Thursday, January 26, 2006

New Orleans

We're back!
Actually, we've been back since Sunday, but as everyone spent 24
hours of straight driving, most of us slept all day! Then it was a whirlwind of returning to jobs, school, and life in general.

Yet none of us are returning to life quite the same. Every single person on that incredible trip has returned saying the same thing; our lives are changed because of what we saw and experienced in Louisiana. That probably sounds pretty cliche. I don't know anyone who has returned from a mission trip of any kind and said, "Yeah, God didn't do anything through me. It was pretty boring and I didn't see Him working at all." But that's because when we answer a stirring from God to go somewhere to be His hands and feet, we're asking to be changed.

You can't go anywhere in the affected New Orleans areas and not feel and overwhelming sense of sadness, fear and awe. Sadness because devastation of all sorts surrounds you on all sides. Fear because the thought of something like this ever happening to you and your family is sickening. Awe because the power of nature (which really means the power of God) is incredible. Yet intertwined with those feeling also lie hope, trust and more awe. Hope because the people of New Orleans are strong and resilient. Trust because God knows what He's doing, and although He's fearsome, He's also good. And awe because His mercy and love lie so deeply intertwined in the entire disaster and, whether they know it or not, in the hearts of his New Orleans children.

Many have suggested that this disaster is a display of God's wrath on a defiant and forsaken city, a city often seen as a modern-day Sodom. I admit I've thought this myself. But spend a week there and you'll find this judgement entirely wrong. You see, if you held this point of view, you would not be able to explain why the French Quarter, the feature scene of Mardi Gras, was completely spared. And you would quickly realize that God is moving in an very visible, very poignant way in that heartbroken place. People are reaching out to each other. Churches are feeding and giving and helping. Miracles, big and small, happen all the time. People are aching, but many are also full of hope and joy for tomorrow.

Yet they need every last bit of help they can get. Miles upon miles of devastation and uprooted lives line this coastal area. Divorce and suicide rates are up. Families are still separated. Dead bodies are still being found. FEMA is overwhelmed, there isn't enough of anything to go around. Every single person has a story that will make you drop your tear-filled eyes and sigh. (Although if you listen long enough, a smile will spread across your face because the inevitable, God-promised glimmer of hope among the wreckage will make its way out.) Our team of 15 worked to exhaustion every day for five days, and at the end we realized we had accomplished very little in the grand scheme of man power needed. We realized that the relationships we built with the four families we worked with, the service, love and prayer we gave them mattered way more than any of the tasks we accomplished at the end.

On the first day of the trip, we went to the home of a woman named Deb who needed trees and debris removed from her yard. As she gave us a tour of her property, my heart constricted with heaviness from being overwhelmed by the number of trees down. How could we, a team of mostly 20-somethings with little to no experience with chainsaws or felling trees, make any kind of difference here? Our little troupe looked like a pack of deer caught in the headlights as we neared the end of the tour. As we came around the corner of the house, Deb said, "Here's an area that I think has a lot of potential!" We looked on at her side yard, an area engulfed in fallen limbs, debris, and trees snapped in pieces. "You see, I've always wanted a butterfly garden, but our property has always been too shady because of all the trees. Now that so many trees have fallen, I think there just might be enough light for my garden!" Everyone giggled, but this renewed sense of beauty in the midst of ashes excited us, and thus began "Operation Butterfly Garden."

When we survey the wreckage of situations in our lives, it's easy to see them as hopeless. But God intends so much more. Sometimes He's giving us the opportunity to start over, to break us and change us, to make a new way for our dreams and His plans for us to come true. He just has to clear us out and make room for His light first!

This is all much more than I had intended to write, and really just one facet of all that we learned on this trip. I suppose I could have been brief and just said, "Hi! We're safe and we learned a lot and go to New Orleans because your life will be changed too," but that would have been terribly insufficient! Give me more of your time and I could tell you all about team work, joy, being a part of the Church functioning as it should, and God providing exactly what you need, even if it's as silly as a tarp! God blessed us with an amazing team and wonderful lessons learned from Him, each other, and the people we met in Louisiana.

John Jowers, one of the team members, has some wonderful pictures up on his Web site: Click to enter, then click "pictures" then the top set of shots labeled "Katrina Relief.

Psalm 46 really hit home for us during this trip, and remains our theme:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Thank you for praying for us, and for caring about us. If you want to continue to pray, pray that all on the trip would carry what God taught us about loving and serving home to our own communities. Pray for the dear people we met, for Deb, Buddy, Louisa, Malcolm, Kay, Diane, Miss V, and their families. Pray for Trinity Church and EFCA ministries, for their strength and guidance.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than anything we could ask or imagine-
Taylor :)

1 comment:

  1. Taylor, I loved reading about your trip! I'm glad that God taught you a lot and changed you through going to NO. It'd be neat to chit chat more about the things going on down there and trade a few stories.


I love hearing from my readers! Thank you for taking the time to comment. All comments are reviewed before publishing.