Driving down Interstate 10 into the heart of New Orleans was overwhelming. The caravan of thirteen from our church had heard about the lasting devastation from Hurricane Katrina. But seeing it firsthand made several of us weep for a city still crying for help.
Two years after one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history, The Crescent City is still trying to recover. Don’t let the commercials fool you – New Orleans is not “back.” The façade of the city, the French Quarter, is buzzing with business. But the real New Orleans lies in ruins.
The team from our church worked for a week in the lower ninth ward and in Chalmette. By the reaction from others, we assumed that we would not be working in the safest of areas. When we arrived to our first job site, however, we were stunned.
We all stepped out of the passenger van into a world without hope. Our team had brimmed with excitement about aiding with the rebuilding effort on the way down. Now we looked around at a shattered community. What was clearly once a densely populated community now was deserted. Blocks of homes looked like a bombed-out third world country. The 16-foot wall of water that flooded this area had demolished everything.
We all thought we would be working along side several teams helping to get a community back in working order. We were the only ones there.
All of the homes still had the “X” mark left from the search teams that came in to look for bodies. Many had numbers beside the X, designating how many bodies were pulled from the house.
During a break from the 110-degree heat, we jumped into the van and rode around the city. We saw community after community that had not even begun to rebuild. Even the Wal-Mart was still closed. One person told us that the local grocery store just opened last month.
We asked the contractor about the church we were gutting. Did anyone want to come back? Were they even around? He told us the pastor and many members were living in trailers and meeting at the associational building. They desperately wanted to return. Yet they were broke, insurance claims still pending.
I realized that my own church did not have any more favor with God than the church we were assigned to gut. I could have just as easily been called to pastor in New Orleans as in Indiana. Tragedy knows no bounds. Flood waters covered the adult bookstores just as quickly as the churches. Every home suffered. Every person was beaten by the storm.
Before lunch on the first day, the entire team was exhausted and depressed. All we had accomplished was ripping up rotted plywood from floor joists in a church that would not be finished before the end of the year. We were just one team; many more would have to follow us to finish the task.
Then someone said it, “Guys, the Christian life isn’t a call to comfort. It may be a drop in the bucket for this city, but we’re here to accomplish a task. And it’s God’s task. So let’s do it for His glory.”
Then we got uncomfortable. We grabbed crowbars. We got to work. We finished the job order. And we started the next one.
Then God sent us the people. He answered our prayers for gospel-sharing opportunities. Some of the remnants came by to welcome us and ask if we would find out about working on their house. They had sent in paperwork to everyone and nobody had returned their phone calls. They were desperate for help.
Though it wasn’t much, we did what we could. But after meeting some of the locals, I realized why we were there. Rebuild homes and churches, yes. More importantly, though, God wanted us in New Orleans to help rebuild hearts. The Big Easy may take twenty more years to recover, but God can start a revival for the souls of the people today.
How can you help New Orleans? Contact Operation Noah Rebuild. They desperately need skilled workers, particularly plumbers and electricians.