Sitting in 4 day old jeans that've traveled through airports and towns in a 7 passenger van that defied all rules of capacity. From New Orleans to D.C. to L.A. and back here to San Diego.
This past week was a journey, a story, an encouragement and a frustration. Led by Campus Crusade for Christ 12 friends and I flew to New Orleans to do Hurricane Katrina relief work for our Spring Break. We stayed at Light City in the 9th Ward, which is basically the Compton of New Orleans. In a warehouse with 2500 other college students from across the country we slept on cots and bathed in makeshift showers. Let's just say we know how many water bottles it takes to wash your hair and I now have a new definition of clean.
The story of the storm was told on every building and house through a spray painted x with numbers and letters on each side indictaing the date the place was searched, how many evacuees, the number dead found and number of animals found. It was a bit hard to imagine the eeriely quiet, desolate state of New Orleans as a thriving community. No sounds of dogs barking or children playing, the streets still filled with abandoned cars, front doors open to empty homes many people will never return to.
We spent 4 days working, gutting and clearing out houses that were ruined by Hurricane Katrina. Breaking down sheet rock, taking out nails, prying base boards off and doing what we could to rid the home of the mold and debris that seemed to infest the place. We wore lovely masks, made huge piles of trash in front of the house and saw awesome snowflake patterns of every color of mold you could imagine. It was hard work, disgusting and amazing.
Our last day in town we went about 2 miles from Light City to the Lower 9th Ward, which is right next to the levee which broke and got hit the worst. Mounds of debris and decaying wood lined the streets. Roofs detached, wrecked cars on top of eachother, stuck between or underneath houses, some houses pushed from the floodwater to the middle of the street. Remnants of what used to be homes and memories and peoples lives piled up in hills of trash. Most all the people we met told us how different and depressed people have been since the storm and were super appreciative for our help, though we all felt it was the least we could do.
I arrived and left the 9th Ward thinking 'This is not America." 6 months after the devastation of Katrina and most of the city still looks as if the storm hit last week. Where is everyone? Where is all the help? There just seems to be so much destruction and so little help. And this is where frustration entered. Upset by the conditions, annoyed by the lack of aid and most of all disappointed in America. A nation that claims to be the best of all looks to be too busy to help it's own country. So we know the response to Katrina was late and insufficient from the President and Government. Okay. Now get your act together and do something. Act on your beliefs and bring about the change that only gets talked about too much. Get your hands dirty. Listen to real stories of loss, love and hope. And take action to help our neighbors.
I know that this change starts with me. Acting upon my beliefs. Doing more and talking less. This trip will stay with me the rest of my life. Because it wasn't just a spring break or a relief trip. It was an experience. Trying to understand the faith and the pain. A lesson. About what a true servant is and what it means to be humbled. About real lives and hearts and stories. It was about community. The 13 of us working, laughing and getting lost together, becoming a family over the week. And it was an awakening to what's really going on in New Orleans, in the world and in my heart.
Wow. I guess this is what happens when your life is changed by something, all these words just flowing out from somewhere.