Monday, March 29, 2010

New Orleans Service Trip

Only a couple of days ago, I returned from a week-long service trip to New Orleans. Accompanying me were twelve other people from my school in MA, including two professors and their wives. This was my first time in NOLA, but ever since hearing about Hurricane Katrina so many years ago, I have felt called to serve there. This was my first opportunity to do so.

Our trip was really amazing. We were very blessed to have an incredible (and incredibly hard-working) team. We partnered with Faith Bible Church in Slidell, LA. While in the area, we were able to build a wheelchair ramp for a family in which the mother was wheel-chair bound. We also got to do some tiling and painting work for Faith Bible Church, and it was truly a blessing to be able to serve the church that was serving us by allowing us to stay their and use their resources to serve the community. But, ironically, the most amazing part for me was not the rebuilding projects that we got to work on. Instead, I was most touched by our demolition project.

On our first work day, we were driven to a mobile home only a few minutes from the church we were staying at. The mobile home had been flooded during the aftermath of Katrina, and, since then (and like so many others) had developed a mold infestation. The man who owned the home is currently recovering from chemotherapy and radiation for cancer, so his immune system is basically shot, making the mold in his mobile home even more dangerous for him than it is for the average person. So, we were asked to tear it down. It was hard, disgusting work. There was mold everywhere, as well as dead cockroaches, rats (and rat feces), and lots of other creepy-crawlies.

On the other hand, besides throwing out dead creatures, ruined insulation, and mold-infested floorboards, we also were throwing out lots of very personal possessions. We found diaries, old birthday and Christmas cards, clothing, awards, school records, and letters. It is amazing what you can learn about someone from throwing away their trash. You can discover that they are members of Sam's Club, that their son was in Boy Scouts, that Busch is their favorite type of beer, and that they have had many rough patches in their marriage where they almost called it quits. You can find out that the mother, instead of paying for a manicure, puts on and maintains fake nails herself. (This was a rather sobering discovery for me. My mother always maintained her own fake nails when I was a child, so this really made me realize that tragedy can befall anyone, and these people are no different from me).

What I came to realize throughout this experience of throwing out someone else's damaged possessions is that (a) human beings really tend to hoard possessions - it is amazing how much one person can accumulate!; and (2) all of these possessions that we work so hard to accumulate can be taken away in a split second. We find so much of our identity in what we own, and yet those items can be ruined so easily and so quickly. And no one is safe from this danger. We need to protect our hearts and souls. We need to find our identity in God and God alone. He is the only "Thing" that cannot be destroyed or taken away from us.

Beyond these small epiphanies, though, our demolition project was so neat because the finished product was so different than what we started with. If I had not been a part of the demolition process myself, I would never have believed that our finished product was the same lot that a dumpy, damaged, old mobile home had once occupied. It felt so incredible to look at this plot of land and see so many possibilities where an old, ratty mobile home had once rested. I could not believe how intense the sense of accomplishment I felt was. We truly transformed that plot of land (much to the neighbors' delight!).

All in all, we really had a great trip, and I hope and pray that I will get the opportunity to take this same journey again next year.

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