Sunday, April 25, 2010

Louisiana, Take 2

I'm home.

Last year I went on my first mission trip. It was to New Orleans, to rebuild after Katrina. It was the first time I actually felt "called" to do something. (Maybe it was because I had finally decided to start listening.) I was amazed at how much destruction was still there...how many houses with the marks by the doors, the blue tarps on the roofs, the crumbling brick...

I had an amazing time. We took 8 people from our church, and it was one of the best experiences I had had. It was a chance to do God's work, to get to know the people from church in a different light, and just really have a good time.

And then this year came around. I had no doubt that if another trip was planned, I'd be going. Its just not possible to describe the way it makes you feel to do this for someone else. Someone who has it so much worse than you. It changes you.

This year we worked on a house (actually a house built around a trailer) that belonged to an 82 year old lady in Houma, LA. What a sweet thing she was. We tore out a floor, to the point we were standing on the ground to get around. We replaced floors, built new walls, widened all the doorways in anticipation of her being wheelchair bound in the near future, added ramps, put up a clothesline, rerouted plumbing and arranged a bathroom, fixed wiring and packed a HUGE dumpster with debris they had piled in the back yard. It was a dramatic change when we left this year. (There was also some work done on a neighboring house---replacing part of a bathroom ceiling, bracing an air conditioner, and fixing a sewage leak under the house. The 2 guys who did that will never be the same!!!)

On Tuesday a neighboring church hosted the volunteers from our camp for dinner. This is a tiny church, and the congregation brought in pot luck for us. There was so much food and so much to choose from. Plus a whole dessert table. During dinner we found out they've been doing this EVERY WEEK since Katrina. And they wont take any payment for it. When dinner was over we all went back into the sanctuary. Their congregation circled the volunteers and prayed for us and what we're doing for them down there. I have never witnessed a greater outpouring of God's love in my life. There is no possible way to describe it to someone who hasn't experienced it. It still brings tears to my eyes to think about it.
(A funny note about this night---one of the volunteers from our church was sitting in front of us...a member of their congregation came up behind him, took her finger and squished a bug that had landed on the top of his head, picked it off, then went back to her seat like it was just another normal day. Got a great laugh out of those of us sitting behind him.)

And then there's the people. Where to even start with that??? We took 13 people this year, 8 of which were from our church. It was so much fun to get to know new people, and see people we already knew in a new light. As a matter of fact, I was a bit shocked at times. I think we scarred our church secretary for life...she's pretty quiet and shy, reserved, and I think has been pretty sheltered most of her life. So 6 of us (including her) decided to go into New Orleans one night and visit the French Quarter. We had beignets at the Cafe du Monde, then went walking. All was going pretty well, until we hit Bourbon Street. I'm not sure she knew what to do. I'm sure she's still reeling over that one. :)

I know I've also not experienced much of the world, and am a bit naive, but I thought it was interesting to see my first prostitute.

Then there was a former Swartzentruber amish, who has "jumped the fence" and is now mennonite. He was really quiet, and not sure what to think of us loud and crazy presbyterians. I think it caught him off guard as to how much the women knew and could do. Its just not in his culture. He loosened up throughout the week, and said we presbyterians knew how to have fun, and even started telling jokes. I just wonder what he went and told the people at his church today.

There was the quiet guy. Kinda did his own thing. So I had the chance to work with him one day and he started throwing out one liners, which caught me off guard. But he turned out to be quite funny.

There's one other person who I will comment on here who really made an impact on my life this week. He's gone to our church off and on for several years, but became a member earlier this year. The funny thing is, I didnt even know who he was when I first saw the list of people going. I had to ask. And I guess thats not as much funny as it is sad. I didnt ride in the same van as him most of the time, and it was probably Wednesday until I really had a chance to work with him at the house. At first I wasn't sure what to think...he came across as a bit arrogant. As time went on though, I dont really think thats the way he is. He taught me how to frame a doorway, and was patient as I made him climb in and out of a hole in the kitchen floor he was working on to help when I had a question. (On the second day though I told him things would go much faster if he'd show me what to do instead of doing it as he explained it, lol.) We hung out a bit more at camp, and I had a chance to get to know him a bit better. On the way home I was riding in the other van, but as drivers and co-pilots changed, I needed to move to "the dark side" van, as one of the guys in there put it. I ended up co-piloting with him driving. Thats when things got interesting. We started out just chatting, and ended up having a bit of a heartfelt conversation. He elaborated on a few things we had talked about during the week, and when I mentioned he hadn't told the whole story earlier, he said it was because he had to make sure he felt he could trust me first. That made me feel good. He was easy to talk to, and I was disappointed when our 4 hour shift in the front seats was over. I think I've made another good friend out of this.

There is SO much to get out of a mission trip. You can go and do the work for someone in need. If it stopped there, it would still be a great thing. But when you take in the culture, reach out to strangers, get to know new people and embrace new experiences, it really makes the whole thing so much more fulfilling. I learned a lot...not just about construction, but about myself, about people who are so different in backgrounds, religions, etc who can come together to do God's work. There were 3 other groups at camp this year, and we're the only ones who had our own little devotion/sharing time, hung out together, got along great all week and never had squabbles.

I've had a couple days to sit back and really think about this trip. I've thought about why God chose those particular people to send on a trip with me. I think (hope) I had an impact on someone's life this week. I can come up with specific reasons why certain people were there for me.

Everyone needs to experience a mission trip. You can't go and not come back changed.

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