Youth Ministry Team Volunteers in New Orleans

In August Redeemer's Sr. High student ministry sent a volunteer team of high school students and ministry leaders to New Orleans to help in the rebuilding process the city. Within hours of our arrival it was obvious how much hurricane Katrina had forever altered the make up of New Orleans.

Nearly a year after the storm hit it was hard to imagine what the city might look like or how it would "feel". People from Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New Orleans gave us insight into the state of the city and these are some of the highlights. In the greater New Orleans area, of the more than 100,000 homes that were affected by the flooding and tidal surge, ~96% are still empty. Many of the tens of thousands of trailers originally slated to go to home owners returning to rebuild, were reassigned to go to other parts of the country for storage because the number of people returning was so low and there was simply no place to put them. In the neighborhoods we worked approximately one in 50 houses might have someone actually working to restore a property. Many of the homes looked to be in a state beyond repair. Entire parts of the city were basically empty. And a population that was near 500,000 residents before Katrina is ~200,000 to 250,000 now.

But in the middle of what could seem overwhelming and incredibly bleak there is much to be hopeful about. Our team was the 13th work team in 2006 that RPC of New Orleans hosted. They have connected dozens of home owners with hundreds of volunteers effectively living out the Gospel in word and deed in this critical period in New Orleans' history. In the week our team was there we were able to clear 5 homes of everything inside and demo all the dry wall, plaster, etc. right down to the wood studs. At each of the properties we visited, the first step was to clear all the furniture and possessions left behind (almost everything had been submerged under water for weeks and left that way for 12 months). After this very messy and somewhat dreaded task everyone began knocking down walls and hauling out debris. For teenagers there probably isn't a more popular objective than to hand them a sledge hammer and tell them to knock down a wall.

The whole team came away extremely gratified and humbled just to have the privilege to offer a helping hand. One home owner who made a special trip to see us before we left, broke down in tears amazed that people she didn't know from a thousand miles away would come and clean up her home. Being part of a community is so important in coping with loss on this level and it was truly a privilege for us to be able to offer a sense of greater community to the people we worked with. We were also reminded of all the material things we have and care so much about and how easily they can be lost. One student said - "Seeing the loss of these people makes me so much more thankful for everything I have."

Our team greatly appreciates everything Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New Orleans is doing to help the people of their city and how instrumental they were in making our trip a reality. Throughout the week their staff provided directions to work sites, tools, preparation for doing various jobs, orientation to the city and acted as liaison for us with Desire Street Ministry which hosted all 18 of us in their gymnasium.

All the residents that we spoke with said the same thing: It will be 15 to 20 years before New Orleans is back to "normal" if ever. The rebuilding will continue for years as will the need for volunteers. The one thing our team will continue to do long after this trip, is encourage others to go and help. There will never be a more obvious need for people to respond with compassion through action than this. If you or someone you know would like to coordinate a team, or be part of an existing team going to New Orleans (coordinated by RPC of New Orleans) you can email: redeemerrelief@gmail.com