HUMBOLDT, Tenn. – Sept. 2, 2005 – Three cars. Eight family members and their dog, Jack. A few clothes, a little food and some musical instruments.
A life forever changed.
That’s the story of Dale and Anna Michel, of Kenner, La.(a suburb 13 miles west of downtown New Orleans), who fled their home Aug. 28 ahead of Hurricane Katrina. The Michels and their six children – ranging in age from 11 to 24 – are eight of thousands of refugees who made their way north to safety as a devastating storm tore their lives apart.
Through the ordeal, the family is clinging to the one thing they have remaining.
“The courage and the good attitude to keep on keeping on is our faith in Jesus Christ,” Dale Michel said. “We know that all things work out together for good, according to God’s purpose. We don’t always see the end. There’s always a lesson in everything. Maybe this is the only way he could get us to make life-changing decisions.”
As they left Louisiana and headed north through Mississippi, the Michels didn’t know where their journey would stop. They ultimately landed in Humboldt, Tenn., where they have been since then, and where they may be for some time.
Ken Hindman, the children’s minister at West Jackson Baptist Church, owns a vacant house in Humboldt that is the Michels’ home for now. Hindman knew the Michels’ eldest daughter, Rose, from her college days at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. She worked with him in the church’s preschool department. When he heard about the hurricane, he managed to connect with Rose and offered her family his house.
Members of West Jackson Baptist Church have provided meals for the family, as has Union University. Charles Fowler, Union’s senior vice president for university relations, gave the family meal cards to use anytime they need to in the school cafeteria.
“It’s heartwarming to see how the Christian community has reached out and embraced and loved this family,” Fowler said. “For Union to have the opportunity to minister to an alumna’s family reinforces the strength of our community at Union. It just demonstrates the priority of compassion here.”
The Michel family is abundantly grateful for the help.
“Everybody’s just so nice about everything,” Tracy Michel, 22, said.
“I knew we would be taken care of,” Rose Michel, 24, said. “It’s been a blessing – between Union and West Jackson, all the things they’ve done for us and continue to do. We really appreciate it.”
As he talked about his family leaving their home in Kenner, La., Dale Michel remained strong -- for a while. He detailed their trip and the reports they’ve gotten from friends and family – all of whom seem to be OK.
But the longer he talked, the more the impact of his words caught up with him. The Michels don’t know how badly damaged their house is. They don’t know when – or if – they’ll get to go home.
The family fell silent as their husband and father broke down and wept. For his home, that may be no more. For his family, for whom he must somehow provide. For an uncertain future.
The Michels have heard from two different sources that the water crested at six feet near their home. But those reports are unconfirmed.
“We really don’t have any idea,” Dale said.
He said the family may decide to stay in West Tennessee. He’s thought about trying to find a job soon, so that the family can start supporting itself.
“We can only take so much,” Dale said. “We have to soon be giving back.”
Despite the tragedy, the Michel family is quick to recognize their blessings. They have air mattresses on which to sleep. They have a roof overhead and an air-conditioned house. They have plenty of food. And they have each other.
“You can pray, and you can teach your kids to love the Lord through this and to share the Lord through this,” Dale said. “It’s an agonizing time, but sometimes that’s the places we grow.”
He said the family harbors no bitterness and no resentment. They’re simply resting in the Lord and in his promise that he’ll never leave or forsake them.
“That’s the anchor, and it will hold,” Dale said. “It’s been holding from the beginning of time.”