Hurricane Andrew, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, caused an estimated $30 billion in damage, destroyed or severely damaged more than 63,000 south Florida homes, left nearly 300,000 people homeless, and bankrupted at least five insurance companies.

Nearly ten months later, as communities struggle to rebuild, hurt, anger, and sometimes desperation are evident in many streets and homes. But as soon as Andrew approached Miami last August, an army of volunteers descended on south Dade County, the area hardest hit. The army is still there, providing help and hope. Their story is one of the most inspiring of the recovery effort.

They come from all corners of the United States, from Canada, and even Central America. They sleep in tents, trailers, and on church floors. They endure heat, swat mosquitoes, and donate their labor to help the needy rebuild roofs, install windows and walls, rewire rooms, and sometimes even build new homes from the ground up.

At least 26,000 volunteers representing two-dozen volunteer agencies—most of them Christian church-related—are still working to rebuild homes for low-income residents. During the next year, 55,000 could come. They have already repaired or rebuilt more than 3,000 homes. In the next two years, they could work on 4,000 more.

Volunteer spirit

What would make people leave their homes and sacrifice their vacations to pound nails in Florida? Many echo the sentiments of Homer Barber, a Christian Reformed leader from Michigan: “It’s gratitude to Jesus Christ, my Savior. This is one way I can express thanks.”

Vic Plessinger, a Mennonite Disaster Services director from Ohio, and his wife give the first month of each year as their “first fruits” of service. He also explains, “I hate to pay ...

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