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Trip to the Gulf: Day of Prayer for the Gulf

Mara Vanderslice, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, describes her trip to the Gulf Coast to participate in the National Day of Prayer for the People of the Gulf.

On Sunday, I joined the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Environmental Network for a sunrise service in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Gulf Shores is one of dozens of small towns along the Gulf impacted by the BP oil spill. The event was a part the National Day of Prayer for the People of the Gulf.

When our office was invited to participate in the Day of Prayer, we jumped at the chance to head to the Gulf to meet with those affected by the spill and learn about the efforts of faith-based and community groups to deal with the aftermath of the spill.  The sunrise service was the first event in a three-day trip we are taking across the Gulf.

I am joined on the trip by John Kelly, Strategic Advisor for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, at the Corporation for National and Community Service. CNCS  already has 5,000 volunteers in the region to assist communities here.  One of the goals of our trip is to gather information on how volunteers can effectively be deployed to help the communities here.

As the sun came up, we joined with thousands of people of faith across the country who are holding the people of the Gulf in their hearts and are eager to know what they can do to help.  We listened as many local pastors offer up prayers.

I brought greetings to the group gathered on behalf of the White House to let them know that we will remain focused on the people of the Gulf and the impacts the spill is having on their communities.  Although we received the good news the day before the oil well cap was secured, we know that the economic impacts on these communities are just beginning.

Many people we met have lost their source of livelihood in a community that is driven by fishing and tourism.  However, dozens of faith-based and community groups are responding to lift up their communities in a number of ways.  We visited Romar Beach Baptist Church where we learned that they had already begun programs to collect and distribute food and school supplies.  They were also making their retreat center available to those made homeless by loss of jobs and to volunteer groups that want to come down to help out. 

At the services, we met one couple that had been living out of their truck as they lost their home when they were put out of work by the spill.  As we were leaving, the pastor was busily working with aides to arrange for the couple to get boxes of food and to set them up with temporary housing at their retreat center.

It was inspiring to be a witness to communities finding ways to pull together to support those impacted by the aftermath of the BP oil spill.  But much more will need to be done.

More reports to come from our trip to the Gulf.  Stay tuned.

Mara Vanderslice is Deputy Director for the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships