The trip took place this summer. I got on the plane to New Orleans to go rebuild some houses. When we landed at the airport I took a taxi to the place I was staying. I gazed out the window, seeing tall grasses in a yard of broken down and abandoned houses. On the door, a red “X” marked the door. The quadrants of the “X” contained the essential information: the date the house was searched, the group that searched the house, what animals were found, and how many perished in the house. This house on the corner, with grass as high as the roof, with just the door clear to the sidewalk read: 9/27/05, FEMA, 0 animals, 7 people. I could not imagine seven people a family, a father, a mother, children, and grandparents having once called this “home”. The red light we were waiting at seemed to last for an eternity, my eyes fixated on the door. My imagination took over, with a play by play of what happened: the water rising, the family reacting “I can’t believe what is happening,” but not being able to get out of the house on time. “Why did they stay?” I asked myself. “Why wouldn’t they leave when there was time?” The light turned green. We drove off. We went back to the comfortable house where we were staying. The image of the house I had just left haunted me as I slept. The next day we went to work.
That house we worked on belonged to a newly wedded couple. They had a young son. It was not too far from the coast. Hurricanes, at least, offer warning when they’re coming so, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall, that family was safe at the home of a friend in Ohio. After six weeks, they were given permission to go back to their house and retrieve what they could. They returned to the house. It was still standing, but the flood damage was extensive. The husband was a steel worker and took six months off from his paying job to remodel their own home. The problem was that the dry wall he used was from China. This new cheap, imported dry wall, had sulfur and asbestos mixed in with the plaster. Months have passed and the house is now complete, and they moved back in, but only five days passed and their young son became deathly ill. A hazmat team came to the house and found the dry wall was contaminated. The family moved into a shed in the back yard that was quickly converted into a studio apartment. That is when we (Brethren Disaster Ministry Work Team) stepped in and started working on the home to tear out all the new drywall and replace it. This family didn’t just lose their home once, but twice. We changed that, we made a difference in permanently making their home safe to live. We came in and worked nine hours a day to change the life of someone who lived through the tragic storm; but it was through this hard work that I was able to recognize the faith of the family and the faith of the people of New Orleans. That changed my life and the way I look at and use what I have. It still makes me think of what is important in my life and if I really need it, or if I just want it.
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