New Orleans-Day 5
As the trip winds down, we had a day full of expanding our community. First, we had a welcome surprise to find out that we weren't alone in working on our site. We had the help of four college guys from Connecticut who were traveling around the country, seeing America and doing their part to make their communities better.
So, we welcomed their youthful energy and in return, shared our lunches with them as they told us stories of travel and excitement. As for our progress, we finished the back wall and Ruth and I got a particularly tricky support beam across the ceiling and back wall all hammered into place. We wound down our efforts, happy to pass on the baton to the four New Englanders as they would continue their work with Tim the next few days.
We said goodbye to Tim and made mental notes on how to learn a model of discipleship from such a gentle, generous teacher. Just a few words on the guy...he and his wife have spent the last dozen years or so far from their family's historical home (as he reminded me, he's technically homeless) working where God needed him-first in Bangladesh and later in the areas affected by the tsunami in Kashmir before coming to New Orleans to rebuild after Katrina. Where he is going next, he's not for sure, but he hopes to lull himself into retirement. We can only wish to learn from his patience, faithfulness and willingness to always answer, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."
In the evening, we accepted an invitation to sit in on the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association. Holy Cross is an area on the south side of the 9th Ward, just by the natural levee blocking the Mississippi River. There we heard the stories of despair and hope from community members as they lamented (with understandable anger) the recent rape of a young neighborhood girl in an abandoned house that was never repaired or razed after Katrina. We also heard stories of organizations giving away trees to residents so that their yards could be a part of God's creative powers. We listened as the community planned their annual Christmas party. All these signs of life are probably not the images you might conjure up when thinking about the Lower 9th Ward, but there is resurrection in our world and sometimes it takes the form of a block party. Other times, it's planting trees and other times it's crying tears of rage against violence in this world. But no matter it's form, life has a way of bringing people together to grow.
After the meeting, we took a walking tour-yes, a walking tour after dark in the Lower 9th Ward-to see some of the homes involved in Global Green (a precursor to the Brad Pitt Make-It-Right Community), just a few blocks away. We met neighbors and learned from Daryll Malik-Hawkins, our tour guide and field organizer for the Sierra Club, about efforts to build ecologically sustainable communities and working to rebuild the Holy Cross Neighborhood. But all that walking and listening had our tummies grumbling, so we crossed the bridge, back towards our home church to eat dinner at Elizabeth's, a neighborhood institution that does everything magical with southern food. Daryll joined us for dinner and conversation and we learned more about his work and the work of the neighborhood, not only in response to Katrina, but also in light of the BP oil spill. Needless to say, Daryll was plenty busy with responding to the spill and had more information than we could even absorb on the subject.
It was an action-packed day, but one full of excitement, learning and spiritual growth. You can't ask for much more than that.