recently G was able to go on a short-term mission trip to Louisiana with our church. the essay that he wrote about it is today's guest Friday post.
My trip down to Louisiana is an experience I am unlikely to forget. Not only because I had to spend 25 hours in a bus with Justin, but because I learned many new things, and had new light shed on some things I thought I already knew.
I went down to Louisiana with a group of 36 people, some from my church and some from other churches. We went as volunteers for the Mennonite Disaster Service, to help victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We split into two crews, one went to New Orleans, and the other, of which I was a part, went to Diamond. The crew in New Orleans did mostly finishing work, while the Diamond crew did basics such as plumbing, drywall, electrical work, and siding.
The bus ride down was fairly uneventful, though I was taught a rather addictive dice game, which I promptly began to lose at. We stopped several times to eat on the way down, and the weather got nicer with each stop. After eating breakfast on Sunday, we played Frisbee in the parking lot of Arby's, basking in the warm sun. Later that day we went to the beach, walking in the sand and out along the pier. We also got our first taste of the effects of the hurricane, driving past estates stripped of their stately mansions. In Louisiana, we drove through the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, which had been underwater for months. It was still a mess, with debris in the streets, foundations where houses used to stand, and almost no houses being fixed up. Then we dropped of the gear for the New Orleans crew, and headed out to dinner. After making several laps to make sure there weren’t any better restaurants, we settled on a Chinese buffet that boasted everything from duck heads to sushi to at least five different kinds of shrimp. Then we dropped of the New Orleans crew and headed off to the last frontier: Diamond, Louisiana.
We arrived around six o’clock, and after orientation, were able to catch the last quarter of the Super Bowl. Then we went to bed, getting some rest in preparation for our first day of work. We woke up around six, packed our lunch, and ate breakfast. The first step outside sent everyone scurrying for cover and bug spray. We fought our way through the clouds of gnats to pile in the vans for a short ride out to the bayou, where a boat relayed us to our work site. We started a fire to take care of the bugs, and our next task was to insulate the underside of a house, 15 feet off the ground. After one of our crew kindly checked the depth of a puddle for us, we set up the scaffolding, and got to work. The rest of the day was uneventful, save for a lunchtime sighting of dolphins in the canal. These sightings became a daily occurrence, and would quickly put a stop to any work as all hands ran for their cameras.
After quitting for the day, we returned to base camp, showered, and relaxed until dinner. After dinner a few of us watched live footage from hurricane Katrina. It was amazing to see the damage that was done. Buildings moved, debris piled up against the boats on the water, and huge ships floated onto the highway. While we were working, we could see the ships on the Mississippi, and could walk out to see them on the river from our camp. It’s incredible to think that the water could toss these giant hulks around as if they were toys.
The next day, we began to get our rhythm. I was assigned to work with two people from the group I rode down with, and one from another group of volunteers. They were all good humored, and we were always laughing or joking, even when we messed up. Which we did a lot. Tools would mysteriously fall off the scaffolding, and joists would move the moment before I shot the nail gun. It took off a lot of pressure to know that even if you messed up, no one really cares, because you could just fix it and keep going. After a long day of work, we would relax by playing ping-pong, volleyball, cards, and watching the Three Stooges.
The other group that was there at the same time as us was composed of New Order Amish and Mennonites. I learned that they were normal people too. They joked and laughed and played cards and had iPods and cell phones. It opened my eyes to the fact that just because someone looks different or talks different, doesn’t meant that they are aliens. I probably seemed the same to them. But by the end of the week, we were all friends, and sorry to have to say goodbye.
We had worked steadily on the “basement” of the house, and had nearly completed it. Though the work wasn’t physically demanding, it was extremely tedious. Each piece had to be cut and recut, as there were many posts and pipes to fit around. Some pieces had to be screwed onto the joists, and nailers had to be placed around the perimeter of the house. And then there was things that could only be blamed on the workers. You would cut out for the post, but when you held the plywood up, you found that a bolt had suddenly appeared. Or you would cut out for an exhaust pipe only to find that it had moved to the other side of the piece while you were cutting. You would then try to frantically fix your mistake before the boss showed up, or just hope that he was too distracted to notice. But in spite of all this, we managed to finish nearly all of the job, with no injuries to speak of.
However, all this work would not have been possible without the long term volunteers. They organized the crews, acquired the tools and building materials, and kept the short-termers fed and happy. The majority of the long-termers were Canadian, and their accents added a bit of a challenge to our daily routine. As for the food, it was always excellent. The cooks did a wonderful job, and if there were any complaints, it was only the fainthearted saying it was too spicy.
But the food wasn’t the best part. The best part was the camaraderie, the fellowship. We were all working together, making a difference, and having a good time while doing it.