June 3, 2007, was a sad day for Latter-day Saints in Hurricane Katrina-fatigued regions of eastern Louisiana and Mississippi.
Almost two years earlier, the massive storm had severely impacted tens of thousands of people living in those two states and beyond — including many Mormons. Waves of members had to leave their homes and wards in search of shelter, safety and jobs.
At the time, Elder D. Todd Christofferson was serving in the Presidency of the Seventy and supervised the communities hit hardest by Katrina.
“Many of the members relocated after the hurricane,” he said. “Some came back, but many did not.”
The LDS population decreased to a point that the number of stakes operating in the hurricane-impacted region could not be maintained. Church leaders decided to dissolve the Slidell Louisiana Stake and reapportion its units across several surrounding stakes.
Elder Christofferson, who now serves in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, presided over the June 3, 2007, “reapportion” meeting in Slidell.
“Everybody understood the need to make the change — there was no opposition. But it was sad that it had to happen.”
Fast forward over a decade. Elder Christofferson recently accepted another assignment to preside over a gathering in Slidell. But his return visit would mark a far more joyous moment for the members in Louisiana and Mississippi who had refused to be kept down by Katrina.
On Oct. 15, Elder Christofferson “delightedly” reorganized the Slidell Louisiana Stake.
“I told the congregation that since I had been the one assigned to dissolve the stake they were now allowing me to repent, come back and recreate it,” he said with a smile. “I hope I am forgiven.”
The reorganized Slidell Louisiana Stake — which consists of five wards and two branches — was drawn from four neighboring stakes: the Hattiesburg Mississippi Stake, the New Orleans Louisiana Stake, the Gulfport Mississippi Stake and the Denham Springs Louisiana Stake.
The boundaries of the reorganized Slidell stake closely resemble the former stake.
Elder Christofferson did not prophesy during his first Slidell visit that the stake would one day be recreated. “But I did say that the Church in the region would stabilize and grow again.”
President Michael F. Dohm was called to preside over the new Slidell stake. He remembers offering a prayer at the meeting where the stake was dissolved.
“I had a strong feeling then that the Slidell stake would one day be reorganized,” he said. “I had hope because I saw how the Saints were rallying.”
Elder Christofferson said the story of the Slidell Louisiana Stake teaches a timeless lesson for Latter-day Saints worldwide: Turn to the Lord in challenging times.
He pointed to a Book of Mormon verse that demonstrates the defining choice individuals make when enduring lengthy, difficult trials: “But behold, because of the exceedingly great lengths of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility” (Alma 62:41).
Time, humility and faith have allowed Katrina’s wounds of “afflictions” to heal.
“The Church goes forward and the members go forward,” said Elder Christofferson. “Often times, only hindsight reveals how far you have come.”
President Dohm said the reorganized stake is, at once, a blessing and a great responsibility. He is encouraging Slidell stake members to fulfill their duties by staying unified and obedient, sharing the gospel with others, serving in the temple and caring for those that still have needs.
The reorganization of the Slidell Louisiana Stake also comes at a time when legions of Latter-day Saints are beginning their own recovery from a recent slew of natural disasters. Hurricanes have severely impacted Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. A massive earthquake rocked Mexico City. And hundreds of members in northern California were staggered by destructive wildfires.
The proven faith of the Louisiana and Mississippi members, said Elder Christofferson, “inspires all of us to be strong.”
Many Mormons are also offering “helping hands” to fellow members, neighbors and strangers — just as they did in Katrina’s aftermath.
“People are resilient, and that’s especially true for members of the Church,” he said. “They turn to the Lord and He gives them their daily bread.”