10 years ago, I was pulling an all-nighter with the tv on in my room as Hurricane Katrina slammed Mississippi and Louisiana. I watched live as the reports of destruction echoed on every channel.
I remember getting a breaking news alert in my email that the New Orleans levees had failed, and I didn’t fully understand what that meant.
It wasn’t until morning that I started to grasp the magnitude of the tragedy – entire neighborhoods were underwater.
In the weeks to come, I wept for the people who had lost everything.
Stirred to action, I participated in two different relief trips in Mississippi and New Orleans.
And I was not alone.
During spring break alone, Cru mobilized more than 10,000 college students to go and help. It began a movement of action for the gospel, and became an experience where non-Christians could join in the work and created opportunities for conversations about life, tragedy and the gospel.
On this 10-year anniversary of the night Hurricane Katrina came ashore, we remember not only those whose lives were destroyed, but also those who came to help.
It’s hard to be thankful for tragedy, and it’s hard to be reminded of so much loss and devastation. But it’s good to remember how many people stepped up to help. It inspired thousands to put their faith into action.
Here are a few of those stories.
“I'm gonna quit school. I gotta do something to help.”
I use the word ‘whirlwind’ to describe how I feel often, especially when it comes to my job on staff with Cru, ALWAYS in transition.
This whirlwind all began one day my junior year in college at SUNY Brockport in upstate New York while sitting in my parents basement watching the news coverage on Katrina. I remember thinking, “I'm gonna quit school. I gotta do something to help.” Better judgment took over as I realized I was all heart and no skills. More than a year later I was invited to help out with a relief trip Cru was doing over spring break.
As we arrived in the beautiful city of New Orleans in 2007, we were faced with two realities. It was a strong, welcoming city full of life and culture and yet it was also filled with families whose homes were still waiting to be gutted or whose whole lives had been tossed into a pile on their front lawn.
It was painful to see the devastation, but incredible to have the opportunity to talk to people, hear their stories and be a part of providing free labor. It was an honor, even in a small way, to bring healing to the homes and hearts physically devastated by the hurricane.
Having gone on this trip in March of my senior year, still not knowing what I was going to do after college, I can see how it was the Lord directing my steps. A week or two before we left, at the suggestion of a friend, I had applied to intern with Cru.
While in New Orleans experiencing the aftermath Katrina, I remember thinking to myself, “If Cru is about giving students these kind of opportunities to both live out and share their faith, I want to be part of that.”
Over 8 years later, I am still on staff, still participating in the same vision.
“We were not angels.”
A sense of deep sadness came over me as I sat with my daughters and watched the TV news. That Sunday our Vineyard Church in Boise, Idaho, prayed for a team of people as they left to help with relief work. They continued to send teams, and I volunteered to go as a medic.
Our team of 12 flew into New Orleans and it felt like we had landed in a war zone. It was horrifying to see buildings ripped up or signs upside down.
Each morning our team was assigned to a home. We wore gas masks because of mold and work boots to keep nails from puncturing our feet. We emptied homes of all items throwing out things from moldy trophies to stainless steel refrigerators, which contained the worst odors. We then pulled off dry wall and sprayed the inner structure with bleach as the owner sat on their front lawn.
One man was an 80 year-old drummer. He thanked us over and over all day long when we were there. We told him we were not angels, that is what he called us, but people who love Jesus and we wanted him to know that Jesus loves him too.
At night, I would go into the chapel of the Vineyard Church of New Orleans where we were staying and I would pray for the people we met at their homes that day. I usually would sob. I felt so devastated for them, yet they saw us as a blessing.
I returned home after a week. The hardest thing was coming back and seeing all of the traffic signs right side up, commercial buildings with all of their letters, trees standing tall and no mounds of debris anywhere in sight. I felt such a sense of sadness for the people that I left behind. It took me at least a week before I could talk much about the time without crying.
The gracious spirit of the people in New Orleans has stuck with me. Even in the horrid conditions, God was at work and we saw people make decisions for Christ.
I will never forget the experience.
“I found my passion.”
I was a senior at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri when Hurricane Katrina hit. When the opportunity arose for me to coordinate a team of other students to go to New Orleans to do relief work over spring break through Cru, I jumped on the chance to go help.
I led a team of about 40 people that week to gut houses, work at food tents, and just help the city however we could.
After returning to campus, Cru sent out an email to the leaders saying they wanted to put together a team of people to coordinate volunteers and continue the presence of Cru in New Orleans to help the relief effort. I was graduating and felt drawn to do a year of service in New Orleans.
In August of 2006, I joined a team of 11 others on the Cru Relief Team.
We spent the year rebuilding the city, coordinating college students to visit New Orleans and do relief work, and we invested ourselves in the community to spread God's love with those with whom we came into contact.
As the year was ending, I felt led to stay in New Orleans and help the elderly, as I felt myself drawn to helping that population the most. I decided to take another leap of faith and stayed in New Orleans to find out how to assist the elders of the community.
In October of 2007 I became an intern at St. Margaret's Daughters Nursing Home. Their facility had been flooded and they were able to rebuild and begin to bring their residents home as well as others that were displaced because of Hurricane Katrina. I am still to this day with the St. Margaret's organization, running their assisted living facility as the administrator where I am daily able to care for the elders of New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina led me in a direction I never would have taken myself, all because I answered the call to serve and care for a city of people that were devastated by the hurricane. I found my passion for caring for elders and I invested myself in a community of people that need God's love shown to them daily. Because of Hurricane Katrina, I now call New Orleans home.
Hurricane Katrina was not the only time people put faith into action. All around the world on an ongoing basis, organizations like Global Aid Network are serving people in war-torn countries and refugee camps. Put your faith into action and get involved today.
Why do you think we need to remember Katrina?
Were you affected by the hurricane or another example of faith in action?