Well, I didn't get to post every day during my trip as I had hoped to do. On Wednesday we worked all day at Sager Brown and headed to New Orleans for the evening. We checked into a LaQuinta Inn, where I was supposed to have hi-speed internet, but it wouldn't work (thus, LaQuinta is not Spanish for hi-speed internet!). For the rest of the trip I didn't have access to log in and jot down images and reflections. Here is the rest of my week in a nutshell.
On Thursday we headed to the East Bank Recovery Center of the United Methodist Church, which is located at Kenner United Methodist Church. We met up with another volunteer from New York (not a United Methodist), received our instructions for the day, and headed to a work site. Our instructions: remove metal windows, take out ceilings, and remove insulation. We worked all day on these projects, ending around 3:30 PM in the afternoon.
After the day was over, some of us drove down to the Ninth Ward to look around. The contrast was immediate and stark. Homes still lay on their sides. Spray painted messages noted the number of animals left behind. In the area in which we drove around, we saw absolutely no signs of life. On almost every block was a yellow sign asking if anyone had seen the levees be brought down (alluding to a purposeful break in them). It was a sobering side trip.
We went back to our LaQuinta, showered, and readied ourselves for a Thanksgiving Dinner at Arnauds - from rags to riches in one hour...weird.
On Friday our team broke into two smaller groups. One returned to the same house from Thursday. The other team - my team - headed to Lakeview to another house. Our instructions: gut whatever we could. The owners' son met us there. His was a fascinating tale of faith and strength, much like the tales of many people we met in New Orleans. (At dinner the previous night, we learned of one of the restaurant workers who lived in a non-flooded portion of the town. He had, however, lost electricity, and when he petitioned for the power to be turned back on, the city demanded that all of his outlets be moved up the wall before returning electricity. He had to move. Why, we were asked, couldn't the city return power and check back in a few months to make sure the work had been done?) We spent the day removing sheet rock, layers of plywood, and hauling debris. It was hard work; for us it ended at the end of the day. For the owners' son, the work will continue for a long time. Because the owners are older, the son commented that they were just trying to stop the growth of mold and then would be waiting to see if they could be bought out. His parents would not return to live there.
After work some of us headed to the Garden District. Life has returned mostly to normal up there. Many houses are being repaired after wind damage and an uncharacteristically large number of homes are for sale, but mostly businesses are open and life is abundant. We ate at a local pub, something not possible in the neighborhoods where we'd spent our days.
Driving around New Orleans is a surreal experience. It's a weird juxtaposition of normalcy and the ridiculous interwoven with one another. Many houses still have the famous Xes from recovery crews moving through after the storm/flood. Others, sometimes right next door, are completely rebuilt/restored/removed. Many neighborhoods are a tangle of damaged homes, trailors in front, and people trying to get their lives back into a normal routine. It's an odd experience to drive down a boulevard lined with houses with Xes on them and watch a jogger come by. One curious thing happened twice as I was driving around. I stopped on Friday to ask directions to a place to grab my crew some lunch. I happened to be in a very affluent area at the time. The couple gave directions and said, "Be careful." I found it an odd statement. But later, when we were leaving our work site, the owners' son thanked us and said the same thing. "Be careful." It seems that life continues to be difficult and a little dangerous in New Orleans.
I was very impressed by all of the people from New Orleans whom I was privileged to meet. They are strong people...survivors. All knew someone who had died in the storm. All wanted to stay. All thanked us for coming down and doing our little part.
Today is Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday in Christendom. I am left with two images about God's Kingdom. The first is the destruction of New Orleans - typified in the desolation of the Ninth Ward (although even here portions are coming back to life). The other image is of the residents who give to one another and who offered us thanks, and the folks who have chosen to spend their lives down in Louisiana helping their neighbors. We met many long-term volunteers at Sager Brown and in New Orleans. One woman is being sponsored by her church, her annual conference, and another annual conference so that she can spend one year doing recovery work in New Orleans. She is from North Carolina. The first image reminds me that the world is far form seeing the justice, mercy, and compassion of God's Kingdom - or Kin-dom. The world is hurting, people are wounded, and corruption is rampant. The other image reminds me that some people, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, live as though God's Kingdom - or Kin-dom - has already come. And, in so doing, they are ushering it in.
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