Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mission accomplished.

Last week was a new experience for my daughter and me. We went on a mission trip to New Orleans with a group from our church. I'd gone on mission trips as a teenager, but this was my first as an adult. Not only was it a different kind of mission, I had a completely different perspective almost 30 years after the last one. Our group of 16 was made up of 12 girls/women and 4 boys/men. It was about a 10-hour drive one way, give or take 14 bathroom stops.

The trip was coordinated through MissionLab, out of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This particular week had about 400 people descending on the city to provide various services. Our group held a Vacation Bible School at an apartment complex, and worked to clear a lot in the Lower 9th Ward.
  • It took me about 4 minutes to find a child I wanted to bring home with me from VBS. Derrick was three, and he pronounces "blue" as "plue." Love.
    • He did not come home with me, in part because Hubby gets another puppy for any new children I decide we need.
  • I was the snack lady for VBS. Shocking, right? I did not wear a hairnet and I didn't serve anything with "surprise" in the name. Orange slices were the big hit. And I'm going to buy stock in goldfish crackers.

  • On day 2, the Bible story was about the woman who washed Jesus' feet with expensive oil, and wiped them with her hair. As they watched our kids acting out the scene,the "ewwwws" from the girls in the class were predictable when the story said she kissed his feet. "Don't do it!" Then it was their turn to have their feet washed by our sweet Cassye. She showed them what a servant truly is, and it made an impact. A few minutes later, as we expected to move on to the next activity, these same girls insisted that they wash Cassye's feet. While they may not have known every implication, they got enough of the love she was showing to give it back to her. We go to minister, and are ministered to.
  • The 9th Ward lot we worked on was directly across from the levee wall that broke first during Katrina. On our first day, I found a newspaper under some debris. The date: October 19, 2010. That's my daughter's birthday.
    • There are no coincidences. For many reasons, I would not have imagined last October that we would be on this trip. To find one newspaper and for it to have that date just confirmed that we were right where we were supposed to be.

Days 1, 2 and 3 on the Lot: Mostly taken from the same angle, looking away from the levee wall, toward the back of the lot.

  • For the first two days on the lot, we had cloud cover and a cool breeze, making it much easier to tolerate. Wednesday was brutal, with a heat index of 111 degrees. Thurman found a wallet that day, buried under mud and brush, in a very deteriorated condition. I went through it, and it belonged to a woman named Ana Mae Waterhouse. My plan was to look her up when I could google it and see if she survived, maybe mail the wallet back to her. Nothing really of value in it, just a few member cards and a laminated St Michael card.
    • That afternoon we met a man from the neighborhood who knew the Waterhouses. They are actually building the house that's next to this lot, and Mrs. Ana Mae was the grandmother. She did survive Katrina, but has since passed away. I gave him the wallet to give to the family.
  • On Thursday, we planned a block party for the VBS kids and their families at the apartments. Pool games, hot dogs, drinks -- planned for about 100 people. But it started raining around midafternoon and didn't stop. No pool games, and the parents weren't going to come out in the rain. We had a great time with the 40 or so who were there, and had about 75 hot dogs left.
    • We took the food and drinks to the downtown area across from a homeless shelter. This shelter charges $5 a night to stay there, and many can't afford it. There's a series of overpasses across the street, forming an area where many homeless gather instead. We handed out the supplies we had, and talked to several people.
    • Janet, a woman who lived there,told me how the city would run them out the next day if the area wasn't cleaned up, and asked if we had a broom. We did some checking and it was true that the city would run them out; they would be allowed back only if it rained. We were heartbroken that we couldn't do anything to help -- we didn't have trash bags or brooms, and the stores would close before we could get there. We had to leave without being able to do anything.
VBS group on Friday - in the rain, in the pool!
[Shout out to Pam for the pic!]
  • Friday was our last day of VBS, and we woke to serious thunderstorms. We were determined to do the pool games and thankfully the lightning stopped. Hilarity ensued - kids and adults played in the water in the rain and it was awesome. Shortly before we finished, the thunder and lightning returned. We stayed at the apartments for a while, waiting to see if it would stop. By noon, it was clear that we wouldn't return to the 9th Ward - swinging metal tools in a thunderstorm is a really bad idea. What could we possibly do instead? :-)
  • In the next two hours, we ate lunch, stopped at a Home Depot, bought supplies, and drove back to the underpass. Remember the only time the city would allow the homeless to stay there? In the rain. We hauled out our brooms, trash bags, and gloves, and got to work. In a few minutes, a man approached us (I dubbed him the Mayor) and asked for a trash bag. I went back to see Janet. With tears in her eyes, she told me she couldn't believe we came back. It took less than an hour to clean up the area, about 10 trash bags full. We handed out more bottles of water, and talked to many who were there. We left the rest of the bags and a broom with the Mayor. To say that we were happy is an understatement; after the helplessness of Thursday night, this was a perfect way to wrap up the week.
The theme that MissionLab used for this summer is "Love the City." What came out of this trip for me is that traveling away from home to help others is awesome, and gives a perspective I might miss otherwise. But it is so abundantly clear that I don't have to leave home to see the exact same needs. We have homeless people living under bridges within 10 miles of my house, there are children who need attention and love, and I don't have to wait for a special week in the summer to do something to help.

Message received. Mission accomplished.