May 26, 2010
A message from Back Bay Mission, Biloxi, MS: What about that oil spill?
Many Back Bay Mission supporters and friends have written and called to inquire about the effects of the Gulf oil spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and those Back Bay Mission serves. Some have even indicated their willingness to come at a moment's notice and participate in clean-up efforts in our area. Thank you for keeping watch and standing at the ready.
Current landfall projections suggest that the beaches of the MS Coast may not be at risk. Yet most here have long since stopped paying attention to these so-called projections, having learned that they drastically change from one day to the next and lack any real accuracy. Whether the oil actually spills onto our MS Coast beaches almost seems irrelevant at this point, because this colossal environmental disaster is already having major impacts on our way of life and our economy…
On some days, the smell of oil permeates the air. Though this is still relatively infrequent, it is a random reminder that we are being besieged by something we and others can no longer fully control. Our local hotels --- in a region where tourism is key to the economy – are reporting 50% cancellation rates since the oil rig exploded. While BP has recently granted $15 million to the state of Mississippi to fund efforts to boost our marketing aimed at assuring tourists that the MS Coast remains a beautiful place for them to visit, the public perception across the nation is obviously otherwise, and our vital tourism industry suffers. Our shrimpers—and others who make their living off the sea-- are in major panic and turmoil. The shrimping season is due to open in the next couple of weeks, and while many will soon gather for the MS Coast's traditional 'blessing of the fleet' events, one has to wonder just where the fleet will go once blessed and what kind of shrimping season it will possibly be. For these folk, the sea and its inhabitants are quite literally life. We can only imagine what long-term impacts this oil spill may have on the habitats that have provided a way of life for generations of families along the Coast.
Our caseworkers at Back Bay Mission report that some clients seeking assistance are now telling us of the oil spill's direct impact on their livelihoods, a truth that brings them to our doors for help. The economic impact of the oil spill on our area will be unquestionably devastating, but the emotional toll is yet another major concern. As we come upon the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina -- an event that experts say would already have triggered emotional trauma in and of itself – we worry about the compounding effects this oil spill may have on the fragile spirits of the Gulf Coast people. The prospect of yet another disaster having such dire effect on our region and people seems too much to bear, too impossible to imagine.
At present, there is not yet need for oil spill cleanup efforts along our Mississippi beaches. Our staff, however, are keeping vigil and will receive training regarding such cleanup when and if such efforts are needed. If that happens, we'll be in touch and let you know how you can help. In the meantime, here's what we would ask of you:
· Pray for the region, for the people whose livelihoods and ways of life are already directly impacted by this oil spill, and for the ecosystem that has already experienced devastating harm.
· Discuss the oil spill and its impacts in your congregations as a matter of faith, remembering that as God's stewards of Creation we are charged with ensuring the sustainability of God's Creation.
· Urge your members of Congress to keep their eyes focused on the Gulf oil spill and to do everything necessary to ensure a proper, thorough, timely, and effective response.
· Allow this disaster to be a catalyst for authentic discussion and action regarding energy usage and oil dependence in your household, your church, your community and our nation.
We cherish your thoughts and prayers and remain grateful for your desire to be of help.
Rev. Shari Prestemon, Executive Director
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