Yesterday, around 10:00 am, a bus filled with 40 high school students and 10 leaders rolled into the parking lot of Harvest Bible Chapel Crystal Lake. Exhausted, drained, and unshowered-- yet filled, changed, and renewed.
As we approach the 6-year mark of Hurricane Katrina's visit to the Gulf of Mexico, many many houses remain abandoned and untouched in the city of New Orleans. The church that houses our team is located in the Upper 9th Ward, though it's the Lower that historically remains the poorest neighborhood. Tragically, as many know by now, the Lower 9th was also the hardest hit area in New Orleans, largely due to the well-known collapse of the levee.
The people are re-establishing their identity, creating a new normal as they seek to restore the lives they once knew. Though voodoo and other sources of evil are rampant in the area, there is an undeniable reliance on the Lord, the only giver of true peace, hope, and comfort. He is working, and he is bringing good to those who love him, just as he promised. (Romans 8:28)
Some attempt to use humor and laughter to cope-- We saw a t-shirt in one of the redundant French Quarter gift shops that read: "I drove my chevy to the levee but the levee was broke." Admittedly funny to me, although I couldn't avoid the heaviness of its reality.
For many of us, this was not our first trip to The Big Easy... and despite the hardships these people have faced, the laid back way of life prevails.
This year, our team worked on 5 total sites, including the church that feeds and shelters us. The other sites included:
- A return to 'Bobby' DeSoto Jackson's house, where a group helped this 78-year-old man maintain his immense garden and completed some needed yardwork.
- An almost completion of painting Mr. Charles's house a sunshine yellow. (The rain stopped us from finishing, unfortunately.)
- Completion of hanging drywall for one family's home.
- A demolition project, an amazing God story to be shared in another post.
I could write for hours about the way God worked in the students' lives this week-- not to mention how he moved in the leaders' as well. And in so many ways, how God use those students to impact the leaders and many, many other adults throughout the week. On the last night, 'testimony night,' one of the students insisted without hesitation that teenagers have a strong and special ability to impact adults, and that they should not be afraid to share what they've learned with those who are older than them.
After only 3 student testimonies, my friend (and co-leader) Jordan and I looked at each other and exchanged a knowing expression of, "I feel like crap. What have I done this week?" Of course, we're aware that God used us this week as well, in different ways and in ways that we probably don't realize. It is, after all, for His glory and not ours.
Before this week, I was on the fence about continuing with high school ministry next year. 'My girls' are seniors and will be moving on to the next phase of their lives after this summer... so it would be the perfect time for a break. But this week I was reminded that I need these kids- and not just the senior girls- just as much as they need me. Because God is working in all of us through each other. Because God has grown in me the ability to love every single one of them, no matter how many times I have to tell them to get off their butts and get busy. :)
Despite my frustration with some of them this week, I have a newfound passion for teaching them to be different, for correcting so they can learn to grow and be different, for loving them even when they piss me off. Community is an essential part of life... close community like the one we experienced this week is crucial to learning about yourself and about how to love and serve better.
I am forever thankful for the opportunity to serve, to be used, to learn, to grow... to love those kids. To love New Orleans.
For the students, it's about New Orleans. For God, it's about love and it's about his people.
For me, it's about those kids, and it's about stepping into the needs that God calls me to fill.
Without a doubt, I'm doing student ministry next year. And without a doubt, I will go where God sends me... for Him, and for them.