A Katrina Story of Encouragement

May this story be an encouragement to the people of Houston and to those who are called to be there for them. It is taken from the The Social Cause Diet, a collection of inspiring personal accounts and essays on the subject of volunteering.

Social Cause Diet Stories - CrayfishFried Turkey and Boiled Crawfish

BY MATTHEW CALKINS

The shotgun style house stands about a city block from the Mississippi River in uptown New Orleans. The street wasn’t flooded during Hurricane Katrina but the wind blew old Mr. G’s roof to pieces—which is what can happen when you’re too poor to pay for termite treatment. The rain did the rest of the damage; by the time Mr. G and his sister, Miss B, got home, there wasn’t any way to save the walls. Like so many in the city, they needed to gut and chuck and start to rebuild.

It took two years to find help, because they sure didn’t have enough money to go it alone. Forget insurance, and they weren’t getting much from the government. But they had friends and they had church. And the time came when they wound up at the top of the list of the Rebuild program of the Episcopal diocese of Louisiana. Every week a different group of volunteers came by and took a turn. When it was our turn, the job was well underway. The walls had been stripped and rewired and reinsulated. New vinyl windows were set in the old frames. Although creaky and crooked, the old reprobate started looking pretty good with its new clothes on, in this case gypsum drywall and a first coat of tape and compound.

We were the ones who dressed it up. No big thing except that none of us had ever done anything like this work. But we came for a reason–to help–and the diocese had a couple of twenty-somethings who showed us what to do. Kiel was the teacher; he’d already worked for six months. Mike was the other one, just a few months in. Talk about positive role models. After this stint of volunteering, Kiel was off to seminary and Mike to the Peace Corps.

The work started slowly Monday—we had just arrived from home state Connecticut, and everyone was getting to know each other and settle in. We came from six different churches, about half from the city, half suburb. We were black, white, Latino, mixed up. It was a fine group. Pretty soon we were all goofing around and making too much noise and waking up late. Aside from a bit of adult yelling, adolescent roughhousing and one broken window (the other one was already broken when we got there!), we managed to get where we needed to go.

The great thing about these short term mission trips is that they are an immersion in an experience that can’t help but open your eyes to some things you need to see. The main thing is the people you meet. People whose lives are hard and who need our help. People whose faith in God teaches us what really counts. People who show us Christ in action. New Orleans is full of abandoned houses and people waiting for help. But it is also full of new life and old beautiful homes and a funky sort of jazz, jubilee and we’ll-get-through-anything sort of spirit. Times are hard, but they are not hopeless.

By Thursday we were old hands. The place was sheetrocked and taped and about done. It was time to feast. Mr. G had been out back all day, cooking. We gathered around a makeshift table, grabbed some paper plates and waited. The pastor carved up a golden fried turkey while Mr. G finished cooking another one. A huge mess of boiled crawfish smelled incredible. We got a lesson in how to eat them: take off their head and the end of the tail, strip off the shell and it’s that morsel of spicy, salty meat that pops into your mouth. We said grace. Mr. G was visibly moved when he thanked us for our work.

We dug in and ate. And it was good.

Rev. Matthew Calkins is the coauthor of SpeakEasy: Mary Lou’s Rules for Engaging Conversation. Your neighborhood churches may offer similar mission trips.

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