Saturday, January 14, 2006

Getting ready

Two weeks ago, I made the decision to go to Hackberry, La., 12 miles north of vacation hot spot Holly Beach, La. A January vacation? Hardly.

Hackberry is a tiny little Cajun town that was devastated by Hurricane Rita in September. My church, Cornerstone, Fellowship in Livermore, Calif., adopted Hackberry shortly thereafter. (You can read my account in the Oakland Tribune in its January 15 edition at For the next four months, the church sent mission teams to aid the people of Hackberry. For the next four months, I wanted to go.

In December, Cornerstone sent 202 boxes back to families living in Hackberry by way of a tractor-trailer. The longing in my heart continued, but I could not break away from work or life. While I celebrated Christmas with my girlfriend and her son, I wondered what it was like to celebrate Christmas without a roof over your head, as many in Hackberry no doubt were doing.

In early January, I put a plan into motion to go to Hackberry, including writing stories for my employer. A few days later, the plan was approved for me to go to Cajun country Jan. 17-24 and build houses. Then my girlfriend, Susan, decided she wanted to go, too. We sent letters to our friends asking them to support our trip financially. The cost is minimal, about $300 for planefare to Houston, then we rent a van and drive three hours to Louisiana.

Since then, our lives have been hectic, trying to get ready to go. My 18-year-old son moved back in with me two weeks ago. I teach a Sunday school class, and the lesson for my substitute has to be prepared. Susan homeschools her 11-year-old son, and his daily lesson plans had to be prepared for him.

But just life in general. By last night, we were both exhausted. We agreed that this weekend would be a time of rest. Yet there is anxiety. What will our short-term mission trip be like? Having written my preview story for the paper, I already had a feel for this tiny burg. I look forward to meeting Mr. Jimmy and the people of Hackberry. I want to see what hundred-plus mph winds can do to a community.

OK, I'm not looking forward to sleeping on a cot. I have a bad back, and I have a fantastic bed at home. I'm being dedicated in the gym this week as preparation. We'll be eating our meals out of a tiny kitchen at First Baptist Church in Hackberry. We'll be doing manual labor all day. For the week we're going, they asked for people with roofing experience. The only experience I have with roofs is standing on a few and jumping off a few (it's a kid thing).

When we put our applications in to the church, they asked our skills. I quickly put down that I actually do own a hammer and a few assorted tools. I have leather work gloves. But I stressed that I'm an excellent chef. I used to own a small catering business that featured Mexican food. After I got approved I went through the dozens of cookbooks on hand at the newspaper (I work in the Living and Food departments) and found an Emeril Lagasse cookbook on Cajun food.

We will not be visiting New Orleans on this trip, nor Commander's Palace, where Emeril got his start in New Orleans. There may be a sandwich place in Hackberry, but that's about it. I'm hoping for one meal of a po-boy at some shrimp shack.

That cookbook will be packed in my lone suitcase. I looked jump local favorites, jambalaya, gumbo (Hackberry is a shrimping industry town), sweet potato pie, red beans and rice on Mondays, pecan pie, corn bread, sweet tea. Yum.

Tomorrow is our team's first meeting, in which we get more info about our trip. Susan and I are excited about going. She will be taking pictures for the blog. Both of us have always wanted to take short-term missions trips but have never been able to go. We're looking forward to 10-hour days, getting up before the crack of dawn, meeting the people of Hackberry.

This blog is meant to show the human element about our trip. Who are these people we're helping? Why would people pick up and leave their lives for a week to help people have a continent away they've never met before. If some church somewhere, adopted every little town on the Gulf Coast that was ravaged by Rita, we wouldn't need government assistance. My church has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the rebuilding of Hackberry. That's the way it should be. It's people helping people. Our desire is to show them how to depend on God, not the government.

Ten years from now, the government will be gone from this place, but God will still be here and the friendships we make on this trip will last a lifetime.


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