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VOLUME 77 - NO. 4                                                                                                       APRIL  2006

WORD FROM THE PASTOR: Report from New Orleans

            A team from St. Paul’s traveled to New Orleans March 12 to help the city recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.  Karla Helgans, David Johnson, Hilmer Johnson, Mark Mather, Larry Rath and myself made the journey to assist in the work of Lutheran Disaster Response.

            The team stayed at a “base camp” set up by LDR in Metairie, Louisiana.  Bunking on foldout cots in a large tent (and shivering in their sleeping bags on the frequently cold nights), the team lived a rather primitive camping life.  Chemical toilets and three-minute showers added to the experience of “roughing it”.  However, the food was outstanding–as one might expect in south Louisiana!

            The group was not there for the amenities, however–the team came to work. The daily assignment was to “gut” houses.  The team removed sheetrock, insulation, and flooring–reducing the house to wooden studs and an outer shell.  After gutting the house, the group sprayed the wood and walls with bleach to kill any remaining mold. (These houses sat for three weeks in eight feet of water).  The removal of the ruined interior allows the house to be rebuilt. 

            In our week of work, we helped gut three homes.  One, on Belfast St, belonged to a school principal whose school has not yet reopened.  In the Lakeview section, the group worked on a home belonging to a New Orleans police officer and his wife, and another home belonging to a blind lady.  An interesting image from the policeman’s home was the growth chart from the ten-year-old son’s room.  Originally designed to track the lad’s increasing height, it had become a bizarre flood gauge with a high-water mark at 55 inches.

            Along with gutting the inside of the properties, the group also took down ruined sheds and cleaned backyards choked with debris.  (Upon seeing her backyard cleaned immaculately, one homeowner reportedly wept).

            Besides working with hammers, brooms and wheelbarrows, I also preached two of the morning devotions to the gathered camp community (which included groups from Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, and Canada, as well as another Long Island contingent and a group from Columbia University).

            Worshiping at Zion Lutheran Church in the Garden District on Sunday morning, I was delighted to meet Pastor Arthur Yunker.  He received a call to be pastor at St. Paul’s/Amityville about ten years ago; by turning it down, he gave me the chance to come here!  Zion’s old and charming building received minimal damage from Hurricane Katrina–but Pastor Yunker’s home was flooded and had to be gutted.  May God richly bless his ministry and his life!

            While our trip was dominated by positive themes of rebuilding and renewal, a sobering moment came when the group toured the city’s Lower Ninth Ward.  In this most devastated of the city’s neighborhoods, hardly a single house remained on its cinderblock foundation.  The wooden homes of New Orleans’ poorest residents had been thrown into all kinds of bizarre configurations by floodwaters from a nearby levee.  Three homes were smashed together into one, like some strange house-accordion.  In a weird “Wizard of Oz” type scene, a  house lay on top of an automobile.  Like some bizarre retelling of “The Three Little Pigs”, the occasional brick home stood intact in the midst of the ravaged remains of wooden houses.  In one shattered house there was an unbelievably poignant scene: a teddy bear wearing a life vest.  The vast majority of these homes are far beyond reclamation.  We pray God’s blessing and guidance for those to whom this neighborhood was once home.

            Much of New Orleans remains alive and vital.  It is by no means a ghost town; at rush hour, the highways jam up with an intensity rivaling the Long Island Expressway.  Most of the things tourists remember have been restored–a tour of the French Quarter turns up scarcely any evidence of Katrina’s effects.  (I was delighted to discover that even the chihuahua specialty store has reopened!)  There is an intense labor shortage–Popeye’s Chicken is paying $9 an hour, and Wendy’s is offering a $125-a-week bonus for workers.  Occasionally this makes for longer waits at eating establishments.  But New Orleans is still a delightful place to visit!

            On their last night together, the St. Paul’s group enjoyed Cajun food and music at Mulate’s, then journeyed down to the Quarter, where we found ourselves at a St. Patrick’s Day parade.  Later as we relaxed at an outdoor table, we were startled to see a mounted police officer ride onto the patio where we were sitting.  Suddenly the officer lost control of his horse; it backed into the St. Paul’s table, sending team members scattering and throwing one of them against the wall.  Inspecting a scrape on his arm, the team member said: “I spend a week tearing down three houses and I don’t get a scratch–and on my last night here I get injured by a horse!”

            New Orleans remains a unique place!  And the members of the St. Paul’s team were happy to be part of rebuilding her.  Much remains to be done–the recovery process will take years–and God may well give St. Paul’s further opportunities to help our brothers and sisters on the Gulf.  We can rejoice that our congregation brought God’s love to people whose lives have been seriously devastated.  God used St. Paul’s to bring “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).  God loves you and so do I!                                                                        

(I’d like to thank all the team members, who gave of their time, resources, and labor;  those who contributed funds to help defray the cost of the trip; and those who prayed for the safety and success of the team.  Thanks also go to everyone who donated safety equipment, including Andy Powell and the Powell Funeral Home; Larry Rath and Verizon; Mark Mather; the Johnson family; and Helen Kiernan and Southshore Health Care.  –Pastor Anglin)

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