Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Duff's Homily

It's been a couple of weeks since we returned from our mission trip to New Orleans. The many images of this trip are stilll fresh in my mind and will be for a long time. Yes' the Downtown area, The French Quarter, Garden District and other neighborhoods are in great shape, but there are still areas of devastation. It's been over three years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and in some locations it looks like nothing much has been done.
I saw first hand of how sections of the city have been destroyed and how many people have lost everything they own. I can understand why people still have not come back to there homes. The State and Federal Government have let the people down. It's going to take years! Unfortunately it usually takes a tragedy to open people's eyes. Fortunately, that's not the case here at St. Michael's. I am very proud of all the people that went on this Mission Trip. Their dedication their hard work and their determination were amazing! It was a blessing to become even closer to these very special people.
I worked in a small two bed room home along with Lorraine and Joanna. Everything about the house was destroyed except for the cinder block foundation. The owner of the home had paid some contractors to do the work but they took the money and ran. The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana has an organization that helps rebuild homes that were damaged and also people who were ripped off and therefore further delayed in getting back into their homes.
When we first arrived at the home, we didn't know what we were going to do. We were greeted by three young adults around 21 years old. There was Kelly from Texas, Gerard from Rhode Island and Molly from Los Angeles. They had all taken some time off from college to help with the disaster relief. Molly was in charge of this job site. Other volunteers working on this home were a couple in their late fifties from the Buffalo area and a man around thirty all the way from Holland. Working with volunteers from all over the country and even around the world gives me hope and joy. It shows me that people really care for each other and this is the world that God wants.
The exterior of the home was all done with a new roof and new siding by previous volunteers. Molly gave us some instructions on what we would be doing for the week. Our job was to plaster and sand the interior walls that had just been sheet rocked. Molly had one request, that we would be respectful and discreet about taking pictures of the house and the owner if she showed up.
The work got very tedious and boring as the week went on. About midday on Wednesday, the front door open, and there stood an elderly black woman in a long, bright colorful dress. We all stopped working and stood there covered in plaster dust. Molly greeted the woman and assisted her with walking around the house. As she passed everyone, she reached out and gave us all a hug and a kiss. When she was finished, her lips and face were covered in white dust. She didn't care. She was so happy and thankful. It was so special to actually meet the woman who would be living in this house that we had been working on. This was my highlight of the week! To me, that moment made the whole trip worthwhile.
It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Thank you to the whole parish for your support. I hope we get the opportunity to do it again.

John Duff

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mission Trip Sunday

“Greetings to you from the Diocese of Louisiana. As you know, for the past three and a half years, we have been called into new and uncharted territory after Hurricane Katrina turned our lives upside down. Episcopal Relief & Development gave us grants to set up the Office of Disaster Response soon after that, and the Episcopal Church has become a leader and a trusted voice in the recovery. Our team of 25 staff does everything from gutting and rebuilding homes to organizing thousands of volunteers who continue to visit the Gulf Coast.”

These are words from Bishop Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana and it pretty much sums up the work of the Episcopal Church down there. I have always been proud to be an Episcopalian but never more so then when I was in New Orleans. I saw first hand the impact the church is making there, not only by caring for the residents but also in providing support and work opportunities for the volunteers who come to assist. Some of the programs we were involved in such as the Rebuild Program and the Beacon of Hope are managed at the diocesan level but others are run by individual congregations throughout the city. All these programs rely on donations of time, talent, and treasure.

This was first evident at our arrival at the parish of St. Andrew’s which provides housing for different volunteer groups each week throughout the year. Not only did they put us up in their parish hall and make us welcome at Sunday services, they also invited us to Super Bowl parties at the homes of parishioners. Although St. Andrew’s is an active relatively well off parish much like St. Michael’s, they are still feeling the effects of losing one third of their parish family who have yet to return since Katrina.

For two days we helped at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes which is run out of Trinity Church. This program feeds over 2000 people a month 6 days a week bringing lunches to not only the homeless and needy but also to the many volunteers helping to rebuild homes. In addition Trinity provides pastoral counseling to those throughout the city who are trying to deal with the devastation of their lives. We also spent two evenings at the Dragon CafĂ©, a Monday Lunch type program run out of St. George’s church which feeds 150 poor and homeless as well as volunteers who may not have kitchen facilities where they are staying. This program gives people a chance to “relax, share a story” and be together in fellowship.

One evening we all went to the parish of St. Anna’s where we enjoyed a worship service, simple meal, and jazz by local musicians. This is a weekly event at St. Anna’s which also provides at the same time a clinic for medical and social assistance.

Archdeacon McManis of Louisiana says “We ask for your prayers as this will be a long journey as we serve Christ by serving those in need among us”. The journey has been and will continue to be long but thanks to the work of the church, there is still much hope and joy in New Orleans. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. Thank you St. Michael’s for serving Christ through helping our neighbors in need.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Judy Rice Reflects on New Orleans

New Orleans was wonderful!  Such a beautiful city - I know now why the people are so proud of it and did not want to relocate after Katrina.  I was expecting sunny skies and warm(er) temperatures, but the green grass, blooming flowers, flowering trees, and palm trees were a wonderful surprise.  Everyone kept teasing me because I kept saying "this is so amazing!"  We were welcomed and thanked by all we met - even down to the clerk at the gift shop at Trinity Church.  They were so appreciative that we came - thanks to all of you we were able to.

I did a variety of things while we were there - the animal shelter, the charter school library, Loaves and Fishes (making and bringing lunches to both homeless and volunteers throughout the city) and the Dragon Cafe (think Monday lunch program except it's at night).  I can't wait to go back again. Despite all that has been done, there is still so much to do.  Everyone we met was affected in some way.  

The spirit of the city is still strong, despite all they have been through.  They are looking forward to Mardi Gras (decorations have been up for weeks) and they just love having tourists come as well as the many volunteers we met from all over the country.  Hope you can join us this Sunday to taste, see, and hear more about our trip.  Judy Rice

Green Charter School

Hi, Everyone,

I wanted to say a few words about my experiences in NOLA before I left for vacation. I won't be around for the special service next Sunday or the beignets & coffee with chicory afterward, unfortunately, so I can't share in person.

I chose to work in the Green Charter School, K through 8, my whole time in NOLA, since I am a librarian by profession, & a group was needed to get the school library up & running for its grand opening in a few weeks. I wound up sorting books & priming & painting two enormous bookcases with over a hundred shelves. Our group worked hard, along with two grad. students from Tulane, trying to find places to prop the shelves to dry, without spoiling the newly laid carpet. We also barcoded books & classified them according to reading level. There were scores of boxes of donated books to process.

I was really impressed by how well the children, all African-American, were cared for. There was much discipline, but much caring & affection shown by the teachers, who, for the most part, were white & under 40. The atmosphere was calm & felt safe. Although the school was built in the twenties', it was clean, brightly painted & pretty well maintained. The inspirational posters & children's artwork decorated the halls & classrooms, altogether a cheerful place. The children, in the afternoons, have choices for "enrichment," e.g. sports, arts, such as dance, & working in the beautiful, organic garden, which the teachers & students put in. They grow vegetables, which they get to eat in the cafeteria. The cafeteria doesn't serve "junk" food. Apparently, unlike other schools, they don't consider chicken nuggets "food." There aren't any soft drink vending machines about either.
Occasionally, the instructors take the children out on field trips. While we were there, a group went canoeing on a nearby bayou.

In this school, which, others from our group will describe in better detail, I saw hope for the future of New Orleans. I saw young adults from City Year, Tulane, the young teachers, working hard to give the children a better start in life. I hope the children noticed too, & will "pay it forward" when they grow up. I would love to return to see the new, improved library, & help where I'm needed. Thank all of you at St. Michael's and beyond, for making my contribution possible. I'll never forget the experience. Lana

Friday, February 6, 2009

Last Day in New Orleans

Good Evening All -

It seems impossible that this was our last full day in New Orleans. It was a great day. The weather was stunning - sunny, clear, and warm. We turned out early to our project sites and had the satisfaction of finishing the projects we had set out to do. Our satisfaction is seriously tempered by our understanding that there is so much more that needs to be done. But nonetheless, the organizations with whom we worked strucured our work well, so that we are leaving feeling that we have helped, if only a little.

Most of us had time this afternoon to take the streeetcar downtown and for the first time just be tourists and visit the French Quarter and do some shopping. But even there, at a very touristy (but great) bookstore, I heard a customer leave saying how much she looked forward to putting the book she had bought on a shelf in her den. The saleswoman who had helped her sighed and said "I can't wait until I can move back into my house and have bookshelves." The impact of Katrina displacement is everywhere, even where you least except to find it. Needless to say, I bought many books.

We gathered together for a final dinner at a local Lebanese restaurant (great food!) after stopping at the neighborhood RiteAid drugstore to buy several bottles of wine (passing by the full hard liquor selection across the aisle from the chapstick - the liquor distribution system in New Orleans is pretty bizarre!)

Wake up call tomorrow is at 6 AM and the group will leave by 8 AM to reach the airport in time for their flight home to Milton. I will hang out for a bit to wash towels and clean out the fridge and then drive north for a visit with my daughter Sarah, who is teaching writing skills to 7th and 8th graders in northwest rural Mississippi.

My suggestion to my travelling companions is that over the next few days they each compose a short message about what this trip has meant to them and either post it directly or send it to James to post for them.

Our thanks to all of you for you support!

love from us all, Anne

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can it really be Thursday?

Good evening all -

this was maybe our hardest day - we were all aware that we had only two days left to finish the tasks we had committed to doing and (for many of us) the unaccustomed physical labor and uncomfortable beds are taking their toll.

We ordered pizza in for dinner tonight, but now our party people (Ranjit and Johanna, John and Diane) are out for local music.

So forgive us for this meager blog tonight. Thanks for all your encouraging notes. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

From Sheila and everybody

Hello everybody,

We had a very busy day, we spread out across the city.
Lorraine, Johanna and John sanded at the Rebuild Project for five hours, they had the pleasure of meeting the homeowner, and even though
they were covered with dust, she insisted on hugging and kissing each of us.
Quite moving!

Meanwhile, back at the Beacon of Hope, Debbie, Sam, Heather, Diane and Ranjit
were cleaning, painting and hanging shades for a house for volunteers. They planted a magnolia tree, did some landscaping, etc. Because of our contributions this house was finished on time, so that other volunteers could move in on time.

At the Charter School, Cece, Sandy, Sheila, Lana and Anne and a couple of gorgeous hunks from Tulane, almost finished painting a huge bookcase and there 126 shelves.

We went to two new sites, "Loaves and Fishes and the Dragon Cafe,"
and at both sites, we made food to pass out to volunteers and to hungry folks.
Tonight, we attended a service at St. Anna's Episcopal Church where we heard Gospel Music.

And what is especially prominent is the way in which St. Anna's holds in prayer
the most recent victims of violence in New Orleans.

After the service, we took part in a meal that was for
the community but was directed towards the most needy. The evening was a carefully planned interplay of worship, jazz, free medical care and legal services that were provided by local professionals. As we entered, we noticed a sign that read 'Food pantry closed due to lack of food,' so we decided to make a cash donation.

We celebrated our hard work by going to the French Quarter and feasting on some beignets, coffee and cocoa and a glass of milk, (with some Zantacs by the fistful) at Cafe Du Monde. Mmm....yum.

We ended by reflecting on a spectacular day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Greetings from John Duff

Working hard, representing St. Michaels in a big way. You are with us in every stroke of the paint brush, every plant we put in the ground, and every wall we sand. We are grateful for this opportunity to help people in need and thanks to your support, financially and spiritually this has been a great success so far. Last night we traveled into the city and listened to some incredible music from local musicians, we got a tip from our coordinator and found a great place for some great sound. Unfortunately, we worked so hard during the day we were back in bed by 11 p.m; and its a good thing.

There is no doubt without the parish being behind us, we wouldn't be able to make the impact that we have made. The people here are so grateful and so are we. Thank you so much.

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 2, 2009

Posted by Picasa

Monday in New Orleans

Well, today was our first day of work. Early this morning we started to spread out across the city to a range of work sites. First to depart were the crew working on a house reconstruction site - John, Johanna and Lorraine worked all day with a Diocesan sponsored crew sanding and plastering a small house with no power (and therefore no lights) and no bathroom facilities to enable the owner and her extended family to return home as soon as possible. Sam, Debbie, Dianne, Heather, and Ranjit supported a Beacon of Hope project completing reconstruction on a house that will be used to shelter interns arriving in two weeks - alot of pressure to finish it quickly! Judy and Patty spent the day serving at the animal shelter, cleaning out cages, tending animals, and headed straight for the showers when they got home! Lana, Sandy, Cece, Sheila and Anne headed off to the Green Charter School to help them organize their new 3rd floor library, cataloguing books and organizing their shelves. At the moment the library is off limits to the school's K-8 students so that they can be surprised when it opens in two weeks. No pressure there either.

Tonight Heather organized a kitchen crew who whipped together four quiches from scratch in under 15 minutes so that we would be ready to meet with Pete Nunally, the Diocesan volunteer coordinator who has done so much to make this mission possible. Pete spent several hours with us explaining what it's like to live with the aftermath of Katrina. He and our more energetic members are now out on the town which is why tonight's blog comes from us. When Ranjit returns he will add pictures.

We love reading your comments - please keep them coming and keep us in your thoughts.

Anne and Sheila

Sunday in New Orleans

Hi! This is Sheila - no, we're not living at the Ritz - it's more like an Army Barracks. Lana, Sheila, Judy and Lorraine are in a small room with a billiard table in the middle of it (Lorraine is sometimes found sleeping under the billiards table). But it doesn't matter because we are so tired that we sleep anyway.

Yesterday we went to church in our host church, St. Andrew's. A beautiful sermon very much tied into mission work. We were welcomed with open arms by the congreationa and were invited to two of their homes for a chance to have supper and watch the Super Bowl. In the afternoon we took a wonderful tour of the city. We saw everything from the devastated 9th ward to the French Quarter to the extraordinarily beautiful garden district, from the worst conditions imaginable to some of the most beautiful homes we've ever seen. We had excellent tour guides, mine still filled with indignation that his beautiful city has come to such an end and nothing is being done about. Of particular interest were the graveyards - we'll fill you in later with pictures.

Check in next for a posting about today.