I wanted to get this up before I forget the details…
So at 1:30 am Wednesday morning, I met up with Pastor Shawn and drove to Luling, Lousiana, a town nearby New Orleans. With some breaks inbetween, we arrived at our destination at about 8 am. I got total of 2 hours of sleep during the drive. But I was still somewhat together and by the time we got there, we were already running late so we got back on to 90, onto I-310, and then onto I-10 towards into New Orleans. Then off I-610, we took the exit for St. Bernard Blvd. As soon as we made the left turn into the road, the damage and the impact of Katrina were obvious. And severe. Roads were more or less empty and the area was rather barren. People were scarce.
When we found the house that we were to work on, the house had already been half way through gutting process. We picked up where the team left off, and continued to hack through the walls. Dry wall crumbled as we hammered it with hammers, pickets, and crowbars and shovels. The task itself wasn’t too fancy nor was it very hard. What made it difficult was the condition.
Since mold was everywhere from three weeks of being submerged in dirty water, mask was a definite must. And with debris and moldy dust flying everywhere, goggles were also necessary. Now, when you have all these safety equipment on, along with long sleeves and long pants to protect ourselves from the fiberglass insulation, we were sweating. Every second! I sweated so much that sometimes, I felt like drowning in my own sweat! Not to mention that the breathing made the goggles fog up! Esther wanted to call these “foggles” for keep foggin up!!
Needless to say, repeated hacking, lifitng and moving eventually ate away at our conditions. First two or three hours wasn’t so bad. But after hacking and moving and carrying in the heat with all the gears and clothing, we began to slow down. We would take frequent (and much needed) water breaks. Lunch time was rather a painful time. We would be so hungry that there was no energy left to work. My arms felt like falling off! Barely managing to eat, some nasty things had to be done as well. One of the worst was taking out the rusted washer. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that there was still water in it! With laundry inside!! It was nasty to the captial N! And then we had to de-nail all the house! There must’ve been at least several hundred nails if not more! In fact, the girls think that there were at least 1000+ nails!
That was my first day. When we returned to the camp site, our bodies were itching beyond bareable from the fiberglass. We took shower twice and still itched. Then came the chore duties for our team as PDA hosted several other teams from different churches and different areas. Some of us cooked, took out trash from the site, cleaned the porta-potties, cleaned the shower rooms, did the dishes. By the time all was done, it was well past 9 pm. At this point, I was about to pass out, being sleep deprived and tired.
Still, the team gathered together to share QT and prayer requests. The four sisters (Sung Eun, Joy, Joanna, and Esther) were holding up very well (though they were tired as well). I had just missed Nick and Evelyn who had returned on Tuesday night. After praying, I passed out at 10 pm! If you know me, I normally go to sleep between 1 and 2 am!
Fresh up and running at 5 am the next day, we ate breakfast, packed our own lunch, and headed out to our next house. It was another run down house but full of things inside. Only the windows were opened. The house next to it (they were both off Crescent Ave) had grass and weeds growing several inches tall! So while the girls were taking the rusted and trashed things out, P. Shawn and I began to mow the lawn. The fact that these areas were submerged underwater for 3 weeks must have done something to the grass… ’cause the dirt and the grass were all messed up! I then took up the challenge to enter this second house to find out that the windows were all locked up!! This means that no one had opened this place up for past year! The stench even with the mask on, was way too horrible, and beyond description! I frantically used the crowbar to try to crack the windows open… but many were jammed very severely! After P. Shawn and I managed to open some windows, we began clearning out the previous house.
Then something more personal happened. A Caucasian gentleman of age around 50 or so stopped by. He was the owner’s son. He told us the story behind the house, and the street. It turned out that this street was full of widows. So it was full of grandmas living alone. His mother had lived in it where he himself grew up since the age of 7 or so when the parents purchased the house. The house next door that we just cracked the windows open also had a grandma who swam to the house next door to it but found herself trapped inside the attic (with the flooded water) and when help came three days later, it was too late for her… Such story was just way too common.
I had noticed this early to mid ’90’s model purple Lincoln Continental that kept passing us by. Since we didn’t know what to expect, I just kept keeping my eye out. The next day (Friday), I found out. We were eating lunch when he came by again. He started to go through the trash that we had piled up. P. Shawn suggested that we go say ‘hi’ so I took a bottle of water with me to give him and went to speak to him. His name was Kenny, an African-American gentleman of age in his 40’s or so. As I handed him a bottle of water and suggesting perhaps to use a pair of work gloves we have around to go through the pile, Kenny told me his own story as well. He was from the east New Orleans and he had lost his home and his two cars to Katrina. He threw out his back before Katrina and since the surgery, he couldn’t really work. But he was good at repairing things, so he started to go around the neighborhoods and started to pick through the trash for things he could repair and restore and sell. He did say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. How true indeed.
Later that day, the grandma of the house we worked on dropped by with her son. She was a very gentle looking lady. She also told us of her story on the house. When we suggested that she used a mask if she wanted to go inside, she said in a very definite voice that she didn’t want to go inside, that she wanted to remember the house the way it was. She wanted to preserve her fond memories of this house. I can’t blame her either. But when Katrina came and her son stopped by to talk her into leaving, she told us the one lesson she learned: that we can’t take everything with us.
With three real people and their stories to impact me, the work went on. After loads of work on the house, the walls and the ceiling eventually crumbled down. As tough as it was, I couldn’t help but think of these houses as our old sinful selves: the houses that needed to be torn down so that God could rebuild us fresh and new and beautiful, losing the spiritual mold and those darn cockroaches! Despite the tough environment and hot weather, and despite my arms wanting to fall off my body, and my legs not wanting to move anymore, remembering this analogy gave me the urge to keep on going. I just didn’t want to leave this moldy house standing. The moldy walls and fiber glass had to be removed. So we hacked away at it until our time was up.
We didn’t get to finish that house as our time there ran out. But I was glad that we hadn’t given up and stopped. I was glad to have been given the opportunity to go and help our brethrens nearby at the city of New Orleans. Rita could’ve easily hit us, but Houston was spared. Why? I believe that it was so that we could help other cities in need. I hope to be able to do whatever I can to continue to help. Our turn for help may be just around the corner after all.
Pics will be coming as soon as Esther makes them available… my eyes and body were all swollen and puffed up. I’m still itching from fiber glass. But all is well and I thank God for such humbling time. If you can, set apart a time and go and help our neighbors of New Orleans (and others).