Today we got to make a difference. It was an awesome tiring day but it was really a lot of fun once again. Today was the third of our Love Like Jesus days where we got to “Practice Justice.”
The Practice Justice days are our opportunities to do service for the community of New Orleans. After heading up to the Superdome in the morning to meet for our bus departure and for some worship where we talked more about what Justice means and how we can use our service to “Love Like Jesus.” As one of the videos we viewed wisely said, today was not about serving, but becoming a servant.
During our bus ride to St. Bernard Parish where we were to be doing our project, we drove through middle-class neighborhoods as well as areas like the Lower 9th Ward which were the areas hit hardest by Katrina. As we left I commented that we’re staying in the city for most of the trip which is entirely normal with nearly no signs Katrina was ever there. It kind of makes us think that things are back to normal and “what’s there really to do?” However in areas we drove through today, many houses are abandoned with no hope of their owners ever moving back in because they just can’t afford it.
Our project for the day was Community Beautification. That was really all we were told and we found out more when we got there. Our bus pulled up outside of what used to be a community gym. Upon walking inside, the place was a mess. Totally full of trash and other item that were being stored there. We met Keith, Dwayne, and Keith’s son all of whom were helping to rebuild and rehabilitate this building. We began sweeping up, moving things around and putting a lot of the building’s contents into the dumpster.
After we broke for lunch, we had the opportunity to have Keith give us a little perspective about what he personally experienced during Katrina and what their hope was for the building we were helping to clean up. During the storm, Keith’s house was entirely flooded. He said that in St. Bernard the flood waters rose up to 18 feet. In fact, inside the building, you could see discoloration on the basketball hoop’s backboard. That was how high the waters rose. His family fortunately all left safely and they are now currently rebuilt. But, it was nearly a year until they could even begin the rebuilding process.
As for the building itself, the parish of St. Bernard finally agreed to give it up to the organization Keith and Dwayne are a part of. The building won’t end up being a gym again, it’ll become a hobby shop and indoor racetrack for remote control cars. Keith told us that for those in the community it’s a great thing for kids and parents to do that keeps kids off the streets and doing something constructive.
Sure, today we weren’t helping a victim rebuild their home our something monumental, but we were making a difference in the lives of those members of the community that will give them one more place that can feel normal and give them a sense of community.
Before I wrap up this post, I want to share just a little bit about what we heard in the Dome tonight. We first heard from Greg Von Wald who is an 18 year old attendee of the gathering who spoke about changing the world. Citing the quote by Ghandi “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” he talked about the fact that if we want to do something to change the world we have to do it. While it’s easy to sit in a room full of Lutherans and say “I’m ready God, use me to change the world,” it’s much harder in reality. If we want change, we have to “be it.”
Our second speaker was The Rev. Andrena Ingram. Andrena is an AIDS activist who was once homeless with a truly trying past. Now, she works to be an advocate for change. She shared her story of how she was homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol and a victim of domestic violence. Her story was truly inspiring, because given her past, it’s amazing what she is now! The end of our evening in the dome was a great performance by Switchfoot.
We really enjoyed everything today and the small ways in which we were able to make a difference. Tomorrow, we’ll have closing worship and then we get to have some fun until we leave on Monday. I especially want to give a huge thank you to our Prayer Partners for your gifts and prayers. Your little bits of encouragement to us really mean a lot. Don’t forget to check out our photo gallery (**CLICK HERE**) for pictures from our work project today. Until tomorrow, Peace!