Our NOLA 2010 Mission Trip – Setting the Context – Post 1

As a believer of short term missions, each summer our youth ministry goes on a short-term mission trip. Last year we served at the All Saints AIDS Camp in Nassau Bahamas with Next Step Ministries. It was an unbelievable experience. Throughout the years, I have led teams to Estonia, the Czech Republic, and our beloved New Orleans. It was here in 2008 that we worked with a local church plant called The Gathering in Chalmatte, LA which is just east of the lower 9th ward and an area that was also completely flooded by 8-20 feet of water.

The 2008 trip was a difficult one for a number of reasons. Many of our team members were first-timers (which is wonderful too), it was extremely hot (as you would expect), our accommodations were rough (we stayed in an abandoned elementary school that was scheduled to be knocked down a few weeks after our trip). My “trip lows” included driving through the Chalmatte neighborhoods looking at all the “For Sale” signs. It still felt like a ghost town, very few businesses, no grocery stores, not even Wal Mart had moved back at this point. The few businesses I saw were a Burger King, Home Depot, a Walgreens, and numerous establishments selling daiquiris.

I also remember never being able to cool off, except during a cold shower, but immediately, the humidity reminded you that there was no refuge. I think my biggest “trip low” was on our last work day, the team made chicken pot pie as a celebratory feast. We ate at picnic tables “inside” where the cafeteria was. It was after 8pm by the time we ate, I was starving and since I wasn’t in the shower, I was of course, sweating. Being hungry, I tried to eat the pot pie, but it too was extremely hot. And between the sweat from the heat and the pot pie, my face was literally sweating into my food. It was at this point that I remembered thinking, “Who’s dumb idea was it to make chicken pot pie?” followed by “Why couldn’t Katrina had hit Maine?”.

The better moments …
… we had a great team and were joined by a few students from the church Evan Curry was serving at the time.
… we got a lot done, mudding, priming, cleaning out abandoned houses.
… realizing the enormous need of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region.
… meeting the fine people of the Gathering.

The Gathering is a church plant by a team from various parts of the US – Phoenix, Louisville, to name a few. The lead pastor, Matt and his family moved in February ’06. They were a young couple with two kids and they lived off generators for 18 months. I would have loved to have heard some of these conversations when they were asked, “Why move there … now???” But you and I know the reasons why.

For me, one of the most important parts of the trip was meeting Aaron Johnson. He’s one of the pastors of The Gathering and the way he was trying to do pastoral work really connected with me. His church office is his donated white pick-up truck and his pulpit is his tool belt and cell phone. The Gathering had just completed the purchase of an old bowling alley that had been gutted after Katrina. Their vision was to convert the building into a community center. The Phase One (of Three) vision is to have have a day care center, coffee shop, counseling center, and include a space for worship.

After our week there, we knew we had to come back and committed to returning every other year. And so on July 6th, we left Montvale to return to Chalmatte.


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