July 21, 2011

Work Hard, Play Hard

I am writing from New Orleans where I am chaperoning a youth mission trip through the Beacon of Hope program founded by St. Paul’s, New Orleans. It is my fourth trip to the city to help rebuild after Katrina. Once again this incredible, tragic, brilliant city has captured the hearts of our young people.

There is no place on earth like New Orleans. Its people are more rooted in place than most anywhere else in America. That is yet one more reason this hellish storm that uprooted so many has left such painful scars.

On this trip we have heard the stories of Glenda, Pastor Kornen, and Sheila who each spent years away before returning home. All three are now back, Glenda and Sheila into their familiar neighborhoods and the pastor back to his hand-built church. But six years later their lives are not yet their own.

When our young people hear these stories it breaks their hearts open and out flows their love. They express it in their work. Because we came to the city, Sheila’s house has a fresh coat of paint, Glenda has a new back yard, and Pastor Kornen is two steps closer to being able to reopen New Creation Baptist Church.

In a million such small steps this city is coming back to life.

But those most affected by our time here will be ourselves.

In our nightly group reflections, the teenagers were asked to share their own “Katrina” experience. What in their life had been such a tragedy that it had uprooted their way of life? I was amazed at their candor and honesty in being willing to reveal themselves to one another. Then I was more amazed in their compassionate listening and support they extended to one another.

When we come to New Orleans we work hard and we play hard. After each day’s slog through the heat and humidity, our fabulous youth pastor Rebecca Kirkpatrick sets up a unique New Orleans field trip so we can see the fun side of the city.

Here’s what she lined up for us. We took a driving tour of the city including a stop at one of the historic grave yards. We went on a swamp tour into the bayou. We took in a great set of Dixieland Jazz at Preservation Hall. We went to Rock and Bowl, one of my favorite spots in town for a night of bowling and swing dancing. And then we end up with a dinner and a walk around the French Quarter, opening their eyes to the wild side of Bourbon Street. Eyes wide is right.

These young people will never be the same. Some say New Orleans will never be the same. But I say it is still the city it has always been, one of our nation’s greatest treasures.