The following is a guest post from my wife, Jenny:
I was about to be a missionary.
As I was preparing to go to New Orleans for the summer I was scared out of my mind. I just sat in my room and cried because I was so uncertain of the changes that were coming in almost all areas of my life. But I knew I had to do this since I had such a strong urge to spend my summer living like a missionary.
The church I lived in was in a suburb of New Orleans that received the worst damage from Hurricane Katrina. I went 3 years after the hurricane and my expectations were that most things would have been cleaned up by then, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The downtown part of the city was wealthy enough to rebuild and fix immediately, but the area where I stayed 20 minutes outside the city was a different world entirely. About one third of the homes were in the middle of an extremely slow reconstructive process that was dependent on depleting one’s savings and waiting for a volunteer plumber or electrician to come to town on mission, which rarely happened. The remaining two thirds of the homes I saw were abandoned or leveled down to the slab. Most of these homes had messages spray painted on their sides regarding damages or how many dead were found inside. Many of the families choosing to rebuild did so out of a fierce loyalty to their city, and I had never seen anything like it. One family that I helped had only one livable room out of a two story house due to the damage from the hurricane and the massive oil spill that came with it. We did a lot of work there, but I planted trees in their yard because they needed trees to feel normal.
That summer absolutely changed my life. It was some of the best moments, mixed with the most frustrated, and angry times I have ever experienced. I was asked to do things as part of my internship that I loathed, but I got to spend the summer with 3 other interns whom I loved. There were days when I had to use every resource I could find to cook and serve food to team of 50 on twenty minutes notice. (if you have never used industrial sized cooking equipment before there is a very real chance you will burn the place down at any moment) There were days when all I did was pray, cry and fight with the other interns. But out of all the craziness I want to share a few of the amazing things that changed me.
A homeless man named Kevin radically altered the image I had of homeless people. I talked to him and got to know him. Just giving a homeless man five dollars doesn’t compare to actually getting to know someone and listening to their story. I talked with Kevin for about 3 hours during a community block party where some volunteers were, at best, giving out hot dogs and commenting “Jesus loves you” to anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact. Kevin and I talked about politics and the hurricane, and what it was like to be homeless. Sometime during our talk he got up and retrieved a whole cookie from the trash can. To be polite, I forced down the half he gave me. Eventually he told me didn’t like Christians, and I said, “You know I came here with them, right?” He said I was different because I actually talked with him and didn’t just feed him some line about Jesus and walk away.
One day while rebuilding the entire first floor of a lady’s house, I heard one of the volunteers wonder in frustration, “why are we even doing this if the next hurricane is just going to come and wipe out this whole city again?” I will never forget what my friend Charity said in response. “Jesus raised people from the dead, and they eventually got old and died again. Jesus fed thousands of people, and they were hungry again the next day.” It’s not about fixing things or people and feeling good about it, it’s about love.
I was challenged so much that summer. What started with me scared out of my mind ended with me starving for more opportunities to love on people. Living in a new place, under leadership that occasionally didn’t make sense, an internship where the requirements and objectives changed weekly, and even in a church where I often didn’t agree with the way they did things, or what was preached, I found so many great and passionate people. Thank you to Joey and Tracy, Cindy, Lauren, Charity and Kirsten, for showing me such a beautiful picture of what it looks like to love other people and invest in their lives.