Hey ya'll! I'm back! The team went out to dinner and as usual my phone was on silent so I missed the call. :( Oh well. I think I'll just go to bed and skip dinner. That puts a damper on the day though because it would have been a lot of fun.
The trip was GREAT!!!!!! I learned a lot. I definitely want to go back, possibly for longer especially to work with the Carpenter's House. More about that later.
We had a small team, which I was worried about at first, but it turned out to be really nice. We all meshed really well and did a whole lot of laughing for sure. Our team leader was Stephen. He's an RD in Penndel. If you know Stephen, you'll understand why we laughed a lot. He's just a funny guy. The co-leader was Greg. He isn't from PBU. Somehow he knows Billy Dunn and he had done relief work in Mississippi before and came on this trip. It was good to have him along. Now if you know Matt, then you'll also understand why we laughed a lot. Matt is a senior at PBU and he likes to be argumentative and ornery, especially with Greg. Matt has a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor mixed with pessimism. It's not as bad as it sounds. He's a great guy, just hilarious. Half the stuff he says I don't think he really means to be funny but the way he says them makes them funny. When we hit turbulence on the flight to New Orleans he said, "Oh no, I think we hit a deer." Other such things like "I don't know what I'd do with a million dollars. I'd probably go to lunch first" also came from his mouth which made the trip hilarious. Sarah is a sophomore and an RA in my dorm. She often engaged in giggle fests with Jess. Mallary is a junior. She's Matt's girlfriend. She is such a great girl, definitely a rare jewel at PBU. I've known her since the first day of school since she was supposed to be Amelia's roommate. Jess is Mallary's suitemate. She's also a junior. I knew her from summer classes. She's really sweet and makes funny noises.
Our flight was 7ish on Saturday so we had to get up around 3:30am. I was really tired that day. We arrived in New Orleans and picked up our rental van at Enterprise. The drive to Slidell was about 40 minutes. There was a lot of damage still in New Orleans but there were also a lot of new buildings that were opening up again.
We got to the church and were greeted by Charles and his great southern accent. He brought us in and showed us the church. It definitely went far beyond our expectations. They have the church so well organized! There is a full kitchen for everyone's use. Breakfast and lunch you make for yourself using the food at church. There were 2 refrigerators designated for lunch and breakfast with all the stuff you needed in there. The sanctuary had cots and mats stacked in the back and there is a big tarp that gets hung down the middle of the sanctuary dividing it for men and women. There are also 2 separate side doors on either side of the tarp. In the back of the church are 2 shower rooms with 3 shower stalls each plus a washer and dryer in each for laundry. The church is definitely well prepared for teams. They are building a giant warehouse in the back which now only holds tools and a conference room but will eventually be a dormitory with bunks and bathrooms and possibly new kitchen and dining hall but I forget if that's right. Week day dinners are cooked by Dale who has been cooking since they first started housing teams. Most teams leave by 8 and come back sometime around 5. We make sandwiches and bring snacks and drinks to the work sites.
When we arrived at the church, Charles told us that the man who is normally in charge of the teams had a heart attack the night before. He is doing better and is at home now. However, Charles had to handle everything. We got asked to go into New Orleans instead of Slidell where Mike (the man who had the heart attack) usually keeps the teams. Apparently teams have problems with going into New Orleans but we all didn't mind.
We found out our orientation would be Sunday night because there were new teams coming in later Saturday and Sunday. We then went to tour New Orleans at the French Quarter. That was crazy. It was quite the Vanity Fair place with lots of Voodoo stores and fortune tellers. There was a bone reader and some dude who spray painted himself to look like a robot. There were street performers everywhere and break dancers who really should have done more dancing than talking. We stopped to see them but it was really inappropriate and so Mal and I made up the excuse to go get a postcard and the whole team left. One of the dancers yelled at us "You'd do better in church!" which was true. We finally found Cafe Du Monde and had beignets. Funny thing was that all the waiters and waitresses were Asian.
Somehow we managed to miss the French Market but that's ok. We didn't feel like eating out so we went back to church and met the other team from Maryland. We made hamburgers on the grill and had that for dinner. The Maryland team turned out to be quite enjoyable. One of the guys, Andy, went to WWC last year and knows several PBU people. He's now at Cedarville. There were several other men and a few women. Then there were two other younger guys. Tim was a traveling nurse and Curt was a mechanic but he had been in the Air Force. Stephen taught everyone the card game "Up and Down the River" which is Oh Heck actually. Matt didn't like the word "tricks" and he renamed it to "gumbos."
Sunday church service was at 10am. The message was pretty good. The pastor of the church is a PBU grad. You can kind of tell from his sermon outline that he is a product of PBU. It was laid out well and was pretty thorough. I saw Sarah who used to go to PBU but married the pastor's son (who also was at PBU for a bit) and now they have a baby. I went over to see the baby and Sarah handed him to me. Thankfully he was swaddled in a blanket so I was less afraid that I'd injure him. He's only a month old and his name is Austin.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Greg and Stephen spent the morning service in the ER. Greg woke up with a uvula that had gotten elongated and was resting on his tongue. The gag reflex was making it hard for him to talk. Apparently he had an allergic reaction. They have him some shot and it eventually got better.
After the service, we took Charles and his wife Judy out to lunch. Actually, Charles took us on a tour to Biloxi, Mississippi. We drove along the gulf. We stopped at the University of Mississippi. It's a gorgeous campus. The Friendship Oak is there and it survived the Hurricane. We ate at this place called Shaggy's and we all tried to order shrimp po boys but they were out. I wasn't interested in a soft shell crab po boy so I just had a boring hamburger. ;)
We got back just in time to make the baptism service. There were about 6 or 7 people getting baptized, some of them quite a bit older. We didn't stay for the fellowship meal though. We got back in good time for the orientation. The Habitat for Humanity group showed up right at 8 for the orientation. They drove all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio. There were 18 of them, 14 of them highschoolers. After the orientation we had team devotions and then went to bed.
Our first work day was at Reverend Field's house in the lower Ninth Ward. Charles brought us on the back roads to introduce us to the gators but there weren't any that we could see. We got to the house and it's like a ghost town. It looks like an open field but there are random stairs and foundations and an occasional house (usually mostly destroyed) here and there. The levee that broke is right behind the house. Pastor Fields lost his house, church, and barbershop. We were sent to work on his new house (which Charles designed and it's a really cute house) and his barbershop in the backyard. Mallary had put in floating floors with her dad, so she was sent to put down flooring in one of the rooms. Jess helped her with that. Matt had to use the hopper to spray stuff on the walls and ceiling of the barber house to make it stucco-ish. (It helps hide painting flaws) Greg and Sarah hung drywall in the master bedroom bathroom. Stephen and I worked on a fence and dug a trench. Funny thing about the fence -- Stephen didn't know we had a nail gun and we were trying to hammer the nails in on an angle. It took forever!!! Halfway through the job someone said something about having a nail gun and I said "Oh yeah... I knew that." Stephen gave me a death glare. Actually, I was also confused. I had been handed something from Charles that I thought was a nail gun but it wasn't but we did in fact have a nail gun. On top of that, Charles showed up and took one look at the fence and asked if we had seen the diagram. Oops. We put the boards vertically instead of horizontally. It wasn't too big of a deal though. After lunch we used the nail gun and finished in a much quicker fashion. Then we had to dig 2 trenches. I dug the one to the barber shop and Stephen had to dig one to trace a pipe. The ground was hard and filled with shells which made it really annoying. It took forever and eventually the pipe went underneath something and Stephen couldn't find it.
Tuesday we worked on the same house. Mallary and Jess did more flooring, Sarah and Greg did mudding in the bathroom and also ended up laying tile down too. Stephen and I argued and painted the barbershop. Matt was cleaning up the backyard and he said he could hear us and thought "Wow they're really going at it." Ok, it wasn't arguing. It was debating. It was about rules and stuff and I kept going in circles because I can never think on the spot. Then we got into an argument about voting and now I have to vote this November which means I have to register at some point. That was a mind stretching day.
On Wednesday, we went to this other house in New Orleans. We had to do a lot of finishing work which was kind of annoying because it felt like we weren't really doing anything. I put in the shoe kick underneath the kitchen cabinets and then painted baseboards the rest of the day. Sarah decorated herself in caulk as she went around caulking numerous little holes. Matt fought with door handles and tried to fit them into their proper doors but was having difficulties because apparently the knobs were being "jerks." That day kind of dragged.
Wednesday night was a fellowship dinner. Church members, teams, and house owners come together for dinner at church so that they can interact. One of the pastors gave a short message and then some people shared thanksgivings and prayer requests and stuff.
Thursday most of our team went back to the house from Wednesday and did even more caulking and painting. We ran out of things to do around 3pm and went back to Pastor Fields' house and finished off the tiles in the bathroom. (We had to put grout in.) Meanwhile that day, Stephen and Matt did yard cleanup in Slidell. At one house they had to chop up all the leaves and then bag them. They decided they want to invent a lawn mower that has a built in incinerator so they don't have to bag at the same time. Haha.
Friday, we all went back to Pastor Fields' house. Mal and Jess attempted to put flooring into the barber shop but ran into difficulties. Charles specializes in symbolism. His idea was to make the barber shop floor out of different colors of tile. When people ask, it's an opportunity to talk about how the pastor cuts hair for different races and bring the gospel in as well. Anyway, the different colors didn't fit in with each other even though the flooring was the same brand. I was in the bathroom with Greg and Sarah because we had to sand down the mudding and re-mud the drywall. I eventually ran out of things to do because I can't reach the ceiling. I ended up stripping wires so Matt and Stephen and a guy from the Maryland team could put outlets in. We ate lunch and then quit because Friday is feed the homeless day.
Charles is a man of compassion and love with unwavering faith. All the missions teams had to memorize 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 and he reminded me someone who has love AND faith that can move mountains. He and his wife share the same passion and they are both trophies of grace. I never did get a chance to hear their whole testimony but basically they came from a pretty crazy background. Charles is full of surprises and stories! Anyway, one of Charles' passions is for the homeless people who live under a bridge in New Orleans. About 85% are Katrina victims. They have tents and air mattresses which I found out later were all from Charles and Judy. He is building this place called The Carpenter's House which is kind of a halfway house and community center. They are putting in showers and washer and dryer and are going to have programs to help people get more education and a job. They are also eventually looking into starting charter schools (ears perk up). It almost seems like a Whit's End kind of place but for the homeless. There will be a thrift store and everything. We met several other teams there and put together bags of bread, peanut butter, potted meat, fruit, etc. This is really Charles' and Judy's ministry and is not connected to the church. We all went down to the bridge and passed out bags of food. I absolutely loved it. I think it was my favorite part of the whole trip. Charles really has the hearts of all the people there. He found out there were some people needing a new tent and blankets and said he would be back in a few hours with it. I asked if I could go back with him and so Tim (from the other team) and I went with him to get the stuff while the other teams went back to church. Along the way I got to hear more about how God had provided for this ministry and to really see real, practical Christianity expressing itself in showing love to widows and orphans. I would love to come back to work with the Carpenter's House someday. Maybe someday! I asked Charles if he ever wished he was a million people. Sometimes I wish that because I go places and I would love to serve there and then I go other places and there are more needs and I wish I could be everywhere at once! I am kind of a freak for wanting to get everything done and wanting to rush but then Charles surprised me with his answer. He said that he knows there is a lot to be done but he remembers not to rush because it is God's time not his time. Charles actually reminds me a lot of Uncle Chuck. He specializes in "messing with people." An example of this would be his going into the guy's side with a megaphone and waking up Tim and Andy who had a habit of waking up late and yelling "Good mornin' darlin'" at them and occasionally dumping their cots over. He is also known to shake Byron's (a long term volunteer) trailer to knock him out of bed in the morning and then greet him with a happy "Good mornin' pumpkin!" when he stumbles in the door. Underneath all his joking and picking on people, he has such a burning heart for God and love for service and it comes out in everything he says and does. When we drove back to give some people tents and blankets, he ended up tossing blankets out to people and also gave someone his sweatshirt because he saw the man was cold. We also drove up on an entrance ramp and he honked his horn and had Tim jump out and throw a blanket down. Apparently everyone knows the sound of Charles' truck. He also goes back and visits with people and tries to meet their spiritual needs as well.
Saturday morning, today, we got up and cleaned the church. The other 2 teams had already left. The Maryland team left at 4:30 and the Habitat team left at 6:30. Tim was the only remaining one from the other team because he had driven his own car and was headed out to Oregon. We all went out to Waffle House for a good southern breakfast. =)
Well we've come full circle! I'm back at PBU and I should be in bed because I'm going to be 2hrs off with the time change and the Daylight savings thing. So in sum, our days were spent working and nights socializing. We brought cold weather with us because after the beautiful weekend, the temperature really dropped even to freezing. The houses were drafty and I was working in 4 or 5 layers most of the time. We played games a lot with the other team from Maryland and there was definitely a lot of laughing going on. There were lots of memorable quotes that make for good inside jokes. We all bonded really well and I hope that we still get a chance to hang out some back at PBU because the tendency is to get back with our other friends and not really keep building our friendships that we forged on the trip. I wish I could have hung out with them again tonight but oh well. We're planning a reunion at Stephen's in two weeks.
I'm fixin' to go to bed soon... So in the words of Stephen, "Love, peace, and chicken grease!"
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