Friday, January 25, 2008 | New Orleans
I was eager to talk with Mrs. Float. I wanted to hear her story and give her the chance to tell it again. Telling your story of disaster often has a healing effect on your soul. She came to help us tear out her rotted flooring after lunch. That doesn’t always happen. In fact, it rarely happens. ”You just tell me what to do,” she said. Nancy immediately took it upon herself to minister to her by giving her a job—pulling nails from studs that would eventually hold up her new sheetrock. We clowned around and kidded each other and made a point to include her. She started laughing. Pretty soon we were a family.
I invited her to sit down with us for our coffee break and asked her to tell us what it’s been like for her.
“My aunt told me to pack up my three sets of clothes and leave. But I wanted to stay a little while longer. Just to see what was gonna happen. She called me back about 10:00 that night (August 28) and said, ‘Honey, you need to leave town now. This ain’t no joke this time. This is the real thing. It ain’t turnin’ this time.’ So I did and I’m so thankful. She saved my life. If I hadn’t a left when I did, I would have died.”
First, she went to Baton Rouge, but there were no vacancies anywhere. The city was busting at the seams. So, she went up the highway further and stayed at an Extended Stay hotel for a while. She and all her relatives ended up scattered all over a three-state area—Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The only way to communicate was by cell phone. But all the cell towers were down in New Orleans so no one could get through. It was total chaos, panic, fear, frantic emotions and emotional shock. I think it’s difficult to fully appreciate it.
I remember what it was like when our house was completely destroyed by a tornado when I was in 8th grade. My mom and us kids crawled out from the basement where we had been hiding. There was nothing but open sky above us. The storm had cut a swath through our town about a ¼-mile wide. But just a half a block down from us most of the houses were still standing and fully functioning. So, we had a place to go for shelter and food while we picked up and gathered whatever belongings we found intact over the next several days.
Mrs. Float perked up a bit when I told her my tornado story. Someone understood. Someone else had lived through a life-changing disaster and now was helping her. We connected. Her eyes said “thank you.” Then we laughed some more and she continued her story.
When she returned home she could not get her front or back door open so she had to climb up to the attic and crawl in through there. As the water receded, by way of the largest openings in the house, it drew everything else out with it that was not fastened down (which was most everything). Her stove, refrigerator, table and chairs, food, dressers, clothing, knick-knacks and furniture were all piled up against the doors and windows. And, of course, there was a foot of mud that covered every inch of her floor from living room to porch. Not to mention the stench.
That was about two and a half years ago now. Her house is still standing. The mud all cleaned out. All her belongings in landfills several miles away. Her plaster walls and ceilings ripped down to the bare studs, ready for rebuilding. And it’s coming along. But painfully slow. Nothing works well in this city. You have to travel sometimes for miles to find a store that has reopened. It might take you an hour to go get a sack of nails—if the store can keep them in stock. You don’t know which contractor to trust. Horror stories of contractors running off with people’s money abound. The city is still missing at least one third of its police force. Drug dealers have 1,000’s of empty houses to base their operations out of. Insurance companies make it difficult to collect. The government is coming through. But it’s spotty, and it seems to takes forever.
So, when people like Mrs. Float see our Lutheran Disaster Relief vans pull up with a bunch of white folks from the north jump out, they (literally) thank Jesus. Which is why we came down here in the first place. Not as saviors. Not as “The Man.” But as servants of Jesus. What will make a difference is not what WE do for people like Mrs. Float, but what Jesus is doing. Jesus is ministering to Mrs. Float through our presence and work. And Jesus is ministering to all 27 of us through this mission-outreach trip. We’ve heeded a call to follow him. Because He has things to teach us. This is God’s opportunity to shape our hearts. Mold our minds. Renew our spirits. And reformulate our attitudes, to more perfectly bring them into alignment with God’s heart.
Question: Now… who’s blessed, really? (“Thank you Jesus.”)