Final Thoughts From Professor Jon Baer
We have returned safely and immeasurably richer from our time in New Orleans, fourteen Wabash students, me, and five men from First Christian Church in Crawfordsville. Our mission trip to help rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina two-and-a-half years ago was a terrific experience.
It is hard to fathom the enormous devastation that remains in New Orleans. Whole neighborhoods are desolate, with houses either gone altogether or seemingly in the same condition they were when the flood waters receded. In the Lower Ninth Ward, where we worked, perhaps 85-90% of the former residences remain uninhabited. Throughout New Orleans, apartment buildings and lower-income housing complexes are abandoned, and some areas appear to be ghost towns. Schools, commercial establishments, and community centers remain untouched in many locations. The damage, the broken lives, the death and destruction—it’s overwhelming and heartbreaking.
We stepped into this setting hoping to make a small difference in the lives of a few people in need. Through our friends at First Christian, we were able to stay at Westside Mission in New Orleans and work on several of their ongoing projects. The leader of the mission, Brother Vance Moore, is a truly amazing and inspiring man. He is committed to demonstrating God’s love by rebuilding homes in New Orleans, all through volunteer labor and materials paid for by the mission. In two years of operation, Brother Vance has had more than 3,100 volunteers from around the country stay at Westside and work on their projects. It was a privilege for us to work on three homes, significantly moving all of them closer to habitability. It was also a privilege to meet two of the homeowners and to hear what a difference we were making in their lives, as well as to talk to people in the neighborhoods and hear their stories. We didn’t clean up New Orleans, by any means, but we did good work and we helped rebuild hope in the lives of a few of its residents. All of us returned the better for it.
Like so many churches around the country, First Christian Church has made several mission trips to New Orleans. I am grateful to Rev. Keith Strain for being receptive to the idea of this combined Wabash/First Christian trip and for working so hard to make it come to pass. I’m also grateful to the four other First Christian men—Lyle Broughton, Dave Lunsford, Dallas McDonald, and Carter Morrett—who with Keith embraced and befriended us while also guiding our work with their skills.
Finally, I cannot express how proud I am of the students and how thankful I am for their dedication. These guys could have been on a beach somewhere relaxing or at home catching up on sleep. Instead, they were getting up at 6 a.m. each day and working their tails off at difficult and sometimes unpleasant jobs. And they did so with joyful hearts and dogged determination, driven by a powerful commitment to serve God and those in need, as well as to challenge themselves and grow in the process. We came together as one, from different parts of the campus and community, and we were strengthened and blessed as we gave of ourselves to others. Larryjoe Brown ’08, Eric Griffin ’10, David Haggard ’10, Barron Hewetson ’08, Mike Karam ’08, Daniel King ’10, Andrew Kyler ’11, John McGaughey ’11, Jake Moore ’11, Adrian Perez ’11, Wes Prichard ’09, David Swann ’09, Homer Twigg ’08, Tyler Williams ’08: Some Little Giants!