When our church announced a mission trip to New Orleans this spring to assist with restoration activities, I knew I had to go. I continued to be haunted by the memories of the devastation and heard that little progress had been made. I had given money, but wanted to do more, something personal. This was reinforced recently when I met a visitor to Albuquerque from New Orleans. As I told her I would be traveling to her city to help with restoration, she started to cry, even though her own home had not been damaged.
Rev. Catherine Robinson, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church that is sponsoring the trip, was ordained and started her ministry in New Orleans. She explains the importance of the trip for her, “I am not at all handy with a hammer and nails, so I have no imagination that I’m going to make much of a difference in anyone’s housing situation. But I feel that I want to make a pilgrimage there, to offer (if nothing else) a ministry of presence with the people, and in the city, that shaped me so profoundly when I was in my 20’s.”
Dave Campbell, who will be going with his teenage son, Damon, summed up his motivation saying, “I am motivated to go to NOLA because of what appears to be an extraordinary need for volunteers to do hard work. As with most Americans, I have been moved by the extraordinary stories of devastation and courage in New Orleans, and I want to see it for myself. Also, I want an opportunity to share this experience with others—especially my 16 year old son. I know it will be a life changing experience for both of us.”
There are 16 individuals in our intergenerational group who will be traveling to New Orleans March 25 and participating in Project RHINO (Restoring Hope In New Orleans). The four youth in our group are choosing to have this experience over the typical spring break vacation at the beach.
We will spend the week in demolition activities. Our packing list includes safety goggles, leather work gloves, a tool belt and respirator masks – a little daunting.
Rev. Tom Oler, recently retired from Metterie, a suburb of New Orleans, and now living in Estancia, shared his experiences of living through the aftermath of Katrina. His comment was, “From the stories in the media, I think many people are more interested in who is the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby – that they have forgotten about the gulf coast.” I am hopeful that information about our experiences will inspire others from Albuquerque and New Mexico to consider this type of experience.
Bert Dugan, a member of our group, sent the following quote to the rest of us today as we prepare to leave: “Serendipity is seeing or experiencing something important when you were looking for something else.” This will be good to remember during the coming week. Stay tuned.