I'm back from my second trip to clean up after Hurricane Katrina. CCF took a group of about fifty people for Spring Break. I'll be making a third trip over Easter weekend for Eggs in the Easy. The trip went very well. There were few injuries (one stepped-on nail, one spider bite, several sinus problems, and two ruptured eardrums, both of which were mine). I hope to have some pictures to post, but I took a film camera down, so I need to get the roles developed. Without any further ado, here's my journal from the week.
Tuesday: I think we are in a harder hit area this time. Sheds have been flipped off of their foundations, tress pulled up by the roots, and planes flung like children's toys. Yesterday, we spent several hours cleaning up yards untouched since the storm. In one yard, the grass had completely grown over and covered the sidewalk. It was essentially a carpet from one side of the sidewalk to the other. The grass was at least a foot high, with fiberglass, mold, and other random stuff in it. [Looking back, cutting it down was a great idea because it gets rid of the insect problem, but we didn't wear masks, which was the start of the sinus problems for a lot of people.]
While we are in a harder hit area, there is some good news: We have traveled through some of the same areas we were in last time and there is less debris. Today, we cleaned up after an Irish/Italian heritage pride parade and while this seems contrary to the reason for the trip, I view it as a sign that the festive culture of New Orleans is returning. Don't get me wrong, there is still at least five years worth of cleanup to be done and some houses still haven't been touched, but like the Christmas ligts last time, this serves as a glimmer of hope in a dark time.
Wednesday: Today showed me what this trip was about. We spent the afternoon handing out fliers in an impoverished section of the city for a grocery giveaway. Within sight of the Superdome, there is block after block of housing, in poor condition before Katrina, now worse, noting more than four walls and a roof housing entire families. We would pass houses we thought were uninhabitable only to have occupants emerge and ask us what we were handing out. Homeless men came up to us, living in what I consider the slums, to tell us how bad things still were in the lower 9th Ward, only a few miles away.
Despite the poor conditions, people were still smiling. Residents were happy to see us and talk to us. The owner of a local grocery store was so happy to receive the news we brought that the offered to hand out fliers to her customers and let us put up some posters on her building.
I'll admit that I was scared at first. This area is worse than the worst parts of Atlanta, the city of my nightmares. But I was shocked at how friendly the people were and, after an hour, was quite comfortable.
During the morning, we saw some of the mansions of New Orleans, only to be shown the projects in the afternoon. It shocking to think that as uninhabitable as the houses we saw are, that these houses would be considered blessings for the citizens of the slums of third-world countries.
Tonight, the freshmen and the interns got together and had our weekly Bible study. While it was quite untraditional, we sat around in the compound's warehouse and discussed how God was moving us this week. I'm so blessed to have such a group of friends.
Thursday: Today will be a good day. During our morning devotional time, I read Psalm 69. It is incredible how much of it realtes to the storm and the cleanup. We leave in a few minutes to gut hoses and I am so excited about how great things will go that I am literally trembling.
[Post-Work] Today was only a half day, but we still finished nearly an entire house. While we were going to divide up and do two houses at once, the second house was off of it's foundation and from the center of the living room to the external wall, a distance of three feet, the floor dropped a foot and a half. The leaders decided that the structure, sitting on cinder blocks, was not safe to work in.
After the three hours of work, we headed downtown to the French Quarter. The buildings (untouched by flooding), food, and music were amazing. But the stores were like a Mardi Gras version of Gatlinburg. They sold nothing but voodoo dolls, raunchy shirts, and beads. And then Bourbon Street. Bars, strip clubs, and even shops offering "favors" with graphic pictures as advertisements. Most of the advertising methods I thought to be illegal. It was almost as if the city's economic council was made up of frat boys, and I mean that in the worst possible sense. I don't understand how a city known for its great culture can host America's festival in praise of drunkeness and fornication. New Orleans is among the most beautiful cities in the South, but wallows in filth. This being said, the love of Christ is present in the great work being done by the Church in the area and I can only hope that the city will restore itself to its former beauty and go beyond it.
Saturday: We spent Friday working on three different houses and the group I was with got to pray with the owner of our site. It's amazing that after one week of hard labor and poor leadership on the part of CrossRoads missions [for any leaders thinking of a missions trip to the area, I would encourage you to not go through CrossRoads as the leaders are some of the most condescending and uptight people you will ever meet], the group stayed up-beat and energetic.
Today, we are on our trip home and most people have zonked out. This trip has brought us (being about half of all of CCF) together more than anything else could ever do.
I sit here in my dorm at my computer, enjoying the air conditioning and even the dorm building itself. I hope that I do not fall back into my old complacency. It is so easy to complain about dorm life, but I have spent hours walking around the ghetto and cleaning out mold. I have not been forced to flee the wrath of nature and still have all of my belongings.
Please, pray for the people of New Orleans, the people trying to clean up, and those who were on the trip that we may never forget what we saw and how the Holy Spirit changed us.
Post Script: To read about the first trip, made the weekend before Thanksgiving 2006, see Eye of the Storm.
Photo Courtesy of Jackie Bangma.