my katrina story
Can one person make a difference?
Twenty years ago, Glen Schrieber visited Central City New Orleans and saw escalating violence, extreme poverty, broken families, poor education and drugs. He felt for the young people growing up in this environment, so he started showing up with footballs and baseballs – playing games with kids at two of the local housing developments. He came back day after day, giving his time, talents and love.
His passion became a ministry – Urban Impact – and today, some of the very kids who were lifted up by Glen and others have picked up the mantle and are serving as role models for a whole new generation.
Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to join Urban Impact – if only for one week – as part of a Katrina Relief mission trip. We worked construction by day. Played with kids in the evening.
While I went down to help rebuild New Orleans, I think New Orleans ended up rebuilding me.
Since Katrina, Urban Impact and their partner organizations Castle Rock Church and Touch Global have hosted over 12,000 volunteers…teams who have invested more than 600,000 hours in helping some of the hardest hit areas of New Orleans.
I am sure many bloggers have been to NOLA since Katrina, and others could provide a more detailed recap of life in the Big Easy these days… but here’s what left an impression on me.
Downtown, the French Quarter and the Garden District were in full swing, loud, lively and showing few ill effects from the 2005 hurricane that devastated this city. St Bernard’s Parish, which I remember seeing on TV a lot back then, bustled with commercial activity.
It’s a much different story in the Ninth Ward. In the “Lower Ninth” you can pass entire blocks – once filled with houses – that are now nothing but knee-high grass. Shattered homes and shattered lives simply bulldozed away… as if they never existed.
We spent most of our time in the “Upper Ninth” where 4 out of 5 homes look much like they did in the months immediately following the storm. Wrecked, boarded up, with spray paint across the front entrance indicated the dates the home was searched. How many were found alive. How many dead. Many adorned the initials TFW: Toxic Flood Waters. All of the schools were still abandoned.
And yet what struck me most about my time in the Upper Ninth was the sense of hope embedded in the people who have come back… and those who are still trying to rebuild. The second day on our job site, a gentleman came up and asked if he could help us paint. His name was Duplexes.
Duplexes lost his home, his job, his life. He currently lived with his brother. The first time I spoke with him, he shared with me how he felt for those who were less fortunate than he. He felt he had so much compared to many in the world. And when I got home that night, I realized he did. He had peace. Satisfaction. And a giving heart. In so many ways, he was richer than I.
I had the pleasure of hearing from Larry, Mat, English, Tyrone, Dingo and many others. They all had stories – especially when it came to Katrina and her aftermath. Being separated from families. Watching a life’s work gradually fade under a rising tide. Being herded like cattle. Shipped to far away states.
There was nothing left for them in New Orleans. But they returned. Pioneers all of them. To rebuild.
The work done by Urban Impact is making a difference in so many ways. We were told from the get go that our work in NOLA was not to rebuild homes, but to help build up lives. The project was secondary to the people. We were encouraged to spend time walking in the neighborhoods where we worked, talk to people, listen to people. And yes, we played games with a lot of kids.
We also prayed and shared God’s love.
But mostly, the amazing people of New Orleans shared God’s love with me. Duplexes reminded me that God’s grace is enough. Dingo – a courageous young man – told me how you need to be the same man both in and out of church. Tyrone reminded me how valuable it is to invest in other people.
Together, they reminded me how one man can make a difference.
Maybe that person is me. Or you.