Monday, January 12, 2009

Mission Trip to New Orleans

On January 4th, this extremely diverse group of women set out to drive 24 hours, due literally to stopping every two hours, to New Orleans. We were on a mission trip hoping to restore the faith, homes, and community of victims of hurricane Katrina. We all used our gifts to grow and learn about ourselves and bond incredibly as a group. While the stories and experiences are far too many to note, I've included a few of my favorites in the pictures below. This is my mom after walking through the house she "mucked" (or, cleaned out completely and busted down the walls of) 2 years ago. She was hoping it would be completely restored and be lived in by now, but sadly no further work . The workers in her group saved important/meaningful papers and pictures for the 80 year old woman that had lived in the house and kept it in a small shed. Unfortunately, everything was still there in the shed when we came back.

We definitely had some authentic New Orleans-style fun! We ate lots of delicious food (Jambalaya, red beans and rice, and creole cookin') and drank plenty of wine! Here we are in the French Quarter, ready to listen to some jazz music and soak up the experiences of Bourbon Street! This is a vacant hospital where a guard stands by 24 hours a day. It has not been touched since Katrina, and it is presumably filled with supplies that could be helping a lot of people.
Right after Katrina each house had to be searched for bodies. While some were scrubbed off, many houses still contained the spray paint noting the date of inspection, the initials of the inspector, how many people were found, and how many dead bodies were found. NE means "No Entry," meaning they could not get in during the first try. Another house said "NE 9/4" and "E 9/29 with 1 dead." This meant that they couldn't get on September 4, and they didn't look again until September 29, when they found a body.
An AMAZING church that we helped in by doing some staining and refinishing. This had 10 feet of water in it for FIVE WEEKS (a water line can be seen in real life right under the colorful windows). It is being restored slowly (but surely!) by volunteers. Prior to Katrina, this church had an entirely black congregation in an entirely white suburb, and not far away was an entirely white congregation in an entirely black suburb. The two did not mix. The "white" church was not destroyed in Katrina, but the pastor left New Orleans permanently. The "black" church was destroyed completely (and is only now being restored), but the pastor stayed. What happened? The black pastor went to the the predominantly white church and now both are completely mixed. God works in mysterious ways!

My group painted all of the walls of Brenda's 4 bedroom home, which was gutted due to water damage and damage caused by firemen. The house next to hers was on fire and they thought it was hers, so they busted down the walls looking for it. Here are Chel and I scraping away paint from the windows! Notice the mirrored sides? This is a BEAUTIFUL, huge building for the school administration, and it has not been touched since Katrina. We peeked in the windows and saw kids' artwork on the walls, sticky note reminders still stuck to the computers, desk drawers opened revealing hot chocolate packets, prescription drugs, perfume, make-up, calenders open to August 2005, sweaters hanging off of chairs, a gift wrapped bag underneath a desk, etc. etc. etc.
Here is a prime example of New Orleans: Nicely redone houses with random ones that have yet to be touched. 50% of the city has yet to be restored, and many buildings still contain broken windows and all the original belongings inside. In some areas, like the 9th Ward, a huge majority of the houses are not restored. It's unbelievable.
This is an apartment building next door to Camp Restore (where we stayed). This building is just starting to get gutted now, 3 1/2 years later. When my mom was at Camp Restore 2 years ago she walked through this apartment building, and it had been untouched since Katrina, meaning there were dishes in the sinks, laundry on the floors, and so on. After Katrina hit, people were desperate for food and had been stealing from Camp Restore for lack of any other option. Camp Restore decided to put can openers on the fence (shown in this picture) so people could borrow it and go into the apartment building to eat the canned food left behind. This solved the problem of people stealing food from Camp Restore. The furniture used inside Camp Restore was actually from the abandoned apartment building next door!

The people from New Orleans were so appreciative! At one point while loading up the van, Chel and I were stopped by a random woman walking her dog who thanked us for our hard work. She had nothing to do with the church we were working on but appreciated our efforts nonetheless. I had an amazing, spirtually awakening, eye-opening experience in New Orleans. I have been blessed to have spent time there and have become a better woman because of it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bringing in the New Year!

Happy New Year! Ceej and I had a great time with great friends bringing in 2009. We started the night by going out for dinner at Olive Garden with Andy, Mandy, Mitch, and Brett. We had a delicious dinner before heading back to the Schraders' for some drinks and cards. We went to some friends' annual New Year's Eve party and then ended the night at the Pickle.

It's really exciting to think about the upcoming year! It will be jam packed with wonderful things like planning weddings, applying for/maybe starting OT school, applying for and starting a "real job," beginning our marriage, a mission trip to New Orleans, going on a honeymoon, making a home with my husband (!), moving out of my mom's house, not to mention many unanticipated events! I can't wait to see what God has in store for us!!