“Sorry, Chris, we can’t possibly help all of the Katrina victims in the Bayou LaBatre community. Continue with your assigned tasks.”
In disbelief, I walked away wondering if there was anything I could do. After all, weren’t we here in Alabama to rebuild homes that were demolished during Hurricane Katrina? As far down the road as I could see, there were trailer-sized homes torn apart by the hurricane. I remembered seeing this on TV at home, but now that I was here, it was very overwhelming and real.
I went for a walk to absorb what I had experienced in the last two days since my arrival. I didn’t walk far before I saw a man sitting on the broken front steps of his tiny home. Behind him, a spray-painted, red X on the door indicated that his residence was marked for demolition within the month. Although his head was down, I could hear him crying and muttering to himself. I felt compelled to move closer to make sure that this man, ignored by all who passed him, was going to be okay. I overheard him saying, “There’s no point in living. They said that tomorrow I won’t have my home.” Tomorrow? I thought that everyone had a month! Unsure of how he would react, I took a risk and said, “Hi, I was walking along and noticed you. I’m part of the group rebuilding the house two doors down.” He didn’t look up. “Good for them, but I woke up this morning to a red X and a note on my door. I’ll have no place to go after tomorrow.” Tears streamed down his face. With no words to help his situation, all I could do was say, “I’m sorry.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about the man’s situation. Immediately, I went to my supervisor, asking her if there was any way our work crew could rebuild his home. Abruptly, she said it couldn’t be done. Not ready to give up, I had one option left. I went to the mission director who had control over the area and made decisions concerning which houses were to be rebuilt. After I stated that there were at least ten people with no work to do at one of the already assigned houses, she was willing to think about helping this man. Without a definite answer, I worried that the man’s house would be demolished within the next twenty-four hours. Silently wondering if the director wasn’t willing to contact the building foreman, would I feel that I did all I could?
The next morning, the girls in my bunk were awakened to the news of another house assignment. Half asleep, the eight of us followed the supervisor to our new work site. I woke up quickly when I realized I was standing on the man’s front lawn! As our crew unloaded the equipment from the truck, the man came outside of his trailer-sized home with his head still bowed as if carrying a great burden. My supervisor had me tell the man that we would be rebuilding his home. Although stunned, he looked around and quickly understood. He hugged me and expressed his gratitude several times.
It was the best feeling! Looking back, I realized that I never knew the man’s name, but it didn’t really matter after all. I had made a difference. Through compassion and determination, I took action. More importantly, I discovered that a shy person, such as myself, could take a risk and be a leader.
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