A Powerful Trip
Tim Rose – France From November 25th to December 5th, 2006, a group of 11 volunteers from the Reformed Church in France and a group of American volunteers from the United Church of Christ in Chapel Hill, North Carolina traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to assist in the disaster recovery program, helping residents who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives – 14 months after Hurricane Katrina.
From November 25th to December 5th, 2006, a group of 11 volunteers from the Reformed Church in France and a group of American volunteers from the United Church of Christ in Chapel Hill, North Carolina traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to assist in the disaster recovery program, helping residents who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives – 14 months after Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after the hurricane, the UCC set up a disaster response team responsible for coordinating the work to be done and hosting work groups on a weekly basis. Since the disaster, over 100 groups have come from all over America to aid in the clean up and reconstruction. The French group was very proud to be the first international group to make the trip and to be hosted by the UCC.
Housed at the suburban UCC parish of Little Farms the group spent its days working primarily to clean out damaged homes. Many people who fled during the hurricane are now living far from the city and find themselves without enough resources to even start to repair their homes. The city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana seem to be overwhelmed by the size of the recovery work to be done, and federal government aid is bogged down in bureaucracy. The group witnessed entire neighborhoods still basically untouched. Houses missing roofs, interiors covered with mold and mildew, and housing rats, roaches, spiders and even frogs, and hundreds of people living in government given trailers on their front lawn.
For the group, French and American alike, entering into a once flooded house was an emotional experience. Working to clean out a jumble of waterlogged and rotting furniture, cookware, clothing, toys, books and personal items accumulated over a lifetime, was extremely difficult, both physically and emotionally, as the lives of people and families passed through their hands and into the garbage heap. After removing everything, work continued with the tearing out of rotten walls, ceilings, carpeting and cabinetry. By the end of our demolition, the empty homes which were taken down to stud walls became signs of hope for families who can now begin the process of rebuilding. The idea of trying to look ahead to a promising future was felt by everyone.
The members of the parish of Little Farms welcomed the group with open arms. The parish organized two Sunday services in both French and English and its members introduced the French and North Carolinians to Cajun cooking via a church potluck…mmm mmm good! The disaster recovery coordinators also did an amazing job of organizing the team’s stay and work.
It was clear, as each one, American and French, said their “au revoirs,” that the trip was indeed a powerful one. Barriers and stereotypes were knocked down and the gospel message of Christ was evident as people came together to work, pray and play.
As our group followed this one/overlapped by a day, we found sitting on the table a poem that had been written and translated. I think they may have used it in Sunday worship at Little Farms.
Written by a Disaster Work Group Participant from Reformed Church of France
United Church of Christ, New Orleans, LA
The house is empty
Empty of sense
Empty of life
Empty of hope
Empty of wanting
The house is alone
Silent like a tomb
It is like a shroud
Covering the water damage
The house is prayer
Images and icons crying hopelessly
God was present yesterday
Will be there tomorrow
The house is silent
Where cockroaches and rats live together
Here lives absence
Absence of dreams and people
With our hands we empty
out the emptiness
And fill it up with a new hope
With our bodies we fill
the solitude so that life finds a sense.
Our work becomes prayer,
Warmness and presence
To forget the fear of yesterday
We go face to face against hopelessness.
With wheelbarrows and brooms
Shovels, trowels and hammers
In the dust of drywall
We bend our backs in effort
On the ground, rotten things
In the air, the stink
On the walls, mold
On our faces, sweat
Finally freed up
Let light in with laughter of joy and friendship
Death you won’t have your victory
You can take down your flag
To God only the Glory
To God only goes the last word.
For additional photos see the French Reformed Church website:
Tim Rose is a missionary with the Reformed Church of France. He works in the church’s program for refugees, primarily from Africa, which helps them in the resettlement process. Also, he works with projects related to the Middle East, specifically Palestine and Lebanon