After a mere 20 hours on the road from Richmond, the Gulf Coast Mission Team from the Presbytery of the James arrived in Metairie, Louisiana. Our trip was fairly eneventful,though quite interesting with stops in every state along the way (except Mississippi - it was too late!). We finally reached our destination, the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) at 1:16 local time. An exhausted group quickly unloaded the vehicles, pumped up some air mattresses, and quickly fell asleep.
Sunday morning brought the opportunity to sleep a bit later,and we gathered with the congregation at JCPC for a lovely Palm/Passion Sunday worship service, where we were greeted enthusiastically and thanked profusely for our presence. This congregation of 300 has established itself as a base of operations in Metairie, greeting teams of worker from as far as York County, Pennsylvania. The church works in tandem with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program, helping over 20 families since October.
The afternoon began with a quick lunch and orientation to the program, as well as an update on the current situation in New Orleans. Over 300,000 people are still displaced from Hurricane Katrina, which struck August 29, 2005. Many areas of the city are still without power or water, and hundreds of thousands of homes lie untouched since August. A tour of New Orleans showed areas of complete devastation, homes without roofs, homes collapsed, cars overturned, and piles of debris everywhere. Many neighborhoods are unable to move forward due to concerns about rebuilding possibilities and new building code requirements that have yet to be set. Business are beginning to open in some of the affected areas, and people are slowly returning to rebuild their homes and their lives. Everywhere we looked, people were living in FEMA trailers in their front yards while completely removing everything from their houses -usually stripping them down to the studs.
Though actual work will not begin until Monday, we prepared our tools and supplies (thanks to everyone who donated tools, supplies, and money). Because we are a larger group(23 total), we will actually work in two different homes, both in Lakeview (an older neighborhood on the shores of Lake Ponchartraine). Both houses will require complete deconstruction - removal of all contents (appliances, furniture, personal belongings, carpet, etc.) and walls and ceilings. Work begins at 8:30 in the morning!
Though we have not yet begun our work, our eyes have already been opened to the desparate need for help and hope in New Orleans. Seven months later, many things remain unchanged. Many people have left for good, and others wait to return. People who are just like us have lost their entire home and all their worldy possessions. It will be an emotional but fulfilling task we undertake. Pray for us as we endeavor to bring help and hope to these people.
Grace and peace,
Associate Pastor for Education and Youth
Bon Air Presbyterian Church