This past spring break, I had the privilege of joining 13 other women from The Inn in New Orleans, Louisiana, for a week-long service trip. This trip was the third time in the last two years that The Inn has traveled to “NOLA” with a group of all women. Just like the previous two trips, we saw God working in mighty ways in just a week’s time.
Going into the trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect. Even though I knew what I was getting myself into, each of these trips is so different. God works in different ways even though the location stays the same: the work is different every time, the leadership changes, the women aren’t the same, and many other factors make each trip unique. I knew not to expect anything of the trip and to allow the Lord to work in whatever way He desired, but it was hard to keep from worrying that this trip wouldn’t disappoint because the last two had been so life-changing (and fun!). Also, as a student at UW (not a UMin staff member), it was a new and exciting experience for me to lead a mission trip. I had all sorts of anxieties and worries about what it would be like to be “in charge” of 13 women who I consider great friends and leaders in their own right.
God completely stepped in and worked in incredible ways to eradicate these fears of mine and the struggles that other girls were facing. While serving in New Orleans, my team and I came alongside Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Project Homecoming to rebuild houses for the elderly, uninsured, under-insured, and disabled residents of New Orleans whose homes were damaged by Hurricanes (most notably, Katrina and Rita). PDA and Project Homecoming are both relief organizations that use volunteer labor to rebuild homes affected by disasters; the latter organization is based in New Orleans and was started by the Presbytery of South Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
Ten out of the 14 girls worked for Miss Lita Bennett, a St. Bernard Parish resident whose house was entirely submerged during the Katrina-induced flooding. She currently lives in a FEMA trailer (as many residents still do) in her front yard. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up in your front yard each morning, see your unfinished house, and be reminded of the destruction and tragedy you faced. My teammates and I got to work tiling Miss Lita’s bedrooms, priming, painting and texturing her walls, all while singing and dancing and having way too much fun. We worked with an awesome Americorps volunteer and a great construction assistant who put up with our noise and laughed along with us. Miss Lita was so charmed by our singing that she gave us a big bag of Mardi Gras beads at the end of the week. It’s amazing how someone with so little is so quick to give back.
The rest of the team worked for Miss Lori Broussard on a house in Gentilly. They did a lot of finishing work, including tiling and painting. They were the second-to-last team to work on Miss Lori’s house, as it was scheduled to be completed the following week. The small, tight-knit group made a lasting relationship with their construction assistants Christina and Faith, and enjoyed having intentional conversations while putting the finishing touches on Miss Lori’s home.
But we didn’t spend the whole time working! We also got a chance to explore New Orleans, including the French Quarter, Lower Ninth Ward, the Garden District, and the Tulane Univ. area. If you traveled to NOLA and just visited the nicer areas of town, you might never know that Hurricane came through; the nicer areas weren’t affected as badly by “the storm” (as NOLA residents call it). It was pretty eye-opening to see enormous mansions in the Garden District contrasted with dilapidated homes in the lower ninth.
All of that work and sightseeing was exhausting, but it was incredibly energizing to spend each evening hearing the life stories of all our teammates. Jesus has healed and transformed each one of our lives in such unique ways, and I realized how much all of us on the trip needed the therapeutic sharing to release guilt, shame and fears that have plagued us. Some of our teammates are in incredibly dark places in their current seasons of life, and it brought so much hope for them to be open and honest with such a loving, accepting community of women – women who have been through those times and can offer wisdom and encouragement. There’s a reason why we take these women-only trips: some of the girls had never shared with a single soul the struggles they are facing, and needed the love and support of our group to begin the healing process. In that way, God revealed that no matter how much fun or life-changing a trip can be, none of that matters when all He wants to do is rebuild lives or heal brokenness.
I think it’s safe to say that the highlight for the whole team was spending our last night at Donna’s Jazz Club in the French Quarter. We invited Miss Lita and a few of our fellow construction assistants to join us for a night of live jazz music and dancing. After a week of having paint in our hair and tile grout in our nails, it was such a fun time to get dressed up and celebrate a week of healing, rebuilding, hope and joy.
Written by Emily Eggers