By Kim Rowles
Please come back, we hope to see you soon.
It feels like yesterday when we were sitting in the New Orleans airport and I was questioning the youth about what they liked the best about our mission trip,; but it wasn't, it was six months ago. What does it mean to come back soon? In a place like New Orleans where there has been so much trauma, loss and hopelessness, soon isn't the same kind of relative word that we throw around when we sign our Christmas cards. "Merry Christmas, See you Soon!" They continue to need our help, not six months later, but yesterday.I have been reminded of New Orleans often of late. The New Orleans Saints had been undefeated until recently and the image of the Super Dome had been splattered across the sports stations and the news. I know that this is their professional sports stadium, but it is also the location where thousands of those who couldn't leave New Orleans weathered Hurricane Katrina. I cannot erase that image from my mind. I presented to Trinity Church in Easton on All Saint's day at their services and their Adult Forum about the Youth Mission Trip, what we did, why we did it, and what is going to happen now, and how the teenagers I know, especially the missioners are saints.
It takes a certain kind of faith, a hopefulness, a faithfulness to be a survivor. I recently heard an interview on NPR, "Voices in the Family" with Dr Dan Gotleib where he was talking about the resilience of individuals, and how some people "bounce forward" after a tragic or traumatic experience, while others get caught in the mire of the aftermath. What is happening in New Orleans and has been for the past 4 years? Some people are mired in the destruction and the devestation, and others are trying to encourage progress. Those who have lost hope and are now in despair. Those who are without an education, employment, or adequate housing find themselves giving into the devils of drugs, alcohol and violence. Those who have found and kept hope alive are working towards a better New Orleans, usually with the support of a strong faith community –– be it the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist or Roman Catholic churches. The faithful have come into New Orleans and are helping to resurrect New Orleans. Thanks be to God for this!
I got an email before Christmas from Mary Bess –– she was our crew chief from the Episcopal Community Service (a branch of Episcopal Relief and Development). She sent pictures of the house we worked on. They have finished the floors and the painting and after Christmas they plan on doing the window sills, the baseboards and the finishing touches. How far they have come since we left in August! It's amazing to look at the pictures. But how she signed the email, that she hopes to see us soon, reminded me that, while this house is almost done, there were four more on the block which hadn't been touched.
That in Gentilly there are so many stories like that of the family we worked for, and that with each year the number of people who go in faith to make a difference and rebuild New Orleans becomes fewer and fewer. She signed the email "hope to see you soon." It won't be soon enough. There is still so much to do.
[Kim Rowles is youth ministry coordinator for the Diocese of Bethlehem.]