On Friday evening, I joined with a group of 64 high schoolers, college students, and adults on an adventure in service. The group came from parishes across the Diocese of Chicago to gather in support of those who are still impacted by Hurricane Katrina six years ago. We are headed to Lakeshore, Mississippi to help build affordable housing for victims of the hurricane. We are fulfilling Jesus' call to help others -- to answer the question: What would Jesus do?
We all boarded an Amtrak train (we were large enough to get our own complete train car) and left the station around 7:15pm. Our trip will carry us to New Orleans where we will rent 11 minivans and 2 cargo vans and drive to Mississippi, where we will stay at the Lakeshore Baptist Church's facilities. They host groups year-round who wish to volunteer to help the community rebuild.
The train ride was loads of fun! The kids we're totally pumped to be going on this adventure as were the adults!. There were games to be played, songs to be sung, snacks to be consumed! By midnight, I was tired. But I found that sleeping on a train in the seat is not all that comfortable.
So I can't say that I got a good night's sleep but I did get in a few good hours of rest. The morning and afternoon were pretty relaxed as we began to settle the logistics of the van drive to Mississippi, etc.
We arrived in New Orleans at 3:30pm (a nice 20 hour train ride) and rented our vans. Of course, I ended up with the one that had all the cool tech gadgets (I did not even pick the van I wanted, it just worked out that way) so that was a bonus. We divided everyone into their 'van groups' and started the 1 hour drive to Lakeshore. Did you know that NASA has a rocket testing center in Mississippi? We passed right by it! Too bad we don't have the time to check it out...
Once we got settled into the housing at Lakeshore, we went to Los Tres Amigos mexican restaurant for dinner. Very tasty! Then after we got back, a friend and I went on a nice walk to map out a running route for the next morning. We mapped out a 2.5 mile route and then went to bed.
First thing Saturday morning, about 10 youth and adults went for a run before the rest of the group woke up. 2.5 miles is a little short but still a nice run and a nice sunrise!
Then we drove back to New Orleans to attend church services at St. George Episcopal Church. Beautiful parish! They fed us breakfast and lunch, and we were treated to an amazing presentation on the Katrina disaster (a man-made disaster) by one of their parishioners. I will post some video of that up on YouTube when I return home.
Then we took the streetcar to the French Quarter and spent the next six hours walking around the shops and musical entertainment in New Orleans' famous marketplace! It was hot but really fun. We concluded our day with dinner at Bourbon Vieux (yes, it is on Bourbon Street). The food was okay but the time spent together was great! Then we drove back to Lakeshore to prepare for our first full day of our work.
We ate breakfast and arrived at our work site with Habitat for Humanity at 9am. My van group and a second van group were assigned to Habitat -- 14 people. When we arrived, we met another mission trip group there. And guess what? They were from Willow Creek!! So it was a Chicagoland team working today and throughout the week! How cool is that!?
Today we worked on four different houses, building window frames, building out closets, building outdoor sheds, painting, and prepping for the installation of doors. We also prepped the lot for a new house whose foundation was just poured last week. We might get to do some framing for that house this week!
It was 95 degrees and 91% humidity all day today. We worked to keep ourselves hydrated and protected with sunscreen. Three of our team had to go back to Lakeshore due to the heat, but everyone did well and no one had any lingering health issues today. The workday ended at 4pm and we all went back to shower, chill, and have a tasty dinner of taco salad and brownies!
My can group got KP duty tonight ao after cleaning the dining hall and kitchen, we got to join in the evening reflection time, followed by Compline and lots of singing. Then it was free time until lights out at 10L30pm. As I write this, the kids are all singing loudly outside, having a fun time. As for me, I am tired after a long day. So I am going to get some sleep and hopefully go on a 5 mile run early in the morning before Day 2 of our mission adventure!