Wednesday, January 18, 2006

We're here

Last night was like the first night of school for a kid. Even though I was exhausted and had to get up at 3:30 a.m., I could not sleep. I got maybe three hours before getting up and heading to church, where our ministry team met before heading to the Oakland airport to fly to Houston. From there it was a three hour drive to Hackberry in rented cars.

When I was a boy, that night before school started was always one filled with anxiety after a three-month summer vacation. Because I grew up on a farm in the country, I often didn’t seem my school mates for three months. Who had moved away? Who shot up like a bean stock? As I got older, I wondered if there was a cute new girl in town. Who would be my teacher?

I had a similar feeling last night? What would the people of Hackberry be like? What would the town look like? Would trailers still be turned over from Rita four months before? Would roofs still be collapsed? Would Mr. Jimmy be sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his general store?

And it isn’t just those we help that we get to know. Part of the missions experience is getting to know your team members. There are seven of us, including our team leader, Pastor Mark Comella and his wife, Debbie. Including my girlfriend of five months, Susan Ranieri, whom I met at about the same time the hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast last year. We met on Aug. 27, and Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29. Rita hit mostly west of New Orleans, including Hackberry, a few weeks later.

On the plane, we are chatting about the trip and getting to know one another. Susan and I are sitting together, reading our Bibles and listening to Dilerious on my laptop while the man next to us is playing Texas Holdem on his computer. I wonder what he’s listening to on his I-Pod.

We met our church’s previous team on their way home at a Cracker Barrel in Beaumont, Texas. The 10 guys told us story after story of their experience in Hackberry. They put roofs on houses. At times, these grown men had tears in their eyes as they told the sadness of life. At other times, a smile creased their faces as they shared the joys of helping people deeply in need, with nowhere else to turn. A week from now, we will not have that same opportunity, as our church is taking a week off. We will return in February.

Driving over in two vehicles, we could see the devastation get worse the closer we got to Hackberry. Beaumont, Texas, was about two hours out of Houston, and that was where the debris looked decidedly worse and worse. Trees were down everywhere. Roofs were indiscriminately damaged. From the freeway, you could see patches of roof covered with plastic tarps.

By the time we got to Hackberry, it was dark. It’s virtually an island on the Calcaseu River. There was Mr. Jimmy’s store. First Baptist Church, our headquarters, is a half block down the road. I planned breakfast for the next morning and was told Mr. Jimmy’s opened at 5 a.m. and to just to get what we needed and put it on the church’s charge account. Just like in the movies.

We were invited to a Bible study at a house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but was really 10 minutes outside of Hackberry. The house belonged to Frank Brown, brother of Jimmy. Their brother Pat was there, as was their parents, now living in Frank’s home because their home in Cameron is nothing but a concrete slab. They are both in their 80s and in good spirits.

The thing you noticed first was how slow things are around here. At the Cracker Barrel, they just sort of brought food to our table of 16 for no more than 3-4 at a time. No one seemed in a hurry. In town, everyone is polite. There is an air of respect for the elderly. The men are all called Mr. something, such as Mr. Jimmy, the women Miss something, like Miss Evonne, even when they’re married

The sad part is that three children seem to practically live at the church, ranging in age from perhaps age 8 to age 13. They are starving for attention and affection. They each quickly pick up our names and hang around us constantly. We have certain rules with them, but they don’t seem to want to go home or care about what time school starts the next day. The last group made them go home at 11, but we decided that was too late. Ten o’clock.

It is 10:30 on Tuesday night as I write this. I am exhausted. But that means 8:30 California time. I’m ready for bed, but that means I’ll be waking up at 4 or 5 a.m., which is 2 or 3 a.m. California time. I am anxious for the week to get started. Tomorrow will come soon enough.


Post a Comment

<< Home