2010 New Orleans, LA

God is Making All Things New – in New Orleans     Project Director – Rev. Lawrence BergstresserThe theme of the Discovery Service Projects mission trip this year was “God is Making All Things New.”  In New Orleans we certainly found that to be true.  Since Hurricane Katrina major sections of the city have been rebuilt or renewed.  This renewal has included homes, churches and businesses.  But God has been renewing hope and life in a city that was devastated by floodwaters.  One instrument of that renewal has been the volunteers who have come to New Orleans to provide spirit and skill in helping people rebuild.  We were glad to have a small part in that renewal this year.We stayed at Trinity United Methodist Church in the northeast part of the city.  After Katrina, when the pumping system failed, this area of the city was covered by five feet of water, and the water remained in the church for two weeks.  The members of the church were gone.  Those who remained had to clean up their own homes and businesses.  So the members were dispersed to other congregations; the Conference turned the building over to the Mennonites to use as a disaster recovery facility.  The Mennonites cleaned out the building; built bathrooms with showers upstairs, and put bunk beds in the Sunday School rooms.  They repaired the electrical system, restored the kitchen and cleaned out the sanctuary.  Soon the kitchen was ready to feed volunteers, and the sanctuary became the storage place for tools and supplies.  About a year and a half ago the Mennonites returned the building to the United Methodists; it has become the United Methodist Disaster Relief Center for New Orleans.

So we had a good facility for our teams to live in and to get the supplies we needed to do our work.  The first week we had eight volunteers.  Sandy Borders and Sally Mullin took care of food shopping and meal preparation and cleaning up at our home away from home; the rest of us worked at one project.

The second week we had fifteen volunteers.  Karen Lyon and Lollie Dilbert took care of us with shopping, food preparation and cleanup, and on a couple of days came to work on one of our projects.  We divided our team and worked on four different projects that week

In our two weeks in New Orleans we helped to improve four homes.  Each had experienced significant flooding, as much as five feet deep.  In the first home, located near a canal in southwest New Orleans, the woman owner has lived in a FEMA trailer parked in her front yard for more than four years.  This working woman restored her home as far as she could until the money ran out; she asked the United Methodist Disaster Relief for help finishing the job.  We installed kitchen cabinets and got the counter tops ready for tile.  We bought and installed a microwave oven.  We worked on getting the bathroom tub ready for tile.  Dave Liscom led this crew and put his heart and humor into this work.  He had help from Rick Aichele, Alex Mullin, Barb O’Connell and myself.  Bob Wood spent most of that week repairing wood flooring errors made by a previous crew of unskilled volunteers.

Less than a mile away another homeowner who had also run out of money needed flooring work done.  In our second week, our crews led by Floyd Tate installed wood flooring in the large living room and dining room area.  Betty Ballard, Alan Yarrison and Lew Smith worked on that project along with Floyd.  Others in the team, including Kristen Smith, Alice Johnson and later Karen Lyon and Lollie Dilbert cleaned out the kitchen.  They leveled the sub-floor as much as possible and provided a base so that the kitchen floor was ready to support the installation of a ceramic tile floor.

A third house, abandoned by its owner, had been bought by Disaster Relief.  They rehabbed the house, but it needed two sets of exterior steps in the rear.  One of our crews led by Wendell Steele, Sr. and Erling Salvesen bought the materials and designed and installed those steps.  They were ably assisted by Barbara Steele, Scott Friedgen-Veitch and Alvan Vereen.  The house is now ready for a new family to move in.  Toward the end of the week Erling Salvesen, Alice Johnson and Scott F-V returned to the first home, and installed tile in the shower that had been so carefully prepared the week before.  This home is much closer to being ready for occupancy.

Our fourth project was to repair a number of small plumbing and carpentry concerns for an elderly lady who was living in her home in the Upper Ninth Ward.  Later in the week Bob Wood, Wendell and Barbara Steele completed those small jobs.

We were blessed by good weather, by safety on the roads and in our work, by delicious food (I ate too much), and by a skilled and loving crew of volunteers.  We were also blessed by the people we met in New Orleans: the staff of Disaster Relief, homeowners, members of other volunteer groups and people we met in restaurants and Lowe’s.

On Friday evening before we left New Orleans, as a mission team we met for worship in the sanctuary of Trinity United Methodist Church, surrounded by all the supplies and tools that we had needed to do our work.  Bob Wood led us as we celebrated Holy Communion.  There were fifteen of us who gathered in a semi-circle around an ordinary round conference table.  On the table were a loaf of unsliced bread and a bottle of grape juice, both bought at the local market, and a glass from the church kitchen.

Those of us who sat together were younger and older, we were men and women, we were more or less liberal or conservative, we were Baptists and United Methodists, we were African-American and European-American, we were skilled and unskilled in the building trades but we all had something to offer.  We were there because we had heard Jesus’ new commandment to love one another as he loved God’s people, and we were trying to follow Jesus commandment, to express the love of the whole church for the people of New Orleans who have suffered so much loss.  All the usual differences that separate people did not matter.  As we received communion, dipping our supermarket bread in a kitchen glass full of grape juice, the living Christ was present.

I know that our volunteers were an expression of God’s blessing for the people in whose homes we worked.  While we were doing our work, God was blessing the volunteers as well.  We did good work and we had fun!  Indeed God is making all things new!