Monday, February 12, 2007

Team XI Returns

We're back.

I apologize for not posting earlier.

Internet problems prevented a Friday post.

Saturday travel and nap and semi-consciousness prevented a Saturday post. Water heater replacement took the place of blogging Sunday. And here it is Monday:
Here's a pic of a house several members of Team XI worked on. The roof and wrap are all theirs.
They're next project is to come to my house and build a garage.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Why Go to New Orleans Now?

Sarah Warrenfeltz traveled to New Orleans with the KatrinaGrace Team that left for the area on 14 January 2007. Afterwards she penned this essay:

I was deep in the woods of New York when Hurricane Katrina hit. My Christian high school had taken its students on a week long retreat at Lake Champion, a Young Life camp. There, we had neither cell phone service nor even any radio reception. When I reentered civilization Friday afternoon, I was astounded at the disaster before me. Reports of eleven feet of flooding in homes, twenty foot tidal waves, people trapped in their homes as the water rose to their deaths; all this and more were prevalent on every news station.

I do not believe the magnitude of this disaster hit me until Hurricane Rita moved in to kick New Orleans while it was down. I cried out in anger to God, asking Him how he could continue to destroy these people’s homes and lives. What does God do in a time of crisis? I wondered.

My father’s actions and Pastor Michael Sprague’s words answered my questions—God mobilizes His body of believers. Seven weeks after the storm, my dad flew to Trinity Church with a team from our church, Grace Community. He called my mom and me at least once a day with stories that further shattered our broken hearts. When he returned home after a week of gutting homes and praying with homeowners, it was with an attitude of needing to return to serve more as soon as possible.

My father’s heart inspired me to not just feel sorry for these people, but also to want to act to help them. This trip, January 14-20, 2007 was the first chance my school schedule would allow me to come down. My father returned with me.

I was bombarded with a tidal wave of unexpected criticism. Students from my college in Westminster, Maryland told me that the current news coverage of New Orleans was propaganda. There is no real disaster left, they said. Your passion for these people is delayed. They changed their arguments to fit my worldview—God helps those who help themselves, right?

Wrong. That saying is actually a Puritan proverb; it is not quoted anywhere in the Bible. I vehemently argued with them, and this only fueled my fire to help.

As we descended into New Orleans and started driving through, my confidence wavered. This truly is a gorgeous city. But I had this eerie feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was not quite right. My suspicions were confirmed—the city is wearing a beautiful mask to try to hide the ugly disaster still hurting underneath it. In a neighborhood visible from the highway, I saw a magnificent home. It was in the classic Southern plantation style with huge Romanesque columns supporting the roof. However, as I looked closer, in its shadow was a dilapidated home with a F.E.M.A. trailer sitting in the front yard.

We drove through the French quarter next. I ignored the obvious symbols of immorality—signs for gentlemen’s clubs, etc. and I admired the classic European architecture. I looked down to write in my notebook for a moment, and when I looked up again, we were in the upper ninth ward. The contrast between this and the French quarter was like night and day. The homes looked as if someone had picked them up and run them through a shredder. FEMA “x”-es, marking the dates inspected and number of dead found within the structure, were plain to the eye on what was left of a front wall. Lucky houses had a zero for a bottom number; I saw one that said six. This is when I broke down and began to cry.

On our first day of visiting homeowners affected by Katrina, I met a beautifully selfless and loving eighty-four year old woman. She owned her home herself, paid off her mortgage years before, and as she could not afford insurance, she was not required to have any. She had applied to the Louisiana Road Home federal grant program. Because she did not pay for homeowner’s insurance, they were going to grant her thirty percent less money to recover from the disaster. Had she been rich enough to afford insurance, she would have been granted more money. But because she was poor, she was reimbursed even less. Later that night I learned that in two months, this very grant program had given to eighteen out of about seventy thousand applicants and used about six hundred thousand dollars out of eight and a half billion.

This put me over the edge. Being a passionate writer, I started organizing an essay in my head and thinking of the nastiest polite language I could use to tell off our government. Then I thought, what can one lone person do? Our government is so huge, they will not even notice me, let alone listen to me. That is when God popped the mission into my head—give your time and effort. If the government will not help these people as they need, why can you not? Louisiana residents did rate religious organizations as the most helpful after the storm. I am, in fact, a Christian.

Even after all the debris is cleared away and the people have returned to their homes, there is a much more lasting damage affecting them. That damage is the scars the storm left on their hearts, and that is what I am after. I want God to use me, to be His hands and His feet reaching out to His children to show them His unfailing love. And that is why I am here.

- links were added

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Thursday, Day Four: Please pass the Ben Gay

Team XI had another good day at the site. I think everyone's a bit weary. Our bodies aren't accustomed to construction work. Even David, who's a hands-on construction guy is feeling the accumulated wear of framing and roofing, something he normally doesn't do.

Tried to upload some pix, to no avail. Will work out that bug. Several Team XI members have some good shots.

Soon we go eat. Refuel. Then sleep.

More soon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wednesday, Day 3

Pre-breakfast thoughts:
Hope to get some pix up today. All depends on timing and resource availability.
OK, and it depends on rounding up the cameras at the right time and place.
The organizational continuum on which we tred resembles a pile of angel hair pasta: very good, but not something you would want to untangle or trace.

We don't do the Circle meeting this morning. It's straight to the web site. But we do need to remove the stuff from our bedrooms to make way for a service tonight. The space does not return to bedroom status till 9p.m.

On our way to the site, we pick up shims for the door hangers and knee pads for the floor installers. And coffee. The last coffee of the day. Once we're at the worksite, it's Gatorade or water. Which is intereting. I had no idea I could make it through three-quarters of a day without coffee. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Day 2

Team XI (or X, there is some question about the status of our Roman numeral) is on the job in full strength. Add April Dixon to the Team XI roster. April's last minute decision to join the team gives her something like stowaway standing in the group.

The daily routine, from this observer's perspective is this:
Wake up. Rummage through luggage for second-cleanest clothing ensemble (cleanest is reserved for restaurants and any other post-shower activities.
Once dressed, repair to Trinity main building for breakfast, or only coffee for those who can't eat till after 9 a.m. (There are continentals among us. Who knew?)
Next, we trundle into two vehicles. One's a Vibe. The other one's a real automobile with real-life space and marvelous accoutrements. All the cool people ride in the real vehicle. I believe it is a Ford Behemoth.
Following a half-hour ride, about 70 people mass in what's called "The Circle". Here, marching orders are dolled out. Safety is stressed. Coffee is sipped. Tales told.
Then we scuttle off to our worksites. Ours is in Lancombe.
Members of our team have painted, put up roof trusses, laid flooring, hung doors -- for a few highlights.
Much red beans and rice has been been consumed.
Our site contains nine houses, all in various states of completion, with a new foundation being poured even as others are being sided, floored, painted.....
The place is crawling with interesting people.
Met two women who stopped in N.O. for a week and stayed for nine or more months. One, Noel, slept in a church set up like ours for three months before buying a trailer.
George is our worksite guru. Most concise description of George: Somebody put workclothes on Patience and Flexibility.
Most the workers we've seen are Habitat volunteers and some (Noel for instance) get a small stipend.
Oh, yeah, temp reached 65 today. Gorgeous day.
Under the circumstances, conditions at Trinity are very good.
Ralph, a Trinity member, read from the Bible this morning at breakfast. His short talk set us up for the day.
The terms "Patience and Flexiblity" take on a mantra quality here. For good reason. Each week a new set of volunteers shows up eager to slap up housing. They soon find there is a good bit of standing around waiting and/or wondering what will happen next. That can be trying. Having to wait to do something because tools or materials or tutoring is not immediately at hand stands as the single most painful privation amongst us, especially we newbies whose urge to accomplish much exceeds the established pace.

What lessons there are here in New Orleans and environs.
What a perfect place to learn them ... especially if you like red beans and rice.
Thank you Jesus.
(And God bless you Beth Shields.)
More to come.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Long Story Part 1

Woke Beth Shields this morning to see if she could help me get a flight to New Orleans. Beth, sorry; I owe you one.
Short version of the long story that led to this rude awakening:
Friday (Feb 2): Came home to find the house without running water.
Cursory check of breakers, etc. revealed ... nothing.
So we have no water and we're supposed leave for New Orleans in about 36 hours.
Saturday: Hoping the problem is in the house, we spend all day checking stuff inside. Replace pressure regulator, certain that is the problem. Nope. We replace fuses in power swich, really believing this would fix it. Nope. Rick stops by, checks wires for juice. Juice good. That leaves a problem outside. It could be one of two problems: the pump is broken or there's no water in the well, which is the greater of two catastrophes.
We decide Bonnie will go to New Orleans without me. Tears are shed.
Sunday: I take Bon to BWI at 6. By noon my friend Hutch and I have the pump out of the well. Judging by the length of pipe attached to it, we reckon it was 3 miles down in Guy Measure. Which translates to something like 150 feet in reality (had to be there).
After much scrambling, a few wrong moves, we sink the pump, turn on the switch -- WATER!
(I realize this is probably not something one gets terribly excited about in New Orleans.)
So immediately, I tighten down the filter collar inside the house and snap off the inbound pipe in two places. We race to Home Depot, get the repair material, race back (careful to obey most speed limit postings), do the repair, fire up the pump -- flush the toilets, yay!
Then we go outside to admire our work and notice water spraying up from the well bunker. Rats.
Shut off water. Readjust connector. Turn water back on. No spray. Yay.
Wake up this morning. Check connector. Good. Call Beth (Again, sorry).

Here's the sitch as it stands at this moment:
Team XI is on its way to the worksite as of this writing. I am packing.
Thanks Rick. Thanks Hutch. Thanks Beth. Thanks Jesus.
And Team XI, thanks for all the prayers.

Also, our heart goes out to Dolores and Marv Garlick who couldn't make the trip due to the death of a close friend. Paul Mooty also couldn't make the trip due to work-related issues.

By my count, Team XI is nine workers strong with one on the way.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Please pray for the KatrinaGrace Team XII (Habitat 3) Leaving tomorrow - Sunday 4 February 2007

Hi everyone,

I'd like to request special prayer for Team XII. We've sent down around 100 people on eleven teams to LA and one to Biloxi, MS since the Gulf storms - Katrina and Rita - in the Fall of 2005. We've never had one person cancel their trip after purchasing their tickets.

On Thursday, one of our men pulled out because he had a work emergency. Then yesterday another pulled out for the same reason. This morning we were called by a couple who were planning to leave with the team tomorrow. They had already printed out their boarding passes but said they would not be able to go because of the death of very close family friend.

Then within the last hour, another couple called to let us know that the husband would need to drop out because their 100 year old farm house lost all electricity because of a mechanical failure and he needs to stay to either repair it or hire a contractor.

So we've lost four men on this trip to build a house with Habitat and we now have ten folks leaving tomorrow on this team. (We were able to pick up one person at the last minute).

I don't know if this is coincidence or what, but we are asking that folks would bathe this group in prayer for their trip. Perhaps this Team will have opportunities for especially effective spiritual ministry while they're on the ground in Louisiana. Please pray for

  • their safety,
  • effectiveness,
  • trip logistics, etc.
  • Please pray that all nine would be able to leave tomorrow for the Gulf,
  • and would not be called back home prematurely.


Stephen Shields