Monday, March 9, 2009

Heather Putnam's Mission Homily

Beacon of Hope

To say I was totally shocked to see the devastation in New Orleans three years after hurricane Katrina struck would be an understatement. When we arrived, we took a tour of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane from the 9th ward to the surrounding parishes. The 9th was hardest hit when the levees broke..all we could see there were slabs upon which homes once stood, a few green homes, built by Brad Pitts Make it Right Foundation and a few homes being repaired by homeowners themselves. We also toured the middle class parish of Gentilly Homes were still standing but in tremendous need of repair The polluted water rose fifteen feet and stayed for 3 weeks . On many doors we could see red Xes..that meant no one alive was still inside. These put there by the crew of rescue boat s who patrolled the area .Seeing the xes stays with you along time. Some homes were fully repaired but most were not. Many were boarded up and abandoned. The people had given up, had not received insurance money yet or couldn’t afford to rebuild as they had no place to stay while doing so Rents were sky high.
Five us were sent into this parish to work under the auspices of the Beacon Of Hope Resource Center. Founded on Valentines Day ,6months after Katrina, the purpose was to serve as a lifeline for all homeowners who seek information and resources to rebuild. Their mission is to provide a sanctuary to everyone looking for a way back home. 34,000 residents have used the services of thousands of volunteers who come to the city on a weekly basis. In one week alone, 2000 volunteers from Starbucks cleared and rebuilt a park complete with a new playground for children to enjoy.
Our first 2 days were spent finishing up a home that was to become in March a center where volunteers would stay. We painted, stained doors, scrubbed floors of paint and grime, cleared brush and overgrown vegetation and hung new blinds ( Sam’s an expert) At the end of the second day we began to move furniture in and help make it a welcoming place for new volunteers. On the third day we put in an instant garden for Raymond and Yvonne, an elderly black couple who had finally rebuilt their home but had never had a garden. A couple from Missouri helped as well They had driven down with a thousand volunteers Yvonne didn’t have enough flowers and so took Deb Rodman and myself to Lowes to pick out more. The look on her face was one of pure joyas she went from bench to bench We picked out a large holly tree and planted it in her garden-our gift from St Michaels..Her comment through tears was: I don’t need a tree to remind me of what yst Michaels has done for us!! The garden looked beautiful when done. A bright beacon of hope…as most homes surrounding hers were badly damaged and boarded up..just waiting for more volunteers like us to help them.
Our final assignment with the Beacon of Hope was to help rebuild a home of a pastor from the Assembly of God. He was in the direst of straights both monetarily and emotionally. He showed us all a video of what his home had looked like upon his arrival back It looked like a bomb had gone off..the house was standing but everything inside was totally destroyed. He was trying to clean out and rebuild alone while his wife and daughter had moved to Tennessee to stay with Relatives. He was lonely and alone.-until Beacon of Hope came along. He desperately needed to tell someone, anyone, his story. We just listened. We painted, put up paneling and helped him clear debris.Over lunch on his stoop, he told us he had been robbed of materials . 13 times This man was trying to move on but ever so slowly. He was tired, emotionally fragile and very very lonely. The Beacon of Hope is the only thing he has going for him right now. There are hundreds like him..all waiting to be helped. Many wanting to retell their story.This organization represents the very best of how volunteers can help others. My last day I worked with the crew who had been rebuilding a library in a new charter school. There was a sign hanging in the hall with a quote from Barack Obama that seems appropriate to all volunteers who come to help rebuild New Orleans. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. I am deeply grateful to have been sent to New Orleans to help make a change. St Michaels presence indeed made a difference.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sheila Monks mission homily

I'd like to tell you a little bit about what it was like to be part of that group of 15 who lived together in the parish house of St. Andrews Church in New Orleans the first week in February.
We were a pretty mixed group. Some of us knew each other pretty well, but there were a couple of brave souls who had barely met the rest of the group when they signed up. Few had been to New Orleans before, and none since the hurricane. You may remember that we weren't sure what we would find once we got there, or exactly what we were going to do each day. We had some real doubts about our capabilities, and most of all we wondered: what could we possibly do to help in the face of so much need?
It was a mixture of very different personalities, ages, and interests. But there wasn't anything particularly special about us. We were---and I'm really speaking for myself here---hopeful, but fallible and vulnerable: ordinary human beings.
By the end of the week in New Orleans, that motley crew, floundering and well out of their comfort zone, had come together and forged an extraordinary and powerful bond. I saw something wonderful happen: we were supporting each other in love. Because we were enabling each other, we had the strength
to go out and do much more than we ever imagined we could. And it was all through small acts of kindness.
Someone went to the store late at night after a long day of physical labor to buy bread so we could all make sandwiches for lunch the next day. Someone cleaned a bathtub the group before us had left dirty. We lent each other clothes, aspirin, shampoo—whatever was needed. When I was tired, someone carried my suitcase. I am an early riser, so I was among the first in the kitchen each morning. Someone had always filled the coffee maker the night before and left a note: “Plug In Coffee!” Can you imagine how wonderful that felt? Some figured out how to get around the city and some drove the vans and some swept the floor and some chopped onions for dinner. It was my favorite piece of scripture in action, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
When you stop to think about it, what we did for the people of New Orleans in our short week there were just small acts of kindness. It wasn’t a lot. In the words of George Stevens, the Assistant Rector at St. John’s Church in Beverly Farms, one of our early mentors, “You aren’t going down there to change the world.” We just tried to show some loving support to let people know they weren’t forgotten.
There are some other important acts of kindness—some small and some not so small---that I want to mention. I am referring of course to the loving support of this parish that enabled us to make the trip. Every pair of socks you bought, every donation you made, the t-shirts and the beignet mixes and the trips to the airport, every encouraging word you gave us, helped us to come together as a group and to stay focused and inspired because we knew you were with us. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you.
That’s what it’s all about: small acts of kindness that are paid forward. I won’t forget the coffee pot ready to be plugged in or the suitcase taken out of my hand without my even asking. Hopefully some of the children whose library we renovated won’t forget and will do something like that for someone else some day. Each of us doing something for someone else with the gifts that God gave us. With all due respect to George Stevens, maybe that really is how you change the world.