Silver Specks of Paint
I should probably toss out the tee shirt. It looks old. Its bright orange color is faded and spattered with silver specks of paint. But those specks of paint tell a story of Hurricane Katrina, and so I am not ready to part with it yet.
Our group was assigned to work on sprucing up the home of Thelma, an elderly African American woman who lives in the 9th ward of New Orleans, the area hardest hit by the storm.
It was 2009, fully four years after the hurricane, but there was still work to do. Thelma’s home is on a street corner. As we stood at the corner she pointed out where her friends used to live, where the grocery store used to be, where the senior center once stood. We used our imaginations, because for the most part, all we could see were cement slab foundations or abandoned buildings marked with large red “X’s” indicating that rescue workers had searched and not found anyone still trapped in the building.
Thelma had a list of things which needed work around her house. One of the items on her list was repainting the silver chain link fence around her property. (It’s hard not to spatter paint when painting a chain link fence!)
At lunchtime we sat around her kitchen table and heard stories about New Orleans and Katrina. Thelma had been a widow for a number of years. Her husband was an artist whose studio was in their home. In the years after his death, Thelma frequently wandered into the studio to look through his work. His paintings brought back such good memories of their life together.
During Hurricane Katrina, Thelma’s husband’s studio and all its paintings were destroyed.
There were so many losses as a result of the hurricane. Nearly 2000 people lost their lives. 90,000 square miles of land was declared a federal disaster area. And an elderly widow lost a connection to her husband.
On this 10th anniversary we are reminded of the losses, but also we are reminded of God’s work in the midst of those losses.
ELCA members donated more than $27 million to Lutheran Disaster Response to support recovery. More than 800 college students from 34 colleges and universities worked in the relief effort as an alternative spring break. Thousands of volunteers (including a group from Good Shepherd) helped gut, repair, and rebuild homes.
The work was not finished in 2005, or in 2006, or in 2007. The ELCA and its mission organizations, Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran World Relief are proud of the fact that we come to disaster areas and stay for the long haul. Other groups get in and get out – we get in and stay in long after the news trucks have gone away.
Our group was helping Thelma because we were participants in the ELCA Youth Gathering. The Gathering does not choose a venue because it has an amazing amusement park or a great art scene or a host of amenities. The Gathering chooses a location which needs help – financial help and physical help.
In 2009 and 2012, long after many people assumed New Orleans was “fixed,” the ELCA Youth Gathering was in New Orleans and our group sat at a table and listened to a woman talk about her husband.