I'm not sure what to tell you about my trip. It was a great trip with an amazingly close-knit team, with physical and emotional hard work, and with great food.
We drove into the lower 9th ward, one of the hardest-hit areas. The bulk of the houses that were here two years ago are simply gone.
We drove by countless bare foundations and lonely front porches. The few houses that are left are usually either boarded up, gutted, or abandoned.
See the chandelier through the upstairs door? There is no water (we saw fresh water barrels in front of one house), and I'm really not sure about electricity. While all of this is heart-wrenching and has a haunting way of reminding me of the ruins of Pompei, there is hope. In some areas, a community group has planted sunflowers and put up handwritten signs saying "These sunflowers are removing lead from the soil."
We saw the levees - the old and the new.
I'm not sure what the deal is with the chainlink fence there...
After our drive through the 9th ward, I thought I had seen it all. I neatly packaged the destruction into a small parcel in my mind and went about my business.
This lasted until the next day, when we drove out to St Bernard. We drove for miles and miles and miles, and all around us, we saw similar destruction. It went on and on and on. Empty lots, gutted houses, FEMA trailers in front yards, boarded up strip malls, caved in houses, for sale signs (many!), trailer parks, empty parking lots, bricks from raised foundations, closed stores, debris piles in front yards, broken windows, peeling paint, missing doors.
We did yard work that day, because as it turns out, residents are now being fined $80-100 per day if their yards aren't cleaned up. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? I get that the yards need to be cleaned up - I know it's important. But fining people who can't even live in their houses and who are getting NO HELP from the government seems wrong on so many levels! It's like punching an elderly widow who's already fallen down and can't get up.
The fun part of that day was the lawnmowing I got to do. I actually managed to start the mower with the crank cord - I felt so good about myself! The picture does not do the yard justice - those weeds were so tall that we could barely find each other once we'd started working. Some sort of a very thorny berry vine had grown over everything, including the branches of a tree and a washing machine, exercise bike, and boat that had been dumped into the yard at some point (could be people or storm). And it was hot. And humid. Thank God there was a breeze - we could never have done all the work without it (and the many gallons of water and gatorade we drank).
On Friday, we spent the morning handing out groceries and praying for people. It was amazing to me that so many people still need this kind of help two years after The Storm. We had barely set up our tables and unloaded our groceries, when the parking lot started crawling with people.
We gave out everything we'd brought (I'm guesstimating about 250 bags of groceries), and then drove back to the church, where we packed more groceries for the next groups to give out.
My surprise at how many people still needed help with something as basic as groceries was trumped the next day, when our team went to the New Orleans Mission to help serve lunch to homeless men (men and women are in separate misisons). There was an astounding number of people who'd come to New Orleans after The Storm to help rebuild, and now found themselves depending on the help of others instead. Some of the men have jobs that simply do not pay enough to allow the men to support themselves, forcing them to live on the streets or in their cars and to depend on the kindness of strangers like Blanche DuBois. There was a lot of pain in that room, a lot of blank stares, quite a bit of liquor breath, but also a lot of faith and dependency on God. When much of your "life" is stripped away, some things become clearer, I think.
We wrapped up our trip with an afternoon/evening spent in the French Quarter, eating at The Gumbo Shop (delish!), taking in the sights, and purchasing an insane amount of souveniers.
Sunday morning, we joined Celebration Church (who had housed us and given us our ministry assignments) for their worship service, went to a late breakfast/brunch at Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro (best. French. Toast. Evah!), stopped at Cafe du Monde one last time, and made our way to the airport.
You'll find the rest of my pictures here.