See what happened when hundreds of Cincinnatians joined together to give people on the other side of the country a place to call home again.
From August 2-10, 2008, 300 people helped build homes with Habitat for Humanity and loved on kids during a vacation Bible school. God called us to GO, and some amazing things happened.
See photos from last year's trip:http://goneworleans.smugmug.com/
08.08.08 | Friday – Transformation
Only a week ago we were at our homes, stuffing our last pair of socks in our suitcases. This week has flown by. Unlike our normal day-to-days, each day this week held something new. We slept hard each night because of the fullness of our days. Full not just with the foods and sounds of New Orleans, but with the love that we’ve received from one another, from the New Orleanians we met, and from the joy of serving. We’re tired, for sure, and we miss our families, so we’re almost ready to go home. But we still had one more day in which to complete what we came here to do and say our good-byes.
The children in VBS were entirely different today than they were on Monday. Monday, only three kids wanted to get on stage and sing with our volunteers during the opening worship rally. Tuesday, a few boys had joined the girls, which totally surprised Pastor Mack, one of the pastors at Franklin Avenue Baptist. Today, nearly three-quarters of the kids ran to the stage to sing. Not only that, they were hugging on our people, laughing with them, telling tall tales, and loving us. One of the kids told one of our volunteers they liked us because we “don’t play favorites.” God loves us all equally, and we did our best to love those kids the same way.
On the Habitat sites, on this our last work day, we pushed just a little bit harder. (That’s pretty darn hard. The Habitat and Americorps volunteers who manage the sites have said that they were extremely pleased and somewhat surprised by how hard our crews worked. One even said we were his favorite, though he probably says that to all his groups.) Our work truly reflected these words from Nehemiah 4:6 – “for the people worked with all their heart.”
Today we did have our first accident on the work site: one man fell off the roof and fractured his toe. Don’t know about you—but knowing that this man only fractured his toe, we think God may have been looking out for him. And for this trip, too, for that matter. All in all, our crews completed 23 projects. That’s phenomenal! More phenomenal are the people who now call each other friends because of these projects, and the people who saw God through our work and decided to get baptized.
Celebrating the week with baptisms is something Crossroads has done in Mamelodi, South Africa, too. You never know how God will move people, or how many will feel called to publicly proclaim that Jesus is their lord and savior. Everyone’s journey is different. This afternoon, 30 people were baptized. We feel humbled and honored that we got to be a part of this experience. We can’t wait for them to tell you all their stories.
The joy of the city beneath the sea
The hope of the people in this city is a like a thirst that can’t be quenched. You might think New Orleanians would be sad or angry after all the devastation wrought by Katrina. But the atmosphere here is not of sadness or despair. People don’t seem to be mourning a loss. Perhaps they did mourn for friends or relatives, or for the belongings they can’t replace, or the pets they lost. But now, they seem to be celebrating the life of a city that’s part of their family. New Orleans is in their blood. After only a week here, it’s starting to be in ours, too.
We’ve been here long enough to understand how unique this city is—in its architecture, its food, its music, it’s vibe and its vibrancy. It’s easy to see why people love this city and want to come back and rebuild, which is why leaving saddens us a bit. We have a feeling may of us will be back.
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08.07.08 | Thursday - Appreciation
We’ve heard a lot of thank yous in the last few days, from the homeowners, each other and the kids at the Vacation Bible School (VBS). More importantly, we’re learning to thank God for everything, no matter how small, like ice and slushies on a 90 degree day, a cool breeze, a spot of shade, a challenging child who is suddenly calm, for not having to work on the roof all day—and for those crazy amazing people who have been willing to work on the roof all day (the hottest place on the work site). Life is really simple when the focus is serving others, and remarkable change happens when we aren’t focusing so much on having a life changing experience, but rather when we’re simply present in the moment.
So many memorable moments have happened today. Here’s a taste.
Habitat work sites:
Emma, one of the homeowners in Central City, bought the work team a lunch of boiled crawfish, shrimp, crabs, potatoes, and corn. This delectably spicy meal was true New Orleans cuisine. She wanted to share the with us the authentic flavor she loves so much, as a thank you for all of our work. She loves this city, and wanted us to love it, too. And she made us promise to come see her again.
We mentioned this yesterday, but it’s so cool we had to bring it up again. Servant hearts are shining among our team. It’s pretty remarkable to see everyone pitching in to help, no matter how hot it is or how menial the task. And folks are having fun! You can hear laughter everywhere, and smiles are easy to come by. Imagine 300 people who have their palms up and wide open, just asking how they can help, and you’ll have a vision of our team. God is pouring into them in return.
Kids are connecting with us and opening up to us more every day. Some have shared that they lost a sister or an aunt during Katrina, and we’re so glad they feel comfortable enough to share these things with us.
One boy proudly took home the flip flops that he had decorated during the crafts session of VBS. His grandmother saw the flip flops and told the boy not to get them dirty since those were his good shoes now. After he told a couple of our volunteers this, they gathered some money from our crew and bought him a new pair of shoes.
During one class, the kids were asked to share what they are thankful for, and most of them said they are thankful for our team, and said they loved us.
This evening we got a chance to experience the city from a different perspective: we took a dinner cruise on the steamboat Nachez, where we listened to jazz and shared stories. Oh, and we ate bread pudding. (There’s a lot of bread pudding here.) It was a chance to relax and just hang out with our 300 new friends, to catch our (collective) breath before a final day of work.
We are so thankful for this week, and for this opportunity to serve. The homes we’re building are just a few of the thousands that need to be built. Knowing that can make our projects seem so small. But the people who live here don’t take what we’re doing lightly. They love that we’re here. And we love the work and the people here. We’re planting seeds of love in people’s hearts, both here in New Orleans and among our own team. There’s nothing small about that.
Tomorrow we’ll savor all the sweat, the smiles on kids, the friendships we’ve made. To celebrate the week, all 300 of us will gather at the end of the work day at First Baptist for a special service, where we’ll baptize anyone who feels called to declare their faith and seal in their hearts what Jesus has done for them.
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08.06.08 | Wednesday – Growth
It’s been a long, hot, and incredible day. This morning Todd initiated a new morning rite: singing a blues song about something that happened the previous day. Throughout the day people come up with a blues line and give it to Todd for consideration. This a.m. it was the I’ve-got-the-someone-ate-my-breakfast sandwich blues. Other contenders for tomorrow include the it’s-so-hot-I-burned-my-butt blues and the wow-give-those-kids-some-Ridalin blues. (Those are not the exact titles, but you get the gist. It’s late, and we’ve been up since before 6 a.m., so give us some grace on this one.)
Stories abound from all groups and work sites. We’ll capture just a few here.
At Vacation Bible School, kids returned with more enthusiasm. They happily donated money (coins or whatever dollar bills they had) to a mission project that Franklin Avenue Baptist sponsors. In the craft room, kids decorated flip flops. They were digging it. But halfway through the morning, the biggest sizes were gone, and lots of kids still needed them. So, one of our volunteers quickly switched gears and told the boys to make these for a cousin or brother or family member. And they happily did. One boy happily decorated flip flops for his aunt, whom he lives with in New Orleans. He was excited to do something for her and not for himself. A favorite of the day were the relay races during recreation. Kids were crazy excited. (Maybe this is where the Ridalin blues came from…)
Many of the work sites have met the homeowners, who all have unique stories. This is just one: One home is for a woman with a 10 year-old son and her 16 year-old niece, whose mother died in Katrina. Talk about God showing up and providing for this family.
The strongest theme coming from all of our teams is growth. Teams are selflessly looking out for one another, making sure everyone has water or is taking breaks. Teams are doing grunt work without complaint. Ideas about serving others are pouring out. In one instance, a homeowner has been sick and hasn’t been able to put in their hours (sweat equity) required to be able to get their home, so they can’t yet move in. One of our volunteers suggested that we could eliminate that barrier by donating our volunteer hours to this person. So simple—and so brilliant. The servant hearts of our volunteers are shining.
And that continued tonight, as we celebrated the day and got together as GO Groups after dinner. Each group was asked to call out in one another the things they see. Jesus calls us to receive and to be restored in order for us to go out and bless others, and so we were asked to call out in each other the ways we see God working through one another, the positive characteristics that others have exhibited. All we can say is God was in the hotel tonight. We don’t often spend an hour or two simply building into others, so the beauty of what happens when we do can be surprising. We saw laughter and tears and hugs. These groups strengthened their friendships and created new ones. When we focus on serving others, growth naturally happens within us. And we think it happened tonight.
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08.05.08 | Tuesday - The Sounds of New Orleans
For all you praying for us: we need to thank you. Your prayers have worked! Today was cloudy and breezy—and just under 90 degrees. That’s cool for New Orleans, and very welcome to all of us on a roof, painting siding, and hammering 2x4s.
Work is how the day began—and the sound of rousing New Orleans jazz is how it ended. Stories have come flowing in from all areas, from the Upper Ninth Ward to the Vacation Bible School (VBS). Here are a few from the work sites.
Habitat Work Sites
Before much of the other work on a house can be done, the roof must go on. One of our groups finished an entire roof today. The whole roof! (Can we get a “woot!”?) Previous groups were too young to get on the roof, so Habitat was very thankful we were here.
Another group arrived at their site and were given a task: empty the makeshift dumpster full of construction materials into the real dumpster. Without a thought, 30-40 people dove right in. After a few seconds they discovered rebar. And rats. And roaches. And rotten food. They completed their task in about 10 minutes. Rather than complaining, they talked about how this experience was a great way to start the first day of work: to do the lowliest of jobs with a light heart. Erin, one of the dumpster divers, had been praying for God to show her humility on this trip. Just another example of God showing up when we simply say “yes.”
We’ve been introduced to some amazing people who are living here, too. Yesterday, Mark, one of our team, met Harry, who has lived in Central City for 40 years. When Katrina hit, his home was flooded—the waters rose to just below the top of his front door, and sat there for two weeks. He and his family were okay, but his home was nearly lost. Since then, Harry has worked tirelessly to rebuild his house—all by himself. Every day he drives 30 miles to and from New Orleans to work on his home. This weekend, he’s moving back into his home of 40 years. Our crew is looking for ways to help him finish this week.
Vacation Bible School
Over 60 kids, from grades 1-8 showed up for a morning of singing, crafting, soccer, and learning about Jesus. These kids are wonderful. Some are shy, some like to tell stories (tall ones of course), and some shared with us what happened to them during Katrina. Seventh and 8th graders were wonderful helpers to all of our volunteers. We are so grateful to First Baptist New Orleans (FBNO) for generously giving us the run of their entire church. The air conditioning is pretty nice, too.
Greeting us on our first day here was Johnny, who works on the facilities of FBNO. His smile is infectious and his hugs are fantastic. He’s also a survivor of and savior of many from Katrina. After Katrina, his family’s home was flooded, and they were trapped at their house. He swam through the waters, past dead animals, a corpse, and sludge, and found a boat, which he dragged back to his home. His family piled in to the boat, and as they paddled, he swam in front to get them to safety. He repeated his one-man rescue operation for about 20 families. When he was done, and they pulled him out of the water, he passed out and had to be airlifted to Atlanta for medical treatment. He says it's a miracle he didn't die himself. Like most heroes, he is humble, and doesn't tell this story with any arrogance. In fact, he hasn’t wanted to talk about his story for two years. We are so thankful that he’s opening up to us. We thank God for Johnny, and for enabling us to meet him.
New Orleans Jazz
Preservation Hall is the pinnacle of jazz here. Step inside and it’s like you’ve gone back to the early 1900s—maybe earlier. A former home, P-Hall was built in the 1850s. The show goes on in the former drawing room of the home. Contrary to its name, this place isn’t preserved in the sense that it has modern amenities. Just a few benches, exposed nails, fans (no a/c, so it’s a tad warm), and enough space to hear soul-stirring jazz. With a rendition of it’s a Wonderful World, the Preservation Hall jazz band brought some to tears. And with the best version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that we’ve ever heard, they brought us to our feet. Now this is what New Orleans sounds like. Best of all, they told us that they are moving back to their pre-Katrina schedule of jazz shows 7 nights a week, starting in September.
Rebirth is happening everywhere. We are so blessed to be a small part of it.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
08.04.08 | Monday -- From Ruins to Rebirth
So we heard that there’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico headed for Texas…and then we heard from some of our friends and family about the rumor that there is a massive hurricane bearing down on us. Here’s the deal: we saw rain for about 15 minutes. That’s all we’re expecting. The night is cool and breezy—and we’re grateful for a break in the heat. So if you were wondering—we’re all good.This morning we took the Katrina tour of New Orleans. For 3 hours we drove through the areas affected by the hurricane. That means we drove through all of New Orleans. All of it. Not just the Ninth Ward or isolated areas you’ve heard about on the news. All of New Orleans shows scars from the storm. That was the most startling part. Every neighborhood—upscale, working class, poor—had homes, and lives destroyed. Many homes were not destroyed by the hurricane but from canals and levees that burst and allowed water to rush through neighborhoods. We saw empty lots where houses used to be. Weeds 6 feet tall. Abandoned homes. We saw two holes in one roof, caused by people who had to dig through the roof to save their neighbors who had climbed to the attic to escape the rising waters.
We saw the signs of hope, too. New homes with lots of ornaments on the lawn proclaim that a family is back. Pink flowers blooming in the front yards. Reconstruction is happening. It’s slow and uneven, but people are rebuilding. The only place that doesn’t seem to have been impacted is the French Quarter. It’s the highest point in the city, so it suffered mostly wind damage. Bourbon Street bustles with tourists. (We know that because some of us went there. Some sang karaoke. Some played the washboard with a Cajun band. It was very G-rated.)
We knew before coming here that there was a lot of work left to do. Today we felt it. So much of the U.S. has moved on from Katrina (people here call it Katrina fatigue), and as one of our tour guides said, people assume the city is rebuilt. It’s not –it’s in the process of being rebuilt. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, or heard someone else say, “I’m tired of hearing about Katrina – that was 3 years ago,” imagine what it’s like to live in the aftermath of Katrina. Every day. New Orleanians are tired, too.
Pastor Luter spoke to us at lunch today and offered us hope. People who grew up here, whose families grew up here, love this city, and they are very grateful that we’ve come to help. The love we’ve been shown in amazing. We hope to give it back big time. We did give one tangible thing today: We presented a check for $20,000 to a local organization that coordinates the home building projects for Habitat for Humanity. This money, from Crossroads and the Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity Chapter, is enough to sponsor one more home in New Orleans.
We don’t expect to fix every home, or solve the city’s problems, but we’re expectant that God will make amazing things happen this week.
Tomorrow we get to work. We can’t wait.
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08.03.08 | Sunday – And it begins…
After 16 hours, several truck stops, and countless hours of half-sleep later, we’re in New Orleans! We made it here in great time—early enough to stop for breakfast and still make it to the church on time…
All 7 buses rolled into the city around 9:30 a.m., a perfect time to nab good seats at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, who has been helping us to coordinate the vacation Bible school, and has provided lots of prayers. The pews in the sanctuary were packed for the 10:30 service; their overflow rooms also full. For FABC, this scenario was sweet. FABC has been back in their church for only 4 months. After Hurricane Katrina, the sanctuary sat under 9 feet of water. The hurricane changed their world. Today Pastor Luter graciously welcomed us and blessed us, made us feel welcome. And he celebrated the fact that they are back in their church. With his lively, invigorating message about Jesus’ desire to be our friend, no matter what we’ve been through, even the most haggard among us couldn’t doze off. He brought the funny, too. It was electric.
After celebrating with our friends, we checked into the hotel. For the next few hours, some napped, some dove in the pool, some explored the city. We all craved showers. Not so sure that everyone has showered yet though… here’s hoping that will happen by tomorrow….
We’re all tired, but eager for the week to start. New Orleans is hot—its dense humidity powerful. Life teems from this city, and we can’t wait to get our hands dirty.
Tomorrow we tour the Lower Ninth and Upper Ninth Wards, to see the parts of the city heavily impacted by the city—and where the majority of our team will be building. And we’ll set up for vacation Bible school.
Now we sleep. Finally.