During our first meeting, before we left for New Orleans, we received our team verse; John 13:34 which states, “ A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (NIV).” This verse that Lary gave us prepared our attitudes for the trip.
Wednesday, June 6 we departed from John Wayne Airport at 8:15am, and arrived in New Orleans at approximately 4:00pm, after an hour layover in Houston, TX. The weather was very warm and humid; it came along with a cloud cover. We pulled into the Celebration Church Airline campus, and unloaded our belongings. We then drove over to the Ninth Ward to tour the neighborhood and see first hand all the destruction that took place there. We found that approximately 85% of the neighborhood was gone; all of the un-repairable houses were completely demolished. It was very hard to look at all of the devastation around us and see first hand just how hard Hurricane Katrina struck. We also got to see the area where the levees stand and saw just how large they are. It was hard to believe the water got so high and so strong that they broke through them.
Afterwards we went to a local neighborhood seafood restaurant called Denies. It was very good food and some of us tried crawfish for the first time!
At our first nightly debrief meeting we received our next team verses; “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others.” Romans 12:5 (NIV) and “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10 (NIV). These were great verses to give our team for we saw these words from the Lord in our actions during the next few days!
Thursday, June 7 we started the morning singing worship music and hearing a message from the youth pastor Tony from Celebration Church. Pastor Tony spoke from the book of Matthew, teaching us of the foolish man who built his home on sand and how it is similar to a man who hears the words that Jesus has taught and does not put them into practice. He incorporated the fact that in New Orleans the houses were not built on sturdy foundations.
We then split into two groups, one half went to help out at the church summer day camp and the other group went with a long term volunteer from Mariners, Darren Hughes, over to St. Bernard Parish to clean a yard for an 83 year old widow who is currently living with her son in Texas. Her house had already been gutted out, but the yard had become over grown with grass & weeds in both the front and back yards. The back yard was the worst! We couldn’t even see over the weeds to see how far back the yard went; it was like a jungle. We found out later that the city now charges homeowners $80 a day for yards that are not cleaned up, so it was very important we get it cleaned out as much as possible that day.
We also got to speak with a few of the neighbors; one from across the street who was living in a FEMA trailer and who offered to help even though he was an elderly man. A couple of us prayed with him, since he was still waiting to get approval to get money to buy a new mobile home to replace the one that was destroyed in the hurricane. The neighbor on one side of the home came over as well, and asked what we were going to do there, so we told her we were going to clean out the yard. She was so happy, she said she had been praying to God everyday that someone would come and take care of the yard for her. We told her that God answered her prayers, and that He always provides. Later in the day the neighbor on the other side of the house came over to ask what we were doing, and we explained it was to clean his neighbor's yard. He was very happy to hear that, especially since he suggested to the group that gutted out her home, they clean the yard first. He also let us use the restroom in their FEMA trailer so we wouldn’t have to drive around to search for a restroom. When two of us actually went over to use it, we found that it was very small inside and only had one bedroom, even though they were a family of three. His wife told us her story of how they escaped from the flood waters and how she had to change boats 5 different times for various reasons before they got to a safe place to rest.
At the kid's Summer Camp, four girls from the group went and helped with the kids ranging from ages 3-8. The camp was highly understaffed and God really used the girls from our group to be at the camp who were very much needed. Quickly they found out that working with these kids was even more tiring and draining than working out in the yard!
That night we ate at Porky’s for dinner. We had a feast with everything ranging from Barbeque Ribs to banana pudding, and sweet potatoes fries.
Friday, June 8: Friday morning we set up breakfast at 6:00, which went very fast since our team mates who weren’t assigned to help were up helping! Friday morning we heard a message from Rick, a volunteer who, with his wife, left their lives in Texas to volunteer in New Orleans. Again our group was split in two, some of us went to help with Celebration summer day camp while the rest went to help with food distribution at the other Celebration campus in Arabi. It was fun playing with all the kids at the day camp; they have a lot of energy. There are a lot of kids who attend, and unfortunately not a lot of leaders to watch over them, so the staff was very grateful when we arrived. They even said they love when Mariners people come to help, because we are always so willing to help wherever needed.
The rest of the group went to distribute food in Arabi. The group quickly migrated to the spots that they knew they would serve the best. Darren Hughes was with us Friday as well. We had a table set up for first-timers. The table had forms offering help for people who needed counseling that Celebration Church offered, and a form they could fill out for yard help. We also had free bibles for anyone to pick up. After they went through that table, we had another table set up with grocery bags full of food that we gave to each household. We walked the people to their cars carrying the groceries while we talked with them. Some were open to talk about their lives and others were not, but we had an opportunity to pray with the people before they left with their food. It was amazing to see how much so many of the people appreciated the prayers. For many who came, the prayer time was their favorite part of the distribution. For some in our group, it was the first time praying for people and they really had an amazing experience in that area of growth.
That night we ate at the church and our team helped serve.
Saturday, June 9: That morning we helped clean and set up the Volunteer Center to get ready for 150 volunteers that were coming in after us. Afterwards, we went over to the New Orleans Mission in downtown New Orleans to help feed the homeless, talk with them, and whenever possible pray with them. Cindy was able to talk with a man who had come from Ohio to help with the recovery efforts just after the hurricane hit, he fell in love with the city and decided to stay. Sometime between then, and now, a woman he was living with went back to Ohio with all of his money, which put him out on the street. Cindy asked him if he knew about Jesus, and he said he grew up knowing the Lord, but hadn’t been in a good relationship with him lately. She told him that God is always waiting for us to come back to Him, just like the prodigal son. Cindy prayed for him to find a new home he can afford and that he surrender all of himself to the Lord & trust in Him to provide for his every need.
Another team member, Samantha, spoke to a woman who was there with her husband & daughter. The woman shared how they were living with her mother-n-law, who happened to practice Voo Doo. She had passed away recently, so their daughter urged them to have the house anointed with oil and prayed over. She sensed darkness in the home and didn’t like to stay there, but they had nowhere else to go. There were also a lot of cats that belonged to the mother-in-law that they needed to get rid of, they were destroying the home, and caused it to smell bad. So Samantha talked to them about Jesus, and prayed with them.
Afterwards at the Mission, they held a worship service. We sang praise songs with them, then came a time to share scripture, and words of encouragement at the microphone. At first a member of Celebration church shared, and then a couple of the men from the shelter shared. Several of us from the team shared as well, and it was amazing to hear that every scripture we shared seemed to weave together with the same message: hope. We really felt the Holy Spirit moving there that day and got to see His power working in the lives of the people at the mission.
That night we toured the French Quarter and ate at the Gumbo Shop. It had great Cajun & Creole dishes. We all tried a little of everything. Afterwards we took a walk to buy souvenirs and went to a place to have dessert. Darren met up with us, and we went over to Landry’s, a popular restaurant for a lot of the Mariners teams that have gone before us.
Cleaning a yard
Sunday, June 10: On our last day in New Orleans, we went to Celebration's Transcontinental campus for morning service. Pastor Dennis was there, and discovered we were there, so he thanked us for our help in front of the congregation, and mentioned what a key role Mariners has played with recovery from hurricane Katrina. His message was about Change and had a time of prayer for those who needed healing, or for those who have family members in need of healing. He also gave an opportunity for those that didn’t know Christ as their Savior, to ask him into their hearts. We found out later that morning at breakfast that one of our team members, Rose, had asked Christ into her heart during the service! Praise the Lord!! After breakfast we headed to New Orleans Airport, and headed back to California at 2:56pm, with our arrival in John Wayne Airport at 4:00pm.
God did some amazing things through us during that week and even in our own lives. We were truly blessed by the friendliness of the people in New Orleans; they were so grateful & appreciative to have us there. Some of us are even talking about going back again sometime, as there is so much work left to do. This was an awesome opportunity to serve so many that are in need of help, and to love our neighbor as God commands us to.
It was such an honor & privilege to serve Him along side our brothers and sisters in Christ. We really bonded as a team; it was like being with family.
A blessing to serve Him,
Cindy Sanchez &
June 07 Katrina Team Members