Friday, June 23, 2006

A Titanic Task Ahead

Early Sunday morning, seven of us from our church will sojourn down the Mississippi to New Orleans to do some relief work through the United Methodist Church. The trip has been in the works for several months, but it seems like all of a sudden we've gone through a time warp and realized that it's just about time to go!

My official team member function will be that of sherpa and translator, in addition to helping out with the physical labor. Being a New Orleans expatriate, I've been watching with great frustration and sadness the plight of the city in the 10 months since Katrina made her presence known. It is a prime example of how the short attention span of the American sheeple works. The hurricane and her flood-causing aftermath made for great headlines until we all got bored and tired of the story. Life went on (for everybody not directly affected by Katrina, that is), and as long as nothing interrupted the broadcasts of "American Idol", we generally didn't bother to concern ourselves with what I really believe is history in the making.

As several bloggers from the city continue to point out on behalf of the decimated population, things are not OK in New Orleans. The city made headlines again briefly at the beginning of the week, when a quintuple murder prompted the mayor and governor to call in the cavalry. The National Guard was summoned to patrol abandoned neighborhoods so that the strained city police force could actually do some policing in the ares where people are actually living. And when I say living, I mean surviving from day-to-day. Life in the city for a large percentage of the population was a struggle before the storm, and obviously, things really haven't improved since.

The violence, however abhorrent it may be, isn't the real news here. The real news is that a major American city has experienced total devastation and for the most part, people don't care. According to a city population study done in January, only 14% of the pre-Katrina population has returned to flood-damaged areas. The New York Times reported the other day that suicide and depression are rampant and that more than half of the area's psychiatrists and other mental health workers are gone. The fire department is understaffed and underequipped, having to rely on Coast Guard helicopters to scoop waters from the nearby lakes and canals so that urban fires don't get out of control. Several locals have taken to calling the city "Debrisville" as mounds of trash from demolished homes sit in fetid piles waiting to be picked up.

Our group will in all likelihood be deconstructing a house somewhere so that it can be rehabilitated. Ten months after the storm, there are still thousands of houses with molded carpet and belongings, refrigerators filled with pre-Katrina groceries, and the occasional 10-month old dead body.

No, New Orleans is definitely not OK. Meanwhile, it seems like America has cut and run.

All this begs the question of why we (our mission group) are bothering to take part in an effort that has all the outward signs of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It took southern Florida more than a decade to recover from Hurricane Andrew; some would argue it still hasn't completely recovered. America has Katrina Fatigue and would rather throw in the towel on New Orleans rather than actually working to find solutions to poverty in the midst of plenty, because that would take too much effort.

Well, as as a famous musician (not a policeman) once said, "We're on a mission from God." It's part of our duty (as an alleged Christian nation) to care for the least of these, especially since we Wesleyan types believe that we need some works mixed in to make our faith truly come alive.

I'm excited and ready to go. I'll see old friends and hopefully make some new ones. We'll laugh, we'll cry, we'll listen. We'll work together to keep hope alive for those who need it.

See you in a week.


Anonymous said...

Have a safe trip. Bring back some pix and let me know if I can help tell the story. I was there in March, before hot weather brought the odors out. It was appalling and awe-inspiring and horrifying. They told us then they expect a 20-year recovery time.

Karen G @ the conference office.