Monday, September 01, 2008

My New Orleans Memories

It was a year ago that a group of us made the trek straight south from Chicago to New Orleans to work with the Mennonite Disaster Services, an impressive organization targeting long-term disaster relief (a huge need). Their motto is "responding, rebuilding, restoring."

We were assigned to build a home for a pastor (Charlie) who lost everything in Katrina and Rita. It was in a fishing area on the peninsula.

As we approached New Orleans, you could tell that a lot of new construction had been done and on the surface things looked OK. Then we exited the highway ramp and moved into the neighborhoods and we began to see that all was not OK in the Big Easy. Entire blocks were simply gone or had a few dilapidated houses with the signature numbers on them. It was an eerie feeling as you drove through these ghost town that were now overgrown with weeds and dirt with potholes that were literally craters. I counted over 30 blocks of was mind-blowing, something out of an apocalyptic movie.

We talked with one man who cried as he remembered the fear that he felt during that season. He decided to stay after Katrina to help people rebuild, but it took it's toll. He spoke of still having nightmares and fearing every rain storm. The anxiety was high then as I'm sure it is now.

Many ask the question "why should we keep building in an area that is at or below sea level?" I ask the same question, but I met one man who gave me a bit of perspective. He was quite the character with a quick wit and a thick New Orleans accent. He said that he had suffered from a bad bout of depression since Katrina and that Pastor Charlie had help to pull him through. He also said that his roots go back to French descendants who settled in the area some 400 years. He said, "I have a relationship with this land that most people don't understand. And to move would be more than just a simple relocation. It would be asking me to divorce this place that is all that I have ever known. It's all that my family for generations has known. And then he proceeded to name off his descendants going all the way back to the Frenchmen." He shared his story with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat.

It didn't clear up my doubts, but it helped me to understand the people of New Orleans and how hard it is for them to give up on something so dear to them.

Please pray for Charlie and his new home that was meticulously built to hurricane standards with loving hands from Christian brothers and sisters from all over world (literally). And please pray for the people of New Orleans that they would be safe and protected from Gustav's fury.

UPDATE- Obviously Gustav was not Katrina. Thank God for sparing this region more heartbreak.