So, it’s taken me a little while to get my story out here. Let me start out by saying a lot of people have been patting me on the back and telling me how proud they are of me for going to New Orleans and delivering supplies. First off, a verse that ran through my head was Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Second of all, I do not feel I did anything. At least, I didn’t do enough. And if I felt helpless before in what I could do to help out in the devestation Hurricane Katrina left behind, I feel even more so as I have returned to my comfortable home and left all those people back there to endure the aftermath of the storm, and then another in its tails. There is so much need over there, and of course it needs many hands to help. But my hands barely made a dent.
After traveling since Thursday afternoon, we got to the Celebration Church in New Orleans at around 1:30 am, 3:30 am Texas time. We had already noticed the humidity in Texas, but the stench really became apparent once we set foot outside of our van that early morning. In the dark hours, it was hard to see anything, but we did notice the piles of garbage lining the streets, and the debris on the top of the building next to us. We were exhausted, but alert and jazzed at having made it, and wondered what the next day would bring us and how we could help out.
3 1/2 hours later, at 7 am Texas time, we were awakened by Todd and Pastor Alex, who are part of the pastoral staff with Pastor Troy Bohn. They knocked on my window, and I awoke with a start. They must have been inwardly laughing as I woke from a dead sleep and immediately jumped from my seat, opened the door, and gave them both huge hugs. My parents were a little less enthusiastic at waking so early, but quickly shed their sleep and joined in our welcome party. Alex and Todd pointed us in the direction of the bathrooms. And when we came back to the car, they were already unloading. We quickly pitched in. These men were tireless!
We met several other members of the church, and their families, and got to hear their stories. One family had just given their daughter her very own room for the first time, which was promptly lost in the flooding. Another young girl had bought her first bike with money she had been saving with her allowance. It was also lost. Homes were gone, or extremely damaged from the waters and the mold that was growing rapidly from the moisture and heat. We heard so much. My mom was completely overwhelmed by all of this, as the woman who was talking acted like this was just a way of life. My mom had to disappear for awhile. I was overwhlemed by the great faith that was present by every single person I had talked to.
Being that this was Sunday, there were no deliveries and very little work to do. We had originally decided to stay the whole day and be of help, but with no work, we instead decided to stay for the church service, and then travel onward with whatever supplies we could to my dad’s hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. We felt like staying we would be more in the way and taking up their small supply of resources they had set aside for those who really needed them. We were able to take showers in the gym of the Baptist School next to us, the first showers in 3 days. Of course, the shower only “cleaned our sweat”, as Pastor Troy pointed out it would, because we were immediately sticky from the moist heat that enveloped the area. We helped sort supplies in the gym until it was time for church. Church was at 11 am, with old and new songs being sung by heavenly voices. Pastor Troy then talked to all who were there, and gave my parents and me recognition for having traveled all that way to bring supplies and be of support. I was embarassed, because I really didn’t believe we had done that much. God had made the trip easy and effortless, and we had even enjoyed traveling. Afterwards, we got the opportunity to greet others. One woman was obviously hungry for the spirit, and I got to talk with her and pray for her. Others expressed how blessed they were.
Pastor Troy’s brother (?) led the service, and gave a powerful sermon on revival, and on where our riches are. My parents were very moved and inspired by this. At the end the pastors went around praying for every single person one by one. I was prayed for, and I couldn’t believe that they would offer their prayers for me when I wanted for nothing. Here they were, unsure of the exact conditions of their homes, and were praying for a girl who was fortunate to be able to return to her intact home in several days time. Like I said, I was overwhelmed.
Afterwards we were all given a delicious meal of hamburgers and french fries, and the opportunity to receive tetanus shots. I declined :-). When we left, more prayers were said for us and our journey, and the water we were bringing to Biloxi was blessed. We left with full hearts and exploding souls.
I was nervous on the way to Biloxi. Coming to New Orleans, we were confident because we were meeting with Christians in an organized fashion. In Biloxi, there was no specific destination or order. I wasn’t sure what our safety would be, if we were heading to a dangerous place filled with desperate people. But upon arriving, it was clear that most of the town had been evacuated. But it was sad seeing the ones who had stayed behind. They were like nomads, not of this country. I can’t even describe them. Military had taken over the town, being taken around by the truckload. A stop point existed at the edge of the city, requiring proof of ID and proof that we were either military or were delivering supplies. We carried our blessed water, and were allowed through with no trouble. But I felt guilty as I pulled out my camera to capture the destruction that lay all around me. Houses were reduced to rubble, or were just a roof. Some intact houses were moved by the surge onto their neighbors property so that they lay crooked all over the land. Some were pushed into the street. One boat, ironically named “Good Times”, traveled all the way inland, taking telephone wires with it. Billboards were twisted up, stripped of whatever their sign used to be. Garbage and debris covered the ground. Some Vietnamese men were already attempting to rebuild, board by board, and it seemed an impossible task from where we stood. We offered them water, but they said they had gotten enough food and water from others passing them out. I did see two Red Cross vehicles, and two Salvation Army points. After several more attempts to give out water to the few in this ghost town, we ended up traveling back to the first Salvation Army point we saw. There we say two black men direting delivery trucks. We asked if we could donate the waters there, and they were so greatful! They helped us unload, and almost immediately people started appearing from nowhere to gather the cases of water up for their homes. It brought tears to our eyes to see such desperation in some of these people’s eyes, thought they barely looked at us. The “Army” men prayed with us, and offered us an arm and hug embrace, the kind you give a brother. Again, we were full.
We felt so blessed to have experienced this, and feel that we came away with way more than we offered. And this is why I feel guilty. These victims of the Hurricane gave to us more than we gave to them. And even more, I want to reach out to them, and pray that all of the mess, destruction, hunger, and hopelessness will be wiped away.
Oh, and one more thing. Our van, which we had been so worried about taking in this trip, handled the journey like a pro. We traveled a total of 4,896.4 miles, from Thrusday to Thursday.
Several blessings bestowed upon us: Rohnert Park Transmissions fixed up our old van for only parts, no labor. U-Haul offered us a price break on a trailor, though we ended up using our own after its electrical was fixed. A woman in San Antonio, Texas heard about our mission, and gave us an enormous bag of clothes she just so happened to have for the victims of the Hurricane. Many people blessed us along the way as they heard about our mission. And of course, God carried our vehicle to and from the Gulf Coast.
View photos from this mission trip here.