Written by Heidi Koehl. Media by Kat Kelley.
Over Spring break, a group of 10 students and 2 faculty members traveled to New Orleans to work and build relationships with folks in need. I was one of those students, and the week was simply amazing. We left New Orleans changed, renewed, and looking forward to what God has in store for those we met.
We were able to help two families that were victims of Hurricane Katrina by doing house repairs, drywall, scrapping, taping, and much more. It has been 7 years since the storm hit. Our group was split in two and went to two sites each day. In the Lower 9th Ward, where half of our team worked, the mass destruction that was done by the storm was obvious. We were told by neighbors that houses were just demolished and completely taken away. Depending on the family, some were able to overcome and rebuild, in time. Many parts have been rebuilt in other parts of the state, but the majority of the area we were in most contact with was still destroyed. The families we were helping said that it takes time to get back on their feet in order to even think about building again. The finances were very tight in each situation we heard about.
Not only did we do manual labor, but we had the opportunities to speak with homeowners, neighbors, the homeless, and community members, which was amazing. Many of us were able to build friendships with these folks and learn a great deal from their life and their experiences with the storm. We heard many stories of people staying on their roofs for days on end, hoping to survive. Others told us where they escaped to, such as other cities, and contacted family to take them in. Many families that we met told us how different their lives are now; how their family dynamics have changed, and how incredibly different their neighborhood is. We also heard about close friends and family members that passed away from the storm. Their sense of loneliness did not cover their attitude of positivity and love. Through this incredible struggle, many were joyful and praised God for saving them. We were able to pray with broken families throughout the week. We were also able to share God’s word with a family.
One evening, we had the opportunity to serve food to the homeless in the city. The experience with the homeless was life changing. Many of us realized that the lives we live are very selfish, individualistic, and material focused. We know that these things are not of importance compared to God, people, love, and relationships. The people we spoke with were real. The things they struggle with are real. What we learned is that God is bigger than each struggle they face, and bigger than each struggle we face as well. One homeless man prayed with our group and with a few other homeless people before we left. As we all thought in our minds that we went to help and serve the homeless, in all actuality, they ended up changing us, stretching us and making us think and reflect on how we can further the kingdom of God. From this evening, our team can attest to feeling the Spirit of God, that His Holy Spirit is real and living.
As we returned from our trip, we were not the same; we are more open minded, filled, and open to the Holy Spirit which works in us. As a group, we were able to grow closer to one another as we worked for others, and gave our time to serve those who need it most. We would not have spent our spring break any other way. We are beyond grateful for the time spent in New Orleans; it is a magnificent place that is improving through heartache and struggle. We know God is present and working there, and until next time, we pray and rely that God will sustain the people of New Orleans and all those struggling to find their place and joy in life.