July was a big month for me! I went on my first real humanitarian trip. I, along with my husband, several dear friends, and about 200 new friends loaded up five Croswell buses and readied ourselves for a very long 17+ hour bus ride to New Orleans, Louisiana.
This incredible city, struck hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has yet to fully recover from that devastating disaster. I got to witness this first hand. As part of our trip we not only worked with children and families impacted directly by Katrina, but we also took an educational tour in light of its 10 year anniversary. While I was deeply impacted by the loss, heartache, empty buildings, and resounding poverty in parts of New Orleans, I was even further moved by the resilience of the locals, the spirit of the city, and the goodness of God’s people when they choose to work together and be His hands and feet!
I can’t possibly relay all details from this trip, but I would like to highlight some of the special moments! And to those who supported us financially or in prayer, thank you!
Crossroads Community Church sends volunteers every year to Nola to work with Habitat for Humanity, complete restoration projects in neighborhoods, and lead a Vacation Bible Camp program alongside Franklin Baptist Church! Franklin Baptist is a local church that took its fair share of abuse at the hand of Hurricane Katrina. Because I volunteered with VBC, teaching 6th grade students, Franklin Baptist became my second home in New Orleans. I was blown away by their heart for the community. Students who attend this free camp have a full schedule every day including recess, large group study, small group study, crafts, lunch, music class, snack time and more.
So, fun fact about how God works: before we left for New Orleans, I was eager to work with these children…as long as I didn’t have middle school kids. That was my prayer! For real. So what age did God give me- 6th grade!
Here’s what these 6th graders taught me:
1. To whip and nae nae (sort of…) (there was lots of practicing through the week).
2. You’re never too old for arts and crafts.
3. That Takis are better than Hot Fries.
4. That whether you’re in the 6th grade or teaching the 6th grade, selfies rule.
5. To stand up and pray boldly without fear (as one 6th grade boy said, “I get a little long winded when I talk to God”).
6. That I can throw my hands straight up in the air when I sing because “My God is big, strong, and mighty.”
7. That they’ve never seen snow (when I showed them snow in Cincinnati, the snow impressed them, but it was the size of my yard that produced comments like “is that all your yard”…I’m definitely not rich, but to them, what I have is so much). #humbling
8. To love someone enough for your heart to break for them after only knowing them a few days is absolutely possible (to my kids in the lower 9th ward worried about far more than you should be worried about, I am still lifting you up)!
9. That sing-offs are amazing (obviously)!
10. That 6th graders are way crazier than 5th graders and since I’m a little crazy myself, that’s kind of fun.
A few friends of mine worked with younger kids and I just have to include some of their precious pictures as well. I know they felt equally blessed to share in this experience by building into these kids for a week.
Since my work experiences were all with the Vacation Bible Camp, I thought I would solicit some thoughts from my friend Korie who worked with the Habitat team. These tough guys labored in roughly 103 degree weather all day!
Here is Korie:
I first traveled to New Orleans for work and knew instantly that it was a place that was eclectic, magnetic and beautiful-from its people to its architecture and history. All around, I was drawn to it. Given the opportunity to go back to serve the city was a no brainer decision.
I chose to work with Habitat for Humanity. Our project was to renovate a house that would serve as a low rent option for young adults aging out of foster care. Being a social worker, I was of course all over this!
It was an honor and privilege to sweat…a lot, to paint, to lay down tape, to nail, to listen to the stories of neighbors and to simply have a hand in helping to restore this awesome city.
The biggest pleasure I had was meeting a neighbor named Sarah. She was 77 years old and made us pralines and brownies. Both were delicious but my conversation with her was even sweeter. She joined us for lunch on the last day and it was my favorite moment on the trip. She shared her story and showed us pictures of her family. I was again reminded that everyone has a story to tell. They just need someone to listen. I’m so thankful for my opportunity to soak in all the goodness from Miss Sarah’s visit.
Thank you Korie for sharing your voice and spirit! Now, back to me! 🙂
While the bus ride was tight, the work was hard, the weather was hot, and mornings came early, my heart was full every day. And, after gathering back at the hotel at the end of each afternoon, we got to experience more of the city. A few of my favorite moments included riding the trolley along the riverfront, eating lots of traditional New Orleans food like gumbo, jumbalaya, catfish, and muffuletta, taking an informational bus tour to learn more about Hurricane Katrina (including stops at the levee, the lower 9th ward, and Musician’s Village), visiting the National WWII Museum, and listening to incredible jazz music at Republic New Orleans.
My favorite evening, by far, was our dinner at Cafe Reconcile. First of all, I didn’t think I even liked catfish, but I had the best fish, hands down, at Cafe Reconcile, and, it was catfish! This girl grabbed seconds! But seriously, beyond the crazy good food, Cafe Reconcile is all about addressing generational poverty by providing life skills and job training to young people in at-risk communities. Their goal? Reconcile! They believe reconciliation has the power to work against fear, prejudice, and poverty. Part of the way they are building future leaders is through this kitchen!
I am blown away whenever I hear of people with such hearts for their communities…hearts for reconciling their city! I believe we are called to be peacemakers, to break down barriers, to help enable people to use their voice, and to encourage others as well as ourselves to be strong self-advocates. Places like Cafe Reconcile are a reminder of the positive change that can be made!
Overall, this trip was emotionally taxing and sometimes physically draining, but it was such a gift. I am thankful to be challenged. I am thankful to get outside of my comfort zone. I am thankful to work with others for a purpose bigger than my own self-interests. Therefore, my most prized souvenir is this t-shirt signed by the kids I had the pleasure of digging in deep with for a week!
GO THERE (a humanitarian or mission trip, New Orleans)! TRY THAT (a new experience, reconciliation, Cajun)!