Please be patient. Blogs for days 2 and 4 are coming...I just found the entries. I didn't have a computer to work with on the trip like some other lucky people. But soon and very soon. At least for now, you have a general overview.
Christians always say that on a short-term missions trip you come back more changed than the people you helped. That only seems to be natural to me since as Christians we are supposed to constantly be changed and formed into the image of Christ. (Although this trip wasn't a missions trip, leaders at the church said the same thing to us.)
I wasn't shocked in the emotional sense when I saw the destroyed homes. Rather it was when I heard the stories of loss of family, friends and of the life people knew, that I hurt for these people. But the overall picture was difficult to grasp. The long-term affects on the city of New Orleans is great indeed. A whole city destroyed. Ghost towns everywhere. Scraps of houses. Economically, the material can all be re-built, but the real problem is that the people are gone. Some may come back, those who have no else to go are still there, but many cannot and will not come back.
In the midst of all this disaster, I was amazed to see what relief is being offered. One evening at the church, a lady shared a small story. The owner of the house she had worked at that day was a local artist. He had gone to a meeting of an artist committee in the New Orleans area recently in which they discussed Katrina. They agreed that for 9-11, the heroes were the fireman and policemen who risked their lives to save the victims. "Who, though" they asked, "were the heroes of Katrina? Who was stepping up and sacrificing?" The artist and other men discussed these questions and concluded that it was the Christians who were the heroes.
What an amazing thing to be said. God's people are following his call and showing His love to these in need. His body is acting as He would like it. I don't think that artist could have said anything greater. What a chance to impact. An impression with a lasting impact.
What was even more interesting was that from this story the pastor of the church began to explain his experience after Katrina. Right after the disaster had hit, a missionary was visiting him who had helped in the tsunami relief earlier this year. This was a huge blessing for the pastor. As they talked, the missionary shared that from the relief Christians have provided for Muslims that had been hit by the tsunami, Christianity has spread. The Muslim people saw that the Christians met their practical needs, where as Islam had done nothing to help them at all. These people, who hated Christianity, were suddenly open to hearing what Christians had to say.
Another lasting impression.
The people we helped move were parents of the sound technician at Trinity Church, Liam. When we pulled up to the house, I was a little surprised at how nice the neighborhood was and little damage it appeared to have.
Mandeville, Louisiana had not been flooded. The winds had come to knock over trees and take out some roofs, but in comparison there was minor damage. Kathleen, whose house it was we helped pack up, was a kind woman, who, although, she didn’t admit it at first, was not ready to leave. She couldn’t decide where the boxes she had packed should go; to her everything she had was fragile. At first her indecisions was ok. About an hour into the process she was driving me crazy, and then two hours into it, I realized how much she was hurting. It was a sea of emotion she was trying to swim through. 55 years in New Orleans, this all she knew.
One thing she said to us which I thought through quite a bit later was “I feel so bad with all my stuff, when people here have lost everything, and I haven’t lost any…but then again, I have to move. We’ve lost our jobs. How sad to leave and to leave these people in need.” Kathleen was definitely learning to let go, and for here it wasn’t the material possessions she owned. It was the more important things—the people she knew the family she loved and the house, which represented the life she knew.
At lunch time (her husband bought us Quiznos subs) we asked the man of the house about the specifics of Katrina’s damage to New Orleans and the history of the city.
It was incredible to hear all the history and terrible to see what happened from the hurricane. As we finished lunch, one of the neighbors, Miss Sarah, brought us ice cream. As we sat and talked with her, the “Red Hat” ladies appeared. Liam’s great aunt, who was 91 years old and her sister, Ursula or 83 years, stopped by to say “hey y’all”. Miss Ursula had lost her house in Mississippi. She told us about how it was completely destroyed—all of her antique furniture, her husband’s possessions (who had passed away 5 years before) gone. Her reaction to it all caught me the most. “It’s all material right. Only material.” And I could see as I watched her how tough it had been to come to that point. The only thing she knew for certain at this point was that she was visiting her sister. The two together were quite the pair: they had set up a game of bunko for later in the evening, and they were regular members of the “Red Hat” Society.
At the end of this day, I was more emotionally exhausted than I had been physically exhausted the night before. Meeting these people and learning their stories was worth more than anything else. In a way, it was far greater service than cleaning out a moldy house.
Everything has been a dizzy, hazy, blur. Just moving along, not actually knowing or feeling much. Then suddenly, we are flying into New Orleans and I begin to see it. I tried desperately to peer over the Joe between me and the plane window.
First flash was water, swamps all around, and a small river. Houses began to appear. Most of them looked fairly nice. Was this the New Orleans I had heard about on the news with snipers and destruction everywhere? I guess it is true that appearances almost always are deceiving. The next second a huge pile of rubbage came into view, what used to houses. More houses dotted the landscape, some completely perfect and some with junk piles spread in between. An occasional roof was covered with a blue tarp, which I later leaned signified the house had lots its roof.
Overall, it didn’t seem THAT shocking. One of the guys sitting near a girl on our team shared that the specific route the plane flew was the through the least affected area. Finally, we left the airport and headed of New Orleans to Covington over the “World’s longest bridge” Not kidding—30 miles long. To be honest, it was 30 miles of disappointment to me. It was hardly a bridge, just a low-lying road over water. It was pretty though because all we could see what water. I feel like there will be some interesting dynamics at the church, Trinity Church, where we’re staying. I think some people are getting grumpy from the tight living situations. I’m anticipating a great experience though. The people I’ve met so far are more than kind. It’s all in God’s hands now.