Tuesday, January 22, 2008 | New Orleans-Day 3
Mr. Lauchlin owns this house and is eager to get it rebuilt. She has the money to rebuild, but can’t get a construction loan until the house is water-tight. Right now the back is wide open where a sliding glass door will eventually lead out to a new deck, the roof has several large openings to the sky, one eve is wide open, and several windows are missing. The bank doesn’t want the house to leak once new materials arrive for installation and the construction begins. Once we finish, the bank will give her a loan and she can start hiring contractors.
Speaking of which… Mrs. Lauchlin got ripped off by a couple of them already. She gave the guy several thousand dollars to purchase materials and start on construction. He spent most of his time on other projects. Using her materials. With her money. Then would drop over about 4:00 every afternoon to do one more little thing to show progress. One day he didn’t show up any more at all. Took the materials and all her money. “Who ya gonna trust?” she asked us. Most of the folks don’t know how to go about fixing their homes. Or what’s needed. Or how to tell if you need a new subfloor. Or whether it makes a difference to do the electrical work before new studs are put up or after. Or how to pay a contractor. Or how to check up on them.
I was up on the roof today building new gables for the eves. From here you can see Lake Ponchartrain, about six blocks away to the north. Most of the homes in this neighborhood remain empty. It’s like a ghost town. Some have moved back into their homes. But many stand empty, as on the day they were “mudded out” and gutted of furniture, appliances, clothing, personal belongings, bedding, carpeting, walls, ceilings, and flooring. If it wasn’t part of the structure of the house, it was ripped out. Then the whole inside was sprayed with bleach to kill the mold and keep the house clean. James—a friend of Ms. Lauchlin—drove up the first day to see what we were doing. He was blunt and not too impressed or interested in us. Each day he came back, he warmed up more. We started bringing an extra lunch with us just for him. I think he was impressed. Now he works alongside of us, gives us his generator to use, has coffee and lunch with us, and laughs and jokes around. The other day we were all laughing so hard that James had to walk away from us, half-bent over because his side hurt so bad. He tells us about life in the neighborhood… who’s come back so far, and who’s not coming back at all. He still chain smokes a mile-a-minute. We’re there to help fix Mrs. Lauchlin’s home, but in the process, we’re doing our best to simply be Jesus here and to love the people. Like James. A couple who looked like they had been to hell and back wandered past us as we were finishing our coffee break this afternoon. They “came down here with a contractor who left them down here to fend for themselves. Would any of us have a little money to help them get back to their home in Oklahoma?” The 35-year-old woman looked about 50 with a swollen, red blotchy face. She was as skinny as a rail. James later told us he thought it was the result of lots of crack-smoking. The guy didn’t look much better. Like death warmed over. “No, we didn’t have any money," we said. "But they were welcomed to join us and share all of our wages.” They showed a little spark. But when they found out that we were all volunteers… and that we earned nothing, they became apologetic. They would love to help us, but….
Every day is different. Every day brings new adventures, and new people, and new stories. And the chance to be Jesus all over again.