Last week I had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix, Louisiana for a mission trip with my church. The church I work for is an Evangelical Covenant Church -- a small Swedish denomination with Lutheran similarities. (I don't know much about the church background, actually. For more information, you can check out the Wikipedia article or the Covenant Church website.) Anyway, we went with the Covenant mission organization called Covenant World Relief, and yes, you read right, we were in Phoenix, Louisiana.
Phoenix is a TINY town located 25 miles south of New Orleans, right next to the Mississippi River. As you can see from the map (the pink arrow), it's not located in a very 'safe' spot, particularly when hurricanes are near. CWR, along with a few other mission organizations, has committed to rebuilding this tiny town, which two and a half years later still carries evidence of the destruction Hurricane Katrina caused. Because of its location in between the Mississippi and the gulf/marsh, Phoenix is bordered with two 17 foot levys about 500 yards apart, and so when the wind/rain/floodwaters came, the levys essentially created a giant bowl filled with 17-20 feet of water. And because the water had nowhere else to go, it just sat there until they finally broke one of the levys to drain the water. In a community of only 300 people and 160 homes, only 25 houses were able to be salvaged after the hurricane. Slowly, houses are being rebuilt and the community is being restored.
My team of seven was working on a woman named Noella's home, putting in trim boards, laying tile, painting, and wiring light fixtures. (For your information, I am now an expert tile layer -- available for hire!) The community of Phoenix that existed before the hurricane is still very much alive, even though physically it is still very broken. While we were working, there was a continuous stream of family, friends, and neighbors poking their heads in to see how the house was progressing, asking questions, and taking notes on the building details. One of our favorites was a couple named Donald and Annabelle. Their home was one of the few that was able to be salvaged, and they are slowly rebuilding it themselves, while working and still living in a FEMA trailer on the other side of the Mississippi. But they come back to Phoenix as often as they can, to work on their house and catch up on the community. Though they have no connections to Noella, they expressed so much gratitude for us being down there and helping to rebuild Phoenix. They opened their home to us, fed us dinner (mmm, gumbo!), and insisted that from now on we were to consider them friends. Let me tell you, that is the body of Christ in action!
I have so many more stories I could tell you, and even more pictures I could show you. It's amazing to me the amount of destruction and devastation we saw in our travels -- it's been two and a half years since the hurricane! But thankfully, people are still volunteering to come down and work, and little by little, the area is coming back together.
The first week of March, I have another opportunity to do hurricane relief work. I will be traveling to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi (the red arrow) with a La Roche College spring break team. I'm sure I'll have more stories and pictures to share with you then, as well. Please pray for our team, as we finalize preparations.
Blessings to you all!
PS. If you want to check out the project we were working with, visit www.rebuildingphoenix.com