World Race: Gap Year has wrapped up their time serving on a volunteer mission trip with Samaritan’s Purse in parts of Louisiana and Alabama that have been affected by an active hurricane season. In the second blog of our In Our Own Backyard series, Kati Simpson gives us an inside look at her week with two college gap year squads.
The church without walls
The aftermath of Hurricane Delta swept through Northern Georgia in October, resembling a rainstorm that felt like home in Seattle, but I knew had great consequences that would reverberate around the gulf coast. After I confirmed we were still on track to go to Louisiana and actually drive 10 hours directly into the storm, I left for a week of serving with Gap Year and Samaritan’s Purse.
Hurricane Laura hit as a Category 4 hurricane, causing $14 billion in damage with record 150 mph winds and 20 foot storm surges. In the devastation, 1.5 million people were ordered to evacuate and more than 910,000 lost power. Just 43 days later, Hurricane Delta hit, leaving 850,000 people without power (in Louisiana, Alabama & Texas) and in Lake Charles alone, 40% of the roofs were ripped off.
Taking Jesus seriously goes well beyond a church service or a volunteer mission trip; it means the way of Jesus informs and radically transforms our existence, and we adopt a missionary stance. We realign ourselves with the Biblical narrative of living the Gospel wherever we are, in real time, with acknowledgement of the mission at hand and urgency.
So, itching to get out of small-town Georgia and desperate for young and able bodies to serve, Gap Year missions partnered with Samaritan’s Purse for hurricane disaster relief efforts in Louisiana.
We are no saviors, just fellow brothers & sisters ready and able to partner with what Samaritan’s Purse is doing with their boots on the ground.
And hear me: the locals that we met have so much hope. Many of them know Jesus is their inheritance and they glory in Him despite poverty and endless instability. Their unwavering faith and light, which hasn’t dimmed, reflects total dependence on Him and truly living as citizens of Heaven.
The gap year missions squad was split in two cities – DeRidder and Lake Charles – and I was able to travel between cities to help document the work they were doing (yes, I was here for work. I can’t believe I actually get to do this).
It was important and hard work. We prayed for shalom on this shaky earth; to be a glimmer of hope, peace, and the tangible hands & feet of Jesus in the midst of devastation. Lord, go with us & help us to be an honor to your church.
DeRidder is inland, so they mostly had fallen trees and debris that needed to be removed. We were taught how to (safely) use chainsaws to make the pieces easier to remove:
We worked as a team to clear the area:
Then pulled the trees out to the street for the city to come pick up:
And used wheelbarrows for the smaller pieces:
But the piles quickly stacked high…
Then we raked and used a leaf blower to ensure we cleared everything out!
Then we’d head back to the truck for some Gatorade and a deep breath before heading to the next location!
(PS: there was hardly cell service in Louisiana, which sounds like a fun vacation from work emails, but actually highlighted the inconvenience when trying to locate teams or houses. My understanding of the emotional and physical toll of a disaster has increased dramatically. If you don’t have cell service, how do you call your family or friends to make sure they’re ok? How do you contact the city if you need resources or help or paramedics?)
In Lake Charles, the damage was far worse. Many homes flooded, leaving ruined foundations and black mold that required the homeowners to pack what they could, then take the walls down so the house would be ‘contractor ready’ to be rebuilt in the future. So, we helped pack sweet treasures and belongings. We were blessed with stories from old yearbooks, sweet photographs and memorabilia that weathered the storm. We saw their need, but mostly we saw their humanity.
When everything the homeowner wanted to preserve was salvaged, we took to the walls!
…leaving nothing but the frames. We blasted worship music and prayed over the foundation of the house. It was truly a church without walls.
When it was time to take down the black mold, Samaritan’s Purse hooked us up with tyvek suits to keep safe!
And we shoveled it all out of there.
Some roofs had holes in them, so we installed some temporary tarp.
Of course, we loved hanging out with the homeowners, their families and even the neighbors. This was my favorite part and often the most impactful. Because of ongoing evacuations (and COVID), many of these people haven’t seen others or had much human interaction. AND, Samaritan’s Purse is strong in the belief they would rather you share the Gospel and connect with hurricane victims than do the manual labor (it always gets done, somehow). We really need each other (& Jesus).
And in true Samaritan’s Purse tradition, we all signed a copy of the Billy Graham Training Bible and presented it to each homeowner we served (& that’s the only way someone can get one of these special edition Bibles).
It was often emotional and truly profound.
And we would end in prayer together.
Sometimes, we were really lucky and we got to spend a couple days with the same family, like Berline & Wayne who made us traditional Cajun gumbo!!
It was a tiring experience, but we’ll be back!
Join me in prayer
Lord, thank you that we GET to live on mission. Thank you that our reflection of you, our outpouring of your unconditional love, is a greater offering than any work we could do. Help us to see opportunities to love like you do every day.