"You have to be our hands & feet."
Covington, LA resident &
a member of Trinity Church
Friday 2 June 2006
If all you want to see are the pictures, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Early Sunday Morning on May 28th, the eight members of KatrinaGrace Team VI, dubbed "The Compassion Team," boarded a plane and flew to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. After reviewing some of the damage near the Marina, the Team continued their journey across Lake Pontchartrain to Covington, LA. There they intended to follow up on just some of the over 4000 folks that the over 3000 volunteers working through Trinity Church and Compassion Ministries had reached out to with practical assistance since Katrina. The KatrinaGrace Team VI consisted of
The Group rented four cars and divided into twos to visit as many households as they could thru Friday, June the 2nd.
We were able to reach out to somewhere between 35 and 40 households during our trip. Every morning the Team rose at 6 AM, breakfasted at 6:30 AM with several other Work Teams who had also slept overnight in the church buildings, heard devotions at 7 AM, and then met to pray and strategize the day. Most evenings we regathered for supper at 6:30 PM. Individuals were there this particular week from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, and North Carolina.
It was a rich, humbling, sobering, and wonderful experience.
In New Orleans East, you can drive for 10 to 15 minutes on Interstate 10 and see nothing but devastated neighborhood after devastated neighborhood on your left and right. One mall there was completely submerged and it's still not open. We spent a lot of time in Slidell where entire communities were flooded. Many folks are still in FEMA trailers, which can be found lined up beside each other on street after street. One resident shared with us that calling and visiting insurance companies, the Red Cross, FEMA, etc. and working through all the red tape is a full-time job on its own. And if you didn't lose most or all of your house, you might have lost your job. Or maybe you lost it all and a few friends and relatives besides. The people there are shell-shocked and in need of lots of attention, care, practical help, prayer and counsel. Many have compared the area to a war zone. One former war zone television correspondant said that it was worse than a war zone. The death toll is currently over 1800 with over 700 still missing. The total economic impact in Mississippi and Louisiana is estimated to exceed $150 billion. The storm left 500,000 homeless and destroyed over 150,000 homes in the New Orleans area alone. As Kathy Boren, also quoted above, commented last week, "The city died and there's no one to bury it."
One of the main things the Compassion Team did was to listen. Some don't wish to burden their neighbors with their hardships because their neighbors have enough hardships of their own. And many locals are so caught up in resolving their own challenging situations that they simply don't have the time, energy, or even the inner strength to reach out to those around them. People expressed gratitude that they could tell their story to someone. One thanked one of our Team members because she said that it was the first time anyone had listened to her. Another said that it was the first time she had cried since she lost her house. As we had opportunity, we shared God's love and the gospel of Jesus Christ with the folks we visited. Team members also brought to the area a number of $25 WalMart Gift Cards to give out as they saw the need during their visits.
And there were so many stories.
Before we came down we received a list from Trinity/Compassion of some of the folks that needed the most follow-up. One was an elderly lady that supposedly lived in a bus. The information was dated and we found it hard to believe that someone could thrive in a hot bus for this period of time. There was a phone number contact for the lady named Donna and we called and left a message. No one called back. Finally, one day I suggested to my team partner, Douglas, that we just try to find her. We drove to the provided address and - sure enough - there was an old Bluebird bus that looked undrivable. I still did not believe that anyone was in that bus. We walked up to the house beside it and let the resident know that we were looking for Donna.
"She's in the bus."
Sure enough, she was.
She greeted us, directed us to pull up a couple of chairs outside, and said that she was so glad that she could tell someone her story. The room that she and her sister had built on the back of her sister's house where Donna was going to spend the rest of her life was destroyed by Katrina. Donna, who had suffered 2 heart attacks and was blind in one eye, eventually ended up in this bus. The good news was that the bus had been turned into something of a converted camper with a sink, a bed, most critically air conditioning, and - even - a 20 inch TV with, unbelievably, cable! Donna had been a gospel singer and indicated that she still had faith. We gave her four $25 WalMart Gift Cards before we left and that evening we picked her up to attend Trinity's weekly 5:30 PM Community Dinners.
Jessie Royster and Becky Rocco comprised one of the four Compassion SubTeams and were given an address to visit where an earlier Work Team had done some roof repair. When they pulled up to the address at the end of a dead end street, Jessie - who's African-American - noticed that the man had a Confederate Flag flying. She and Becky looked at each other but Jessie felt that God was telling her, "This is not your doing; this is not Trinity's doing; this is my doing. Trust me. I've got your back." They proceeded.
The large and muscular home owner greeted them wearing a Confederate Flag belt buckle, a ZZ Top beard, a pony tail, and a t-shirt that said, "Wife Beater."
And he was a perfect gentleman to them.
Jessie, who's originally from Mississippi, and he talked about the South and about Conservative Talk Radio, to which they both listened. Becky shared later that she wondered if Jessie, who usually asked if she could hug whomever they were visiting as they were leaving, would ask to hug this man. Becky thought Jessie wouldn't because he was a guy and because of the whole Confederate flag thing.
Becky was right.
Instead, the man asked Jessie if he could hug her.
And there were many other stories.
In addition to followup work, we were able to serve in a number of different capacities while in Covington. Allen Kiang worked one day with one of the Work Teams from Colorado gutting out a home. When one of Compassion's key staffers fell ill, Sandra Clabough and Mary Lou Gradisek worked for most of the week coordinating the Work Teams and contacting area residents about their Work Requests. We were also able to provide Compassion staffers with a training sesson on Suicide Prevention and Compassion Director Mark Lewis indicated that he was going to include the literature we provided to all future Work Team Leaders.
The crew returned to Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Saturday, June the 3rd and began their re-integration back into their pre-Katrina trip lives. Honestly, we all continue to process all that we saw and experienced.
Some time ago someone asked me if we were making much of a difference. I responded that the need was so great that our efforts were just a drop in the bucket. Later, my wife Beth properly corrected me with this comment: "For the folks we're helping, we're making a world of difference."
Of course, there's still a lot to be done. And KatrinaGrace plans to do more as God gives opportunity. We've already met with Habitat for Humanity about the possibility of jointly executing a rebuilding initiative. But, for now, there's still a large need to clean up, gutting houses, etc.
If you'd like to participate in this relief effort you can:
- Educate yourself on Katrina and Katrina relief efforts. The ever evolving Wikipedia article on Katrina is a great place to start. The many news links listed under "Katrina News" on the KatrinaGrace website is a good source of information. And Douglas Brinkley's expansive The Great Deluge is a helpful first out of the gate overview.
- The Team V Leader, Patty Westland, and her husband are donating a trailer to Trinity and driving it down in just a couple of weeks. They are accepting donations of much needed materials that can be used by the Compassion/Trinity Work Teams that they plan to take down with them or buy there. Click here for more information if you'd like to help.
- If you'd like to donate money that can be used to send more folks to Louisiana to volunteer on Work or Compassion Teams, just send a check to
Grace Community Church
8200 Old Columbia Rd
Fulton, MD 20759
and in the note space just put "for KatrinaGrace"
if you go to Grace, you can put the check so noted in the offering basket when it comes around. Additional money enables us to send more folks on more trips to help and so far we've not only filled every announced trip but have actually had to turn some folks away.
Pictures from the Trip
Lower 9th Ward Pics
Slidell, LA Pics
New Orleans Marina Area Pics
Louisiana People and Visitors
If these links don't work, try
Lower 9th Ward Pics
Slidell, LA Pics
New Orleans Marina Area Pics
Louisiana People and Visitors