If someone had asked me a year ago, “Where will you find utter devastation alongside genuine joy?” I’d have tapped out and asked for a new riddle. And I know for a fact that the last place that would’ve crossed my mind would’ve been Southern Mississippi. The place that I was about to embark on a weeklong missions trip to rebuild the chaos wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But it was there in the broken homes and cracked foundation that I found joy amidst destruction. Moreover, I learned two important things during those seven days. One heartbreaking and the other restorative.
First, I learned that shared interest in human suffering is transient. At best it oscillates, but all too often, people and their plights are forgotten with the next big headline. I was seven when Katrina hit, but I remember the heaviness that clung around a nation mourning lost lives and livelihoods. And nearly a decade later I was standing in the rubble that remained. The world had moved on, but those affected were living in conditions that had stagnated ten years prior. The injustice of it clung to me like sweat to skin, refusing to be shaken. And then… a single sentence from an 80-year-old woman changed everything. We were working on her house under the blazing Mississippi sun from 7AM to 4PM. Her roof had been in a state of collapse since Katrina, and the walls of her house bowed with dangerous intent.
Next Step Ministriy’s Staff and Culver Students Repairing a Partially Collapsed Roof
But during our breaks, I saw very quickly that she possessed a peace that was wholly intact, and an aura of unshakeable strength radiated from her frail frame. Her positivity and kindness felt anomalous when I looked at her surroundings. It didn’t make sense to me. And when I finally caved and asked her her secret, she replied simply, “God gives His greatest trials to His strongest soldiers, and I guess He saw a warrior in me.”
We worked on her house for two days and then it was on to the next site, but her words stuck with me. And when we were fixing up a community center, my eyes were not on the splintered wood or peeling paint but on the people. The people that lived in dilapidated mobile homes yet raised their children with fortitude and joy. It was wholly humbling to witness. I had thought that the trip had been about me helping them, but instead, they were helping me see that true joy is not a matter of circumstance but of resilience and hope.
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