Pastor Jones and Sam holding the banner that was left from Hurricane Katrina.
Today we woke and started moving, and it didn’t stop until evening. As I was looking back over the last month and talking with Sam about the work, I was blown away. I believe we got the building to a good point. Doors were hung, nail holes filled, sanded, and painted. Doors were painted, lights hung, switches wired, door knobs installed, heating supplied registers attached, bathroom windows “privatized”, and the building cleaned as it got darker outside. The congregation and New Orleans contractors have some things to finish up, but it will happen and the Christian Baptist Church will be enjoying their church building once again, and fill it with their wonderful lives and the Spirit. From what I could see, the contribution of every person was significant and timely. From what Sam had shared, it has been a very full month.
The last evening we were invited to Pastor Jones and First Lady Patricia’s house for a sensational meal: jambalaya, red beans and rice, catfish, potato salad…At one point my daughter Hannah leaned over and whispered to Susan, “I have never been so full, and its soo good.” I was struck how welcomed I felt by the whole family, the stories they were willing to share with us, and the hospitality they showed us amongst their very full lives. The evening was full of laughter and warmth, marching grandkids, and it was a fitting ending to our week. Most of the week was consumed by work. It wasn’t until this last evening that I fully saw the importance of relationships built. There were obvious connections between our group from Harrisonburg and New Orleans friends. I think both communities are strengthened by what was shared together, and we are bigger now. We caught a whole month of banter from Deacon Brooks, Pastor Jones, and Sam, extremely entertaining, make-your-gut-hurt kind of laughter. In addition, I found new relationships by spending time with friends from Parkview Mennonite Church in a different setting and in different ways.
I’m grateful to be part of the fourth and final work crew from the Park View congregation to be in New
Orleans. After spending much of my spring sabbatical reading about Mozambique and Angola and analyzing interviews from both countries, I really wanted to do physical work for a week.
The major accomplishments today at Christian Baptist Church were hanging the doors and trim. Clair Mellinger, Eric Beck, and I worked a full day at the church, and Eric’s extensive building experience allowed him to hang five doors in relatively short order. Clair and I concentrated on painting the trim and access doors, hanging exterior lights, and assisting Eric and Sam as needed. Mamie Mellinger navigated the circuitous route from the MDS guesthouse to the church by herself today to bring us a tasty morning snack. Mamie reports that she enjoyed a quiet, restful birthday and we sang “Happy Birthday” to her this morning.
Hannah Lapp, Susan Landes Beck, and Hannah and Asha Beck went to Venice, Louisiana, today to visit George and Ruby Reno. George is in his 80’s, and pastors Lighthouse Fellowship, a Mennonite congregation. Their son, Troy Farres, was the first Louisiana resident to come to EMU (then EMC). Venice is in the bayou country (about 60 miles south of New Orleans) and took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The group learned that this region of LA survives on oil production and shrimping, and that boat captains were able to earn $2,500 per day in the cleanup after the 2010 BP oil spill.
Sam Petersheim, who has proven to be a very flexible and culturally competent leader, spent much of the day with Pastor Jones resolving the carpet issues that Clair wrote about yesterday. After visiting all three of the Lowes stores in New Orleans, they finally found the match that was needed to complete the job. Sam’s description of travel with Pastor Jones is delightful. It’s clear that the two of them have built quite a bond over this past month, and are able to goad each other with brotherly humor.
While I have witnessed the powerful impact of participating in this project on Park View members, I also
wanted to come to New Orleans to see firsthand what impact this partnership was having on Christian
Baptist members. I was particularly concerned, as was Sam, that the partnership be seen as “doing with” rather than “doing for.” There are three ways in which I have seen this “doing and being with” happening, as follows:
1. The relationship that has developed between Sam and Pastor Jones, which oozes both humor
and mutual respect.
2. The fellow pastors of Pastor Jones who stopped by today to check on progress and on their
friend and colleague.
3. The food that Pastor Jones daughter Trisha brought us for lunch today, and the time with us that
she and her husband Shawn gave.
We will not have everything “done” as of Friday of this week…and that is a very good thing. Church
members will need to install the pews and landscape the building. And that will be an important part of
their owning this revitalized church building.
Probably a lot of you could define the term “sweat equity.” Today the PVMC team in New Orleans learned an existential definition. It only got to 90 degrees Fahrenheit here but the humidity was impressively high…if not oppressively severe. But the band played on. For the past two days the band has been led by hard-working kids. Yesterday it was Emma, Lucas, and Jacob Petersheim. Today the drum majorettes were Asha and Hannah Beck. They worked uncomplainingly the whole day! What could the rest of us do?!?
The rest of the team consisted of David Brubaker, Eric and Susan Beck, Hannah Lapp, Mamie and me (Clair Mellinger), and, of course, our fearless leader, Sam Petersheim. We were sorry to say good-bye to Marta, Emma, Lucas, and Jacob yesterday afternoon but they were ably replaced by the Beck family last evening. (Somehow I don't think that last sentence accurately reflects Sam's feelings.Maybe I should replace the word “ably” with “sorta” for Sam's sake.)
Our tasks at the church today were varied. Hanging lights and ceiling fans in the sanctuary occupied some of our time. Caulking and painting window frames, counter-top work in the kitchen, painting the front door and iron grating, and mounting baseboard were other tasks producing sweat equity.
The church is really beginning to have a ready-to-use appearance. One discouraging feature, and additional headache for our fearless leader, has been the sub-par quality of the carpet installation over the weekend. This evening we got word that a “solution” for this problem may be on the horizon. We will find out tomorrow.
But the big news tomorrow is Mamie's birthday. God has promised lower temperatures and humidity especially for this occasion. Well maybe not. At any rate, I can assure you that more sweat equity will be earned. Stay tuned for all the exciting details.
Crucifix sculpted by Jane Ellen Reid with debris from Christian Baptist Church after Katrina and copper wire from the new church work site.
Traveling to New Orleans from Charlottesville on Amtrak's #19 Crescent provided some down time
before Mamie and my cooking schedule began. At Lynchburg the train needed new brake pads, but we
soon gained time to arrive 23 hours later in New Orleans. First Lady Jones and her mother took me to
the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) house where David Brubaker and Mamie and Clair Mellinger were settling in.
Sunday morning Mamie and I created our grocery list, and before noon Sam, Marta, Emma, Lucas
and Jacob Petersheim were ready to take the rest of us on a brief tour of the 9th Ward before worship at Christian Baptist Church (CBC). Brad Pitt and other popular names have provided newly built, modern-style
housing...but many folks still patiently wait. Waiting for schools so their students aren't bused for hours,
returning home at dark. Waiting, praying, singing, hoping to see the lights return to 9th Ward. Perhaps
New Orleans' priority is preparing to host the Super Bowl in 2013.
As the CBC pulpit filled with three visiting pastors, Sister Anita and a visiting musician led us in hand-clapping, praise-raised music including “I'm Blessed!”. Pastor Calhoun's teaching on Genesis 4 of Cain and Abel--respect and worship—as well as greetings from Pastor Webster and a testimony from a seasoned pastor who confirmed Pastor Calhoun's wife in ministry, filled our hearts. Jacob, age 8, claimed, “CBC does lots more singing and playing piano; many less people there than in our church.” His brother Lucas shared, “The church service was different then Park View--it felt like one small family.”
Sunday afternoon buffet at Louisiana Purchase Restaurant provided New Orleans cuisine and
fellowship with five CBC members. It's a tasty gumbo of African, French, Spanish, Italian and
German cultures, and the shrimp creole and chicken-sausage gumbo pleased our palates. Lucas
claimed “The spicy fried catfish was my favorite food!” He added “My favorite part of New Orleans is
the French Market...really good food...the powdered beignets.”
Mamie's description of the recent days include “The heat is memorable...we did the market
which is a zoo...but the whole city is a zoo! Bourbon Street is a little over the top...it seems everyone
has a cigarette and/or bottle in their hand--morning, noon and night." More precious memories include
presentations by the U.S. Forest Service that included a historical walking tour and some opera arias
from the Civil War era. The arias portray how the war affected the arts in the city, and are performed in
the U.S. Mint Museum.
After Mamie whipped up chocolate, cream-cheese iced cupcakes to celebrate Marta's birthday, we went
grocery shopping at Save-A-Lot and prepared several dishes for the work week.
Monday morning the Petersheims, Mamie and Clair, Dave and I headed to the church where windows
were scraped and washed, lights were hung, emergency exit signs were connected and more. Jacob
liked assembling the ceiling fan with his dad, Lucas and Clair. While working and perspiring this
morning, the song “I'm Blessed” became more real with the words “I woke up this morning with
my mind stayed on Jesus.” Many folks struggle with their minds, their losses, yet they get up each
morning realizing they are blessed! And we are blessed to be able to help renovate a building where
CBC will continue to sing and bless the new neighborhood with their voices of hope.
Mamie and I are extremely grateful for the MDS air-conditioned kitchen, supplied with every needed
appliance and a pantry filled with seasonings. Yes, I'm Blessed to be engaged in a project that we pray
will bring hope and healing to our 9th Ward neighbors. I'm Blessed.
Late Thursday and Friday were “wind downs” at CBC for “clean up, clean up” in preparation for
the carpet installation on Friday. Therefore Friday morning was a good time to visit the French Quarter and Market, to wear unspeckled paint clothing, no headbands, a different hair style, and prepare for an
early afternoon departure to Harrisonburg. By Thursday evening, we definitely were a crew, working
together in teams of two and three, with definite goals in plain view, and knowledge of how to work
together, with interruptions and questions. En route to the French Quarter and Market, we stopped
briefly to unlock the doors for the workers to complete some final plumbing procedures. After having
lunch at the French Market we packed the van at approximately 1 pm and gathered in a circle for a blessing
and prayer of thanks, led by “Rev” Petersheim for the work done and for safety of travel for those
leaving and coming for week four. Following a mid-afternoon pit stop, Ron S. relayed a phone call
received from Sam, “The plumbers are done, the toilets flush, and the water is running in the sink!”
(Rachid, with his many skills, had done the prep work in the bathrooms for this to happen. When
Sam saw this completion, we have a suspicion there was a real Pastor Jones jump!)
Unplanned at approximately 10:30 pm, Rachid took a turn as driver, and Dorothy was in the front passenger
seat. We exchanged thoughts and reflections that are inadequate to describe:
What a fantastic week! Wednesday morning Paul and I finished the trim work around the baptistery
and pulpit. While the 'Ron Paul' team finished the trim, other teams began installing insulation and
ceiling tiles in the bathrooms, foyer, kitchen, and Pastor Jones' office. Sometime before lunch I began
installing insulation and ceiling tiles in the sanctuary. By Wednesday evening my leather nail pouch was
wet with sweat from the many, many trips up the ladder. The church began to look and feel different as
we steadily transformed the dark wooden structure to a nice clean white ceiling.
Many hands make the work fun and give us the means to be a blessing to our friends in the Lower 9th
Ward. Pastor Jones and the congregation truly show their gratitude for our work with tears, hugs, food,
and lots of laughs. Wednesday evening Pastor Jones treated us to a great New Orleans meal, including
gumbo, fried everything (catfish, okra, etc.), salad, bread pudding, chocolate brownies, and more.
Dale Metzler's skill with suspended ceiling design and Sam Petersheim's skill at project management
make the work manageable for the rest of us. I wish I knew how many times Sam had to run someplace
for something for us. Sometimes I think he went to enjoy the A/C at Lowes! Well, not really. Sam's
hard work makes a project like this possible. In addition, his ability to roll with the flow fits quite well
with New Orleans culture. I certainly enjoyed observing Pastor Jones and Sam kid each other.
After spending the last three days working on the church building interior it's really beginning to really take shape. I have enjoyed seeing the look on Sam's face as the final trim is put in place, doors are hung, and insulation and ceiling tile installed.
Pastor Jones came by Tuesday and brought some food (again, I'm told). He and his family show their overwhelming appreciation for the work that is helping to change the future of their community. He wells up with tears as he checks out the progress. His office is taking shape and the front of the sanctuary is getting final touches.
Having seen the neighborhood and the devastation of the Lower 9th Ward last year one gets a sense of what hope might feel like after waiting almost seven years for change to happen. I can remember what the interior looked like after we left last August. Pastor Jones and the small church have demonstrated resilience beyond expectation.
I have been working all week with Ron on trim. They started referring to us as "Ron Paul". We could be called worse. We did trim work around the front of the sanctuary. It's been good to learn to know another fellow Park View member in a different roll. What a guy!
This is an experience that is bringing out the best in so many different members of PVMC. The gifts of God's people certainly does not stop with what happens on Sunday morning. From here we see cooking, painting, plumbing, suspended ceiling, flooring and trim work all together to complete this project, the Lord's work, for the Christian Baptist Church AND for Park View Mennonite Church. I feel blessed to be a part of the team.
Today was our first day on the job. I have been anticipating this day for months and could hardly wait to
get going. Oh my gosh, what an incredible experience!!! Dot, Carla, and I spent our day painting trim and
doors, staining and sealing trim, laughing at our ineptitude, delighted by new skill development. Saws
and fans roaring, Dale cruising around on stilts, Ron and Paul designing railings for the choir loft, Rashid
patiently tutoring Carla, Dot and myself and Sam is everywhere. Whoa! I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back to the beginning…The drive from Harrisonburg to New Orleans was uneventful, so uneventful, in fact that we drove straight through, and were we ever grateful when we awoke Sunday morning. A time to relax and stretch a bit, a time to get to know each other and hear about the week’s schedule, a time to listen to razzing and banter between old friends (both geriatric and longtime).
After a slow start in the morning, we went to Christian Baptist Church to worship with our New Orleans
brothers and sisters. We were warmly welcomed by a rousing service, followed by fellowship and lunch
in the pews--such generosity, affection, and appreciation! Gumbo--need I say more?
I know previous blogs have shared the profound experience that is the Lower 9th Ward. In fact, I
read each one, eager to learn more about the project and the people. Still, these snapshots cannot
do justice to the experience. Devastation continues to abound: empty, uninhabitable houses, vacant
lots with waist-high grasses hiding broken fragments of past lives and once bustling neighborhoods.
Entire neighborhoods rebuilt by celebrities and church groups, emerging from the emptiness. Hope and
despair, resilience and defeat, devastation and resurrection--so many dichotomies.
Thank you Tillie and Joan for the delicious meals (Dot is no longer on kitchen duty and I’ve only had to
wrestler her back into her chair a couple of times. Old habits are hard to break!) We arrived home in
the evening to cold drinks and a tremendous meal. We are well tended, which is most excellent since we
returned to the MDS house dragging at the end of the day.
Thanks Sam, for your vision and commitment to this project. I have a deepening level of respect and
appreciation for the hard work and sacrifice made by you and your family.
Good night from New Orleans. Please continue to keep the 9th Ward in your prayers and pray that we
are able to finish the necessary details as the project nears an end.
Park View Mennonite Church