsh and some swamps. It’s like living in the country. Wild packs of dogs roamed after the storm. Many deer died. One day I saw a dead deer, and the next day it was gone. I figured the dogs claimed it. How they had to rescue many of the starving dogs is a story in itself that was on PBS. Thousands of animals roamed the city. I spent three months in a tent in a nearby town. And now, thank God, I’m back in my own home again. Many people lived in tents like I did.

Some brethren told me the scenario with Katrina made them think more of what could happen in the future. The economic problems could really bring us to a more diminished nation as we continue to go into debt. Many say we are selling our children into slavery with all the debt we are creating, and that it could turn into a real nightmare, as America could become like a third world nation because of this debt. And the people that will make it through the chaos best are the ones who have learned to put their trust in God. We often argue about different picky points of doctrine, when our time would be better spent seeking God so that we would use the Bible to build up our relationship with Him. Our trust in God is what will pull us through. We should also learn to live a more simple life.

I was living simple before Katrina; God taught me to cut back even more as I learned more what is truly needed in life. To buy now and pay later is as insidious as many other forms of bondage. I learned years ago the best way around the hurdle is not making more money but spending less. People won’t get rich living the way I do, but most of the time they will feel like they are. I still struggle with a lot of problems, but in the area of simple living I’m blessed.

We should not trust in our paycheck, but in God. We could easily become a much diminished nation with all the debt we are getting into. It’s best to learn to live simply now, because we are probably going to be forced to in the future. Even if the economy does not collapse—living simply is a win-win situation, because it helps us have less distraction so that we can focus more on our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If we trust in the economy, we can fall if it does. But if our trust and foundation is down in Jesus Christ, then we can still be standing when things all around us are falling apart.

When the storm was approaching the city, I knew if God allowed it to happen then He would want us to learn from it. I shared that with many brethren after the storm when I was asked to give some sermons. It is from the suffering aspects of life that God has taught me the most. Katrina was no different. It was only through my contact with God I was able to deal with the aftereffects of the storm with as much peace as I did. It was not easy. They were some of the biggest struggles of my life. And there were others who had a lot more to deal with than I did. Some people were still sleeping in their cars a year after the storm. Suicide rates went up.

I thought a lot about the suffering of life with Katrina. And the lessons God wants us to learn from the suffering in what He allows us to go through. Years ago I read about a girl raised in a millionaire’s home. She had servants and lawyers to do everything for her. And when she was let out into the world, she could not function.

 I have often thought how this relates to how God knows that we have to experience the suffering of life if we are going to learn. It’s the same principle as the girl in the millionaire’s home. She was not able to function in life.  She should have been allowed to experience the pains and aches of growing up and dealing with life. This is the attitude we should take towards any pain and suffering that comes our way. This attitude towards life will help us. Years ago I heard a minister say: “Everything that happens to you can be a blessing if you will not become offended”. I have found this to be true from experience.

There were times when I went through trials and became offended and I brought chaos in my life. And then I learned to take it to God in prayer and repent. And God then gave me the right attitude, and then I was able to deal with it with a mind at ease. It was the difference between day and night. And most of it had to do with attitude. Repentance is the best “shot in the arm” we can receive; it clears the way for us.

When you think about it, much of the Bible is about attitude: our attitude towards God, our fellowman, and the vicissitudes of life on this planet. Scripture tells us: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5, NIV). God knows we can’t produce what Christ can; only Christ can produce through us. We need to learn to submit to Him and let Him guide us, and then Christ will be manifest to the world. It involves seeking Him diligently and building up our relationship with Him, so that He can give us His mind and attitude towards all situations.

Life is not easy. The world can constantly throw things at us; it’s how we handle those things that’s important. If we seek God as we should, then He will give us more of the mind of Christ.  There can be chaos all around us, and He will keep us at peace through His mind and attitude to view it all and handle it all.

Hatred is growing around the country at present, but with enough contact with God, He will have us function with His love, mercy and forgiveness towards all people. I’ve had enough failure in my life by not loving people, and I paid a price for years for the unforgiving heart I had. Therefore, I know God’s way of love and forgiveness is the way to go.  I was very judgmental with many people. He had to teach me how much of a failure I was so that I would seek His ability.

I share this because it relates to enduring through trials and can help us with the difficult days ahead: “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt 24:10-13). Think of the connection here of staying with the love of God and enduring.

Staying with the love of God is how God helps us stay in focus. “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.  But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1Jn 2:10-11).

Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27).

The things I saw with Katrina made me think more of how fragile civilization is. This old world seems to be getting ready for its wildest ride in history. The storms, wars, economic chaos, and attitudes all around us can get worse and worse. But with enough contact with God, he will keep our attitude where it should be. And we will have His peace to deal with it all. This is true success. And with the right attitude we will be better able to help those around us with the love of God.      &


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