After 40,000 houses flooded and 1,400 people lost their lives, a coach bus filled with 32 eager passengers left a church from the small town of Melrose, Wisconsin on June 10, 2006. I was one of these passengers and this was the start of our 25-hour bus ride to New Orleans, where the tragic hurricane Katrina hit.
Although everyone took a week off their summers, this was not a vacation. Everyone paid to work for the good of others. Instantly I learned selflessness as I stepped onto that bus. The seats were full with smiling faces ready to help out a neighbor in need.
Not only did we give up time and money, but also our everyday comfort. Specifically, we gave up the comfort of air-conditioned houses for 120-degree weather on the worksite. Our team also gave up wearing summer clothes, in exchange for wearing pants, work boots, and gas masks in the scalding sun. We gave up sleeping in the comfort of our beds, to sleeping on the floor of a parsonage. We gave up washing our clothes in a washing machine, to hosing them down on the sidewalk. Our group even put our health at risk in order to gut people’s belongings out of their damaged houses. One house was condemned because of asbestos but we still went through the house. After seeing a boy’s tears because his favorite teddy bear was inside, we did not care how dangerous it was anymore. Even though our team sacrificed all comforts of home, everyone still felt comfortable. This is because giving up all comforts made everyone gain something new. By watching my group, I quickly realized this new comfort came from helping others.
As our mission team traveled down the ruined streets of New Orleans, we instantly learned compassion. Each house we went by had a painted shape on the front doors. If there was a “0”, no dead bodies were found. An “X” meant that a body was found in the house. I felt tears form as I looked at the destroyed homes where innocent people had lost their lives. Looking at the abandoned streets, I realized how fortunate I was to have a home of my own. During the week, we worked on houses. Every item inside a house was ruined. Clothes were wet and moldy, pictures were torn, and belongings were unidentifiable. At one of our worksites, the owner of the house sat on her rotten steps as our team wheeled out barrels of her ruined belongings. We felt in own hearts what she was feeling. We felt her hurt and heartache. It did not matter that we just met her; we gave out hearts and helped her as much as we could. We did change a life. We brought her an unexpected seed of hope in a discouraging valley of devastation.
Even though water was provided every day, we were withheld from proper shade. During breaks, we laid under vans to get out of the sun. If this trip were taken again, provisions would be made regarding shelter.
Traveling to New Orleans impacted my life forever. Through all the difficult circumstances we went though, it was all worth it. We gave people hope who thought there was none. Not only did our mission team change the lives of New Orleans citizens, but we became better people and our lives changed as well. Though the course of the week, our team grew closer and became like a family. More than anything else, traveling to New Orleans taught me that I could make a difference in someone’s life.
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