Wabash Blogs Immersion 2009: New Orleans Mission Trip


March 15, 2009



We have returned from a tremendous, enriching week in New Orleans. Altogether we had 30 Wabash students, three faculty, and eight members of First Christian Church in Crawfordsville. The 41 of us stayed at Westside Mission, led by the truly inspiring Rev. Vance Moore. Brother Vance believes he is called by God to help rebuild lives and hope in New Orleans by reconstructing the homes of displaced residents, free of charge. With supplies purchased through donations and thousands of volunteers from around the country over the past few years, Brother Vance and Westside have rebuilt numerous homes in what remains a devastated city.
 We worked on four homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, and we had the great satisfaction of bringing one of them to completion and helping its owners, Pastor and Sister Washington, move in. Pastor Washington is the 81-year-old minister of a Baptist church a couple blocks from his home. Through his hard work, his church reopened some time ago, but thanks to Westside he and his wife now have their home back as well. Several of our men completed the Washington home by finishing the electrical work, putting in sinks, finalizing the plumbing, and so forth. The other homes we worked on were in various stages of repair or building, and other volunteer groups will take over where we left off. Among much else, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit the owners of the three homes we worked on last year, all well established in their newly rebuilt homes, along with David Swann ’09 and Eric Griffin ’10, who also participated in last year’s spring break trip. 
Thank you to Dean Rick Warner and Prof. Dave Maharry for their participation and leadership on the trip. Thanks also to Rev. Keith Strain, Dave Lunsford, and the other outstanding men from First Christian, whose building expertise and patient instruction made it possible for those of us without skills to make tangible contributions. Most of all, thank you to the students who chose to give of themselves to strangers in a city far from home, foregoing the usual spring break inducements to rest, relaxation, and partying to rise early and work hard, learning much in the process about suffering, hardship, grace, and love. I am immensely proud of these young men, who represent the very best of Wabash College, and I thank God for each of them. Thanks to Bobby Wade ’11 and Chad Simpson ’10 for serving as our official blogger and photographer, respectively. Finally, for all of you who made a financial contribution to support the student participants and for those who supported us with your prayers, thank you.
I urge you to read the thoughtful, engaging blog entries below from students and faculty. They will give you a great sense of what we saw, experienced, built, and discovered in the course of our week in New Orleans. In addition, I encourage you to visit a photo montage compiled by Jeff Kessels ’10, mainly using pictures taken by Chad Simpson, which offers a good impression of the current state of the Lower Ninth Ward: http://persweb.wabash.edu/student/kesselsj/Spring%20Break%202009.wmv. Enormous need remains in New Orleans, but there is reason for hope and gratitude in the wake of tragedy.  
Jon Baer
These are the journal entries of one William B. Finney. The following is a true account of what happened and the story of the men who were there….
Day 1:
They captured us early this morning. They have placed us in several vans and we are driving. I have managed to sneak a small pencil and some scraps of food wrappers to write on. We have been driving south for ten hours and they say that we will be on the road for another five hours. I have no idea what is in store for us, but I fear the worst.
Day 2:
It appears that the head captor goes by the name of Brother Vance. He woke us up at six thirty this morning to go to work. I have begun planning our escape but he keeps us in four separate work camps. The organization of this “mission” is impressive and I have a suspicion that some of the faculty that they captured with us are actually conspirators. Several other upperclassmen and I have formed an underground resistance that goes by the pseudonym “Du-Rags and Daiquiris”. We managed to acquire van keys and make our escape in the dead of night. We stopped at a local food establishment that serves daiquiris and plays hard-core rap music. We decided that if we were to leave now then the others would surely be terminated. We will stay; we will fight; we will win…
Day 3:
The men leading each work camp seem like reasonable people. They are knowledgeable and helpful and sometimes it is hard to remember that underneath their smiles and genial demeanor are our captors. I fear that many of my fellow Wabash men are suffering from Stockholm’s syndrome and have begun to refer to Jacko and Carter as friends and role models. Du-Rags and Daiquiris will be the last vestige of hope for us all. We will have a meeting tomorrow night. We will have to wait until after our mandatory evening meetings. Brother Vance leads us in a discussion of the day’s activities.
Day 4:
I lost my composure today. I got in one of the vans and tried to make a run for it. The security at the job sites was better then I anticipated and somehow our captors were able to stop the van and break one of its windows. I was not reprimanded because, as a team leader, my presence was essential to the morale of the men. I know that I will be closely watched, though. (I really did accidentally break one of the Wabash rental van windows and felt really bad. The roads down there are terrible with debris everywhere. There was a fire hydrant that was leaking many gallons of water and had been since the storm. It is obvious that the government has forgotten this area.)
Day 5:
I realized today that we are probably not going to make it out. We finished the work site for Pastor Washington today and serious progress is being accomplished at all the other sites. I personally wired electricity and ran plumbing. The other sites are repairing floors and roofs, and one group is building a house from scratch. I fear the worst for when we are finally finished here. This feeling was reinforced by the fact that they allowed us one last evening of fun and debauchery in the French quarter. I hope the fact that you are reading this right now means that this journal has found its way out and our story is told.
Day 6:
I have reason to believe that today was our last day of labor. We finished working earlier then normal and cleaned all of the work sites. We were allowed what I believe to be our last meal today at a place called Rocky and Carlo’s. We cleaned our quarters tonight and are going to bed early. I do not know what tomorrow holds, but there will be no sleep tonight. I am at peace with my fate. (Seriously, though, there was so much food. It was really delicious and we all owe a big shout out to Westside Mission, the guys from First Christian Church, and the faculty that came with us. We have been eating really well and been really well taken care of.)
Day 7:
This will be my last entry. They say we are driving home and only I know better. I only hope that the brave Wabash men who are with me and I will be remembered through these writings. I have chosen not to inform any of the others as to their fate. They are blissfully ignorant and believe they will be home in several hours. I am eternally grateful for their companionship through this ordeal. This is the last hamburger wrapper and I know there are no more to come. I am at peace. Goodbye cruel beauty that we call………{Writing ends here and experts believe that Mr. Finney was discovered and prevented from finishing his writing. The debate still continues as to what his last words were going to be, but I am of the opinion that he was going to write “SPRING BREAK ’09!!!”}
(All kidding aside, this was a really great experience and I truly feel that we were able to help real people in real need. It is not every day that a person is afforded this kind of an opportunity. I found this trip to be more centering and relaxing then any beach or lazy days back at the house. I guess now it is time to go back to the grind, but I feel refueled and reinvigorated with what it means to be a Wabash Man and more importantly a human being.)

William Finney 

So much of every day here in New Orleans was spent doing the minutest tasks. Some might even go so far as to call them insignificant. I honestly cannot call to mind every different action that I did on this trip and all of the skills that I sort-of learned. Whether I was hammering a nail, pulling a bent nail out, rehammering a different nail in that same spot, measuring wood, cutting wood, remeasuring the wood because we messed up the first time, or whatever, I learned a great deal of small skills that before this week were completely foreign to a privileged college kid like me. I think the most important thing I need to do in this blog is thank my site director, Rick Jacko. The man’s knowledge of all things construction-related is truly astounding. So thanks Jacko.

 So back to the issue of minute tasks. This phenomenon completely astounded me throughout the week. Take hammering a nail for instance. This is not an easy project for an amateur, and the forty or so amateurs on this trip can attest to that. What amazed me about such a simple action was its power to consume my thoughts. When I was staring down a nail like a matador preparing to fight a bull, all I could think of were the nail, my hammer, and the pieces of wood, o ya and my fingers. But it was incredible. During the minute or so in the beginning of the week and the ten seconds towards the end that it took to get that nail in the wood, everything else fell from my mind.
This was a very refreshing experience for me, because I often worry very much about the day-to-day things about school and everything that comes along with it. But when that first hammer stroke made contact with the nail, I was pulled from those worries into just that moment, focused on each successive stroke and on attaining my goal of pushing the nail into the wood.
Such an experience was truly awesome and uplifting, but something else amazed me even more. For those of you who read this blog who have not been to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you truly cannot comprehend the devastation. While I have been here, I have heard many attempts at explaining this disaster. Some people call it a war zone and others compare it to a third world country, but I think that both of these qualifications fall short of accurately placing the events of Hurricane Katrina. See, a war zone is devastated, because a battles are being fought without regard for land or human; and third world countries are as they are because of lack of development or corruption or famine or poverty. What amazes me is that this said “war zone” or “third world country” we have been working in for the past week, is in the United States of America. Wars are not being fought within our country and we are far from third world, and yet the sights in New Orleans compare easily to these other catastrophes. Why?
Well I do not think I can answer that question here, but I want to explain why hammering a nail amazes me. As we drove to our respective sites, we would see just utter destruction and we truly cannot be untouched. When we would finish our journey to the site and get to work, however, it all went away. Each time my hammer fell on the nail-head the sad state around me was pushed further and further away. I think something important can be taken from this, because just like the goal of getting a nail into a piece of wood, much of this city needs to be rebuilt. And just like hammering a nail one stroke at a time, this city needs to be rebuilt one stroke, one nail, one frame, one wall, one house, one city-block at a time. So within the greater mission of aiding the numerous wounded people of New Orleans, the most minute tasks become vitally important.
Bob Cassidy
 “Where did you see God today?” That’s the question Brother Vance, the founder of Westside Mission, poses to 33 Wabash Men each night after a hard day’s work. It’s a question that we rarely take the time to ask ourselves in our busy lives as students, but its one you can’t help but ask here. Everywhere we are surrounded by the devastation left in Katrina’s wake.  People have been displaced, homes destroyed, and lives lost. However, despite this, God is everywhere in New Orleans. 
Each night we go to sleep in wooden bunks with the names of previous volunteers etched into them. It is an inspiring realization to understand that Wabash College is a part of a greater effort to help our fellow man. The feeling of community here is unsurpassed. And that notion goes far beyond the borders of Louisiana.   Names reach from Kentucky, Mississippi, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, and many more. Being here, we know that we are in the midst of something larger and more extraordinary than any one individual can comprehend. The rebuilding of New Orleans has transcended borders of state, nation, race, gender, and even religion. This is a mission that has bonded us all to one another; it’s clear that God is everywhere.
Steve Stambaugh ‘09
What a wonderful week! As one can gather from the blog entries, we have met some amazing people this week, such as Pastor Washington and his wife, who have persevered at the center of the slow rebirth of the Lower Ninth Ward. Yet to my mind I have also been struck by the amazing spirit of the Wabash men with whom I have travelled and pounded nails all week. Is it not impressive that such a large chunk of our student body has chosen to forgo the traditional frivolity of spring break in favor of helping improve the lives of others?
As you can tell from other entries, we have worked together as a group, developing friendships and trust. I have always noted these connections that develop between students from different living units, and across class and ethnic lines. The sublime nature of these connections was captured by a comment from Marcus Manges, who noted the irony that we have had to travel so far to become so close. This trip more than any other has taught me the value of these developing relationships, as they have proceeded on a personal, even spiritual level. For this reason I owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague Jon Baer for organizing this venture. Faculty members have learned as much as students on this adventure.
Dean Warner
This simple phrase is the best way to describe my trip to New Orleans over spring break. Every day after a long days work, that I am sure you have heard about in other posts, Brother Vance would ask us one simple question “Where did you see God today?” This question brought up some of the most interesting, funniest, and inspiring answers I would hear all week. During every answer session someone would be thanked and remarked how they saw God in someone else. This list would include, but would certainly not be limited to Jacko, Brother Vance, Dr. Baer, Pastor Washington, Dean Warner, several Westside Church members, several more First Christian Church members, and all the Wabash guys.       
The ways people would see God ranged in all sorts of ways. These included seeing God in the beautiful weather we had, seeing God in the amazing food we were served especially from the Westside Church members who made us one of the most delicious meals I have ever ate on Wednesday night. People saw God in how Dr. Baer organized this amazing trip that has changed all of us for the better. People saw God in Brother Vance for allowing us to stay at the West Side Mission and for his amazing spirit. People saw God in how patient the First Christian Church members were in helping teaching us how to build walls, ceilings, tiling roofs, etc. I especially want to thank Jacko who was our group leader and was amazing wealth of knowledge and one of the nicest men I have ever met. People also saw God in Dean Warner and Professor Maharry who gave up their spring breaks to come down with us Wabash men. These two amazing men truly showed God all week in their loving attitude and spirit and always made us smile. People saw God in Pastor Washington who was one of the most awe-inspiring men I have ever met. This 81-year-old man could lift cinder blocks and build a wall faster and more accurate then I would ever have a chance at.
People also saw God in us Wabash men who gave up our spring break to come down and help greatly needy and deserving people to rebuild their homes and buildings. The people down here were so nice to us and appreciated our volunteer work greater than anyone else I have met before. For example random people would come up to us and thank us for the work we were doing down here and pray for us. When we were in an art gallery in the French Quarter, on Thursday night, the man in charge of the art gallery played four songs on his guitar for us to thank us for being down there volunteering. I believe, to be perfectly honest, that they should not be the one thanking me but it should be me thanking them and the people who allowed me to have this experience. This experience has made me a far richer person than if I would not have gone on it, and taught me several life long lessons. 
I would love to come back to New Orleans and help rebuild it for they have a real need and deserve it. People tend to forget that New Orleans has not been cleaned up completely yet and how many people are still hurting from the results of hurricane Katrina. So as I am ending my post I would love to thank all the people mentioned up above immensely for this experience, as well as thanks to all my Wabash brothers who were on the trip, many of whom I have built friendships with whom I did not know before. I would finally like to thank God, and thanks for a question that I think is the best way to end anyone’s day. WHERE DID YOU SEE GOD TODAY?
Stevan Stankovich
As I am sure many other bloggers are writing my New Orleans experience has too been a great one. The past two spring breaks I have gone on immersion programs through the school which I believe have served to make my Wabash experience much more enriched.  It is through things like this that I realize Wabash is much more than just a place people take classes at but is actually an institution where young men learn to live humanely. There have been minor set-backs here and there during our work but I think we have ended the week accomplishing a lot and each of the participants maturing. I would recommend this experience to anyone else and I am considering coming back next spring break.   
Craig Cochran
We arrived here 5 days ago when the spring break started. Before I came here, I had already heard a lot about Katrina and the damage it caused. However, I still got shocked when we drove through the area that suffered most from that catastrophe. From there, I saw the very first beggar since I came to America. He had a board hanging around his neck, which said “help”, so helpless and hopeless. Houses without roofs or with only half roofs stood everywhere, waiting there to be fixed. Three and half years after the nightmare, it seems that people have forgotten this place. So little has been done and so much still has to be done.
On my first day here, everything was just so frustrating that I even thought there was not much we could do about this mess. However, today, five days after we got here, when I look at this place again, I feel completely different. After witnessing those Wabash men working as hard as they could, after seeing how optimistic Pastor Washington was and after experiencing how patient, passionate and lovely the volunteers -- Lyle, Carter and Rick-- could be, I would say this place is not dead at all! Quite to the opposite, this place now seems very lively to me. Not because of its appearance but because of the spirit that is flowing around, a spirit that could never be destroyed by disaster or anything. That is the spirit of love. Love changes things -- I guess that’s the most valuable thing I learned from this trip.
Mike Lu
We enjoyed a productive fourth day of our mission work in New Orleans. Our group has been framing a new house and today we finished putting up all the ceiling joists. I consider it a major accomplishment of the week because there are so many joists and they are so heavy that it looked like a mission impossible at the first. However, at the end of the day, they were all hammered firmly on top of the house. It was amazing to see how much we can achieve as a group. And as one of our members said, everything we do in school is very abstract, like taking a test or writing a paper, but what we are doing down here is something totally different – you can touch the result of your work. I heard our team members shouting “Yes! We just built a wall! Men, hammer, and a wall!”
On this mission trip, I’m exploring lots of things that I have never experienced before in my life. Besides all the construction skills I have learned from this week’s work, I have to mention the chapel time we had with Brother Vance every evening. He kept asking the question “Where did you see God today?” everyday. Though I’m a non-religious person, I found it highly touching to see how sincere and thankful everybody is to share their wonderful stories of the day. No matter who we are and what we believe in, we share the beautiful side of mankind.
By the way, we had a fantastic time at the French Quarter last night. And that’s why I’m blogging today instead of yesterday.
Yijun Tang ‘12
As the week draws to a close, it is neat to see how much progress our group has made. Our house now has an actual floor (though I cannot attest that it is perfectly level); we’ve replaced the main supporting wall; and we’ve re-shingled the roof (Actually, I personally did not help with the re-shingling. I tried, but the steep pitch of the roof was too much for my nerves!).
Our group really hit a rhythm today. Since most of us are not carpenters, it took several days to figure out what to do without consulting our group leader.  Today, everyone knew the routine, and we were working almost non-stop. We even took a shorter lunch break than normal, knowing that this was our last chance to work on the house.
This has been an excellent experience for me. I am very grateful for the people that I have met—be they classmates, members of First Christian Church, or people of New Orleans—and for the chance to help a hurting region.
Zachary Rohrbach ‘12
This week has been, in a word, inspiring. God has really shown his love and his purpose through this trip. There are still a lot of people who are still hurting and needing help in New Orleans. It is interesting, though. They are not the kind of people to accept pity. One man in particular, Pastor Washington, seems to view the aftermath of the hurricane as another trial in his long life—he’s still chugging away at 81! Every morning, we began with a prayer. When praying, he always said to the Lord, “You so good, and you so kind,” despite all that he has been through! He is just one of the many people who have shown how to truly live the Christian life.
I have to make mention of a few friends that I have made during this trip. There were five Asian students who accompanied us on this trip. Not being of the Christian faith, they did not come to demonstrate God’s love, nor did they come to help their fellow countrymen; rather, they came out of the goodness of their hearts to help their fellow man. I have to say that they have been truly inspiring, and in my eyes, God has used them to show me what it truly means to love my fellow man. I had the blessing of working with two guys in particular, How and Yjun (spelling may be way off). For starters, they didn’t understand why we were using wood to build our houses; bricks and stone are the material of choice in China. Second, they came with very little carpentry skills—not that I had too many either. Despite their lack of experience, they were incredibly eager to help out. They would walk around the house looking for nails to hammer or any other way to help out. They are true Wabash men, and I sincerely appreciate all that they did this week.
Unfortunately, this is the last night here. We will not wake up at 6:30 in anticipation of another eight-hour day in the beautiful Big Easy sun, and we won’t be rebuilding the town of New Orleans. Fortunately, we will be waking with a burden on our hearts: to spread our testimonies of our time here. To anyone who is reading this, this city needs your prayers and your help, in any way you can give it. Please don’t forget this town and its people.
Austin Drake ‘11
“Where have you seen God Today?” This question is posed to us each night by Brother Vance as he looks at us with his little grin. We know the question is coming and in my case I have been thinking of it all day and looking for instances in which God reveals himself to us. It’s amazing to me that although we are doing the same work each day we always come up with new ways in which God has been revealed that day, which prompts many excellent discussions to wrap up the evening.
I shared this with the group but I would also like to share it with anyone who wants to read. I have seen God this week in many instances. First and foremost through Brother Vance and Pastor Washington, whose spirits cannot be dampened. Each hardship is just another opportunity and although the people of New Orleans, especially the lower ninth ward where we worked, have dealt with some extreme hardships their attitudes are wonderful and gracious. We have met some excellent people down here and I have seen God through them.
I have also seen God in our leadership from First Christian Church in Crawfordsville, especially Dr. Baer and the man known only as Carter. Dr. Baer organized everything for us and his passion for these people simply gushes out of him. Then we have our site leader Carter who has become a bit of a legend for the 12 or so guys building the house with him. He was very patient with us even though we had very little experience and made tons of mistakes. He always was willing to help and I am very proud to have worked with him. One can see Jesus not only through his attitude but also because of his profession as a builder; Christ after all, was first a carpenter.
Finally I have seen God through the men of Wabash and what we have accomplished here. To have 30 students of roughly 900 willing to give up their spring break to come and serve the people here is pretty amazing. I for one wouldn’t have it any other way and I know the guys here feel the same way.   We have all become much closer through the trip as well and I have seen God working through the relationships built with my fellow Wallies as we all work together to serve him.
This experience has been wonderful and I can’t wait for the chance to come back next year. Where have you seen God today?
Marcus Manges ‘10



March 12, 2009

The Halfway Point

The past few days in New Orleans have been quite an eye opening experience for me and my fellow Wabash classmates. Today has personally been the most impactful, starting with an ordinary trip to the Home Depot. While we were purchasing some supplies for the house we are repairing, Ja Bo and I encountered a very interesting man. This extremely energetic man turned around and noticed that we had a cart full of building supplies, as he had. He then flashed us the biggest smile and started proclaiming the love of Jesus and said “gain the world, lose your soul.” This simple statement really stuck out to me because as we drive past the down town area, there are many fancy, expensive cars with wealthy people in them. What is noticeable in the mass majority of these people is that they all seem to share the same dull, plain, and bored look on their faces. After meeting and hearing the story of Pastor Washington and his wife, I was astonished to learn that they literally lost everything after Katrina. After helping these fine people move into their new house today, we learned that tonight will be the first time in nearly four years that they will sleep in their own bed. The aspect worth noting here is that Pastor and his wife are one of the happiest couples that I have ever met in my entire life. They praise God each and every new day for His love and grace and all that He has blessed them with. I think we all can learn from the testimony of Pastors life.

Adam Miller
 The weather has continued to be kind to us as the temperature stayed in the low 80s and the rain stayed away. The guys who were working on roofs placing shingles may have suffered a bit from sunburn but as I came out of Eddy’s house, working placing floor joists and laying flooring, the sun was a welcome sight.
This evening as we walked from the Westside Mission dormitory to the small sanctuary of the church the sky was ablaze with the red sunset. The jet streaks and clouds streaked the sky. It was an end to a beautiful day, one in which several of our work groups could look back on our work and see some jobs coming to completion. Pastor Washington and his wife were able to stay in their house for the first time in over three years as a group of Wabash men moved their furniture across the street from the house where they had been living back to their own home as it was finally finished, thanks to the work of another group of Wabash men these past three days.
David Maharry
8:00 A.M. Having driven from Westside Mission, we unload all five buses outside a very plain-looking house.   All five work groups grab the tools and supplies they will need for the day’s work from the back of a big yellow van. 10 minutes later, having accrued all the necessities, we are instructed by Pastor Washington to join hands and form a circle. He begins the same prayer he prays every day. It begins “Once Mornin’ Again Lord.” As he continues with his prayer of thanksgiving, I can’t help but look around. I see a vacant lot across the street, an abandoned house next door and 50 Wabash Men holding hands united in one common goal; helping those who cannot do so for themselves. “Once Mornin’ Again Lord” I don’t even listen to the other words of the prayer. My mind is fascinated by that phrase. “Once Mornin’ Again Lord” It has been nearly three years since Katrina, and yet there is so much left to do. It’s easy to forget that we’re not working on just a house. It’s more than lumber, nails, and chalk-lines. We’re working on someone’s home.   A family hasn’t been home for three years.   “Once Mornin’ Again Lord” As I stand in the circle I forget about papers, summer plans, reading I have yet to do and just realize that I have the unique opportunity to help these people. AMEN. Once morning again lord I say, “Amen.”
Seth Tichenor
The week started with a 15-hour drive. We left the campus for New Orleans at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning to help rebuild the areas damaged by Katrina. My job is to climb up and down the roof to find broken shingles and replace them with new ones. In the mornings, the roof is slippery and hard to stand on. Actually, I almost slid down the roof once. In the afternoons, the sun gets high and the shingles become extremely hot. After three days on the roof, I am completely sun burnt although I have been putting on sunscreen twice a day. The job is fun for most of the time. The best part is lying on the roof during breaks and enjoying gentle breezes. One tricky thing about the roofing is to keep the tools from falling. My co-workers and I probably dropped more than 10 different tools in past three days, including hammers, shingles and a box of nails and luckily have not hit anyone yet. So, next time you walked under a roof, watch out when you hear “heads up”!
Jackson Ding
I have always gone into my experiences throughout life with preconceived notions and a certain understanding of what to expect. I never could have anticipated what I have already experienced in these first three days here in New Orleans. 
I am finding it hard to convey the feelings I felt on this trip, so I am going to call on the help of my favorite musician (and many others for that matter): “The Lord works in a strange way.” This statement is especially true for this trip. I came into this experience expecting to apply my experiences throughout life to help build homes for the less fortunate. I could not have accounted for the life changing experiences that would come along with the physical work. Brother Vance and company have made this the single most influential experience of my life and in that way I feel like the Lord truly does work in a strange way. The attitude of those in the Lower 9th Ward is incredibly encouraging and has touched each and every one of us on this trip in a different way. Everything I have done and heard on this trip will always hold a very special place in my heart. Thanks to everyone who has made it possible. 
Vince Okerson

March 11, 2009

In the Swing of Things

There are many jobs being worked on by the volunteers from Wabash, but I am a part of the group that has been framing the house for the woman who was affected by contractor fraud. She had sixty-five thousand dollarsby a false contractor and did not have any money to rebuild her home. So working with our leader Carter, the rest of my group and I have been framing the structure for the inside of the building. We’ve gotten so much accomplished in the last two days that we were able to st stolen art building the rafters of the roof. Our goal is set at finishing the framing of the roof and tar papering it to dry seal the building so more progress can be made on the inside. We, the group, had been struggling at the end of the day yesterday and this morning today due to lack of materials, but about mid morning a shipment of wood made its way to our construction site allowing us to make some serious progress. We are on the right track to completing our goal by Friday afternoon and there should be some pictures posted of our work by then.
I’m not sure if any of the other blogs have touched on the topic of our evening talks with the group, but Brother Vance ends the day by asking all of us “Where did you see God today?” During the first day of work I was so focused on making sure I was keeping busy that I wasn’t really able to see anything, but after hearing all the things my fellow Wabash men had to say inspired me to look for something today. So after the meeting last night some of the other volunteers and I took a walk to Winn-dixie, a local grocery store, to pick up a few things and on my back to the mission a city official drove by in a truck and noticed that we all were workers for the mission. He had a huge smile on a his face and gave me a nod letting me know that he really appreciates what were are doing for his community. So tonight at our meeting I was first to talk, and I explained how I found God today in the man with the huge smile
Cody Schroeder
It has been our second day working in New Orleans. I have been working on a house that has been gutted and I have been working on taking out bad floor boards and sweeping up trash that has been left on the floor. Today, we tore out some walls in the house and also started to put down new floor boards.    There is also work being done outside re-shingling the roof. We plan on putting down the rest of the floor boards and putting down an actual floor and probably rebuild some of the walls, at least the center wall that is taking the weight of the roof. I have been really looking forward to this week and so far I have had a great time working. I am looking forward to getting a lot done this week. My prayers go out to all the Wabash men working on their different houses and to all those who will come after us to help finish the rebuilding of all these houses. I am still amazed at how much has not been done here in New Orleans and even more amazed at the people who are here helping to make a difference everyday for those who has lost their houses in Katrina.
Cory Tiedeman ‘11
This week first started with an incredibly early (5:30 am) departure from Wabash College and a fifteen hour car ride. That sounds like the BEST way to start a week…. right? While the situation just described is one of the worst ways that I can think of to start a week, I am grateful for it. It has created something that I will remember for the rest of my life. This trip to New Orleans has introduced me to a variety of new people, given me great construction experience, and allowed me to help some people that desperately need it. So far for the ministry I have been helping build walls and roof framework on a house for an old lady.
Hope everything is going well,
Brett Birch
I must admit that I was rather unsure of what to expect from this trip prior to our arrival on Sunday evening. I did my best to repress any preconceived notions of what this week would entail, but I simply could not help but anticipate the emotional, feel good about myself, life changing experience that is often associated with trips like this. My fear was that I would try to find some deep, personal meaning that would soon wear off after returning to the comforts of home. Fortunately, these past two days of work have already led me to a much more satisfying conclusion. I have come to the realization that this is exactly where I am supposed to be right now. Despite the hours of labor we have performed and the dangers we have faced, I have yet to feel the need to be doing something different this week. This incredible sense of contentment is much more than a result of helping those who are in need; for I believe that its true origin is the knowledge that I have found myself in a situation in which God fully intended me to be. While it is nice to know that my efforts are making a difference in the New Orleans community, I find it even more satisfying to know that this is where God intended me to spend my spring break.        
Adam Auter
The trip to New Orleans was extremely long, not only because of the distance. According to the change of the temperature, the fifteen-hour trip directly brought us from winter to spring.
My partners and I were working on a small house located at the north side of the Mississippi River, and our task was to clean it up, change its doors, fix the unstable frames, and repair the damaged roof. During past two days, I spent most of my time on the roof. I like doing roofing while enjoying the breeze and sunshine of New Orleans. Basically, my work was to replace the broken and senescent shingles. I figured out that I was good at destroying things rather than rebuilding them, because I worked more efficiently to pull the nails out than knock them in.
Standing at the top of the roof, I could only see few houses in my sight, and most of them were empty. This scene recalled my memory of the ruins of my hometown and the active volunteers after the earthquake in 2008. I realized that people always share the universal humanity, no matter what disaster they suffer, where they are from, and what their belief is.
Merlin Liu
It’s the second day on the New Orleans mission trip, and my facade of patience that I try to put up if failing. Over the last two days, I’ve become frustrated with the materials I’ve been working with. I’ve lost count of the nails I’ve bent hammering upside down into rafters. I’ve been corrected on a number of things that I have done in haste. Today while chiseling some bricks of an entryway, I started to pound at the bricks and cement with just the hammer, and got a cloud of cement dust in my eyes. My haste in the jobs that have been given to me has prevented me from stopping and seeing the work that is being done around me.  There are people here who have waited 3 ½ years to get help on their houses, and I’m in awe of how they deal, and have dealt, with the waiting.
Though they have been cheated, scammed, and forgotten, the people we are working for in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans are thankful and welcoming. The people in the houses we aren’t even working on give us a friendly wave. They have been through the worst of nature, and are optimistic about the work that the volunteers are doing here. Their patience and persistence in life after Katrina is refreshing to observe. You would think these people would be bitter about how they have been dealt with, but the people I’ve talked to are in good spirits, although with some of them I don’t know why.
To end this, I’d like to reflect on a story in the Bible that Brother Vance, the Pastor of the Church we are staying in, has mentioned repeatedly on our trip. He talks about the little old lady who persistently goes to a judge to demand justice, and after a long time, she gets her judgment. The moral is the value of persistence in prayer. The reason Brother Vance talks about this story revolves around a woman we met last year on the trip. She saw the work that we were doing on another house, and asked the Pastor repeatedly about doing work on her house. She must have talked and nagged at him all day, and on the next day, we started working on her house. Yesterday Prof. Baer and I were driving by on the way back to the church and saw her house now. Its completely fixed up, and looks so much better than the wreck it did last year.
David Swann

March 10, 2009

The Work Has Begun

Almost three and a half years after Hurricane Katrina the damage is still tremendous. On our drive to the Lower Ninth Ward the devastation was very apparent; dilapidated houses, trash, and empty lots were everywhere.  As we entered the Lower Ninth Ward, we became overwhelmed by feelings of sorrow and bewilderment as such damage was difficult to fathom. We started to clean, frame walls, and complete finish work and quickly realized we were not skilled in any areas. Though we had great inexperience our passion and willingness to learn was insurmountable.  We pulled together and recognized that we are not only rebuilding homes, but also hope for those in New Orleans.

Michael James Scheitlin and Thomas Christopher Wade
 Today, our first day of work in New Orleans, I began working on one of the many houses that need a lot of work before being ready for someone to live there. The house that I was working on is owned by a man named Willie, the son of a local pastor in the Lower 9th Ward. The inside of the house is completely empty; it doesn’t even have walls or a floor. The condition of this house reminded me of a house that I was working on last year during my spring break trip here.
                The house that I first worked on last year was owned by a couple that had been displaced to Mississippi. I got to go back to their house today to see what it looked like a year later. I went to the house with Dr. Baer and talked with Ray and his wife for quite some time. Being able to witness the final product of something that I was a part of a year ago is something truly amazing. When I left that house last year I never would have imagined that the house could look the way it does now. To see them in their home and back to their lives was something truly inspiring and makes all the hard work that was put in on their house, and the others we worked on, more than worth the effort. The thanks and gratitude that they showed Dr. Baer and me touched me and inspired me to continue my efforts, not only here this week but also next year during spring break, and possibly in mission work later in my future, all in the glory of God.
Eric Griffin
Wabash 2010
Lambda Chi Alpha
            After taking 2 hours to leave campus, I first started to feel that I got something wrong in my. Bearing with my back-pain, I saw that my van approached to New Orleans. Later, I noticed that my van crossed Mississippi River over a longest bridge I’ve ever seen in my life. Honestly, I was really impressed about this bridge. And our van approached New Orleans Business district. Unfortunately, the van went a wrong direction, taking a half-hour to wander around the New Orleans Business district. However, my fellow buddy, Seth, helped us arrive safely.
            After having finished a breakfast at 6:30 AM, our group went to the working site, and later I was assigned to cleaning up a lot of messy things from this destroyed building. Having led by Professor Maharry and other five fellow buddies, we just started to move out a lot of debris from this old building, which was in water for almost two months after Katrina was hit at that time. When the time was reaching to the lunch time, then we moved out from this old building to the local church house to take our lunch. While we crossed two blocks to go to this church, we saw many destroyed buildings, which have been replaced by messy bushes instead. I don’t know exactly why many destroyed buildings are still standing lonely at there. At that time, I was noticed by Westside Mission Church’s pastor’s word: “An old woman was cheated by one company, which promised her to rebuild her house. And she paid $8500 for this construction. But nothing was done.” After that, we just floored the dusty stone and then threw away a lot of trash into a trash bin. Around 4:30 PM, we started to leave from this work-site, noticing that our group is the last group to leave.
Win Htun

March 09, 2009

Day One

Today was the first day of the New Orleans trip, and the majority was spent on the fifteen hour drive. While most of our time was spent in an eleven passenger van, the ride wasn’t necessarily boring. For instance, it was interesting watching my fellow passengers get increasingly more creative in their sleeping positions as the day wore on. When we weren’t trying to sleep the time away though, we had the opportunity to get to know new Wabash men we had yet to meet in class or around campus. In fact, I made a couple new friends today and had the opportunity to hangout and talk with faculty members in a way that isn’t often available on campus do to the hectic day-to-day schedules Wabash imposes on us. For this reason alone, the trip has already been a success.

The general mood among the group is excitement for the work to come. Though most of us are inexperienced in roofing, carpentry, and most other areas of work we are expected to encounter, our enthusiasm seems to outweigh any uncertainty we may have about our ability to help. The director of the mission, Brother Vance, assured us at our “orientation” meeting that while he knows that we are probably inexperienced in what we are about to do, there is no mistake that we can make that hasn’t already been done and fixed. With that assurance, followed by a closing prayer, we were ushered to our bunks to get some rest for the day to come.
As I type, the lights are being turned off and the last vestiges of conversation are dying down. The instant camaraderie that is evident in the lively conversation that has gone on incessantly since our arrival is greatly promising. I look forward to seeing what kind of progress we can make this week as we continue to grow closer together in our attempts to ease the pain that New Orleans still suffers almost four years after Katrina. For now, though, we must rest. I expect tomorrow will bring us great stories to relate back in this blog. If it doesn’t, that probably means we’re not working hard enough.

Bobby Wade

March 04, 2009

Wabash Men Returning to New Orleans

Much is made and discussed when it comes to Wabash College’s Mission Statement’s first charge to ‘think critically.’

But the other three standards are equally important to act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.
More than 30 Wabash men will join members of Crawfordsville’s First Christian Church for a group of 45 headed to New Orleans early Sunday morning. The number of Wabash students has doubled since last spring break when 14 men traveled south.
“There remains astonishing need in New Orleans three-and-one-half years after Hurricane Katrina,” said Wabash Professor of Religion Jon Baer. “Given our very positive experience last year, it made sense to go back. The need remains overwhelming, and it is clear that we can make a contribution that will improve people’s lives.”
Last year the group stayed at Westside Mission, a Christian ministry that rebuilds homes destroyed by Katrina free of charge with volunteer labor and supplies purchased with donations. The Wabash men joined five members of the local church to help rebuild three homes which are now occupied. The Wabash/Crawfordsville men will stay in the same mission again this year and work on two homes.
Baer believes the trip puts the College’s mission statement into real and practical practice. “I view this as a way to serve God and neighbor, while also offering our students a mission and service opportunity over spring break that complements our immersion trips and contributes to our mission statement.”
The Religion Professor also finds gratitude in the student’s reactions to the experience.
“They will take away a wide variety of experiences, lessons, and memories,” Baer said. “Students last year were shocked at the devastation that remained in New Orleans; humbled and filled with gratitude for the blessings they have in their lives that they might take for granted; excited for the opportunity to make a concrete difference in people’s lives. They came away with a terrific sense of camaraderie, the sense that we came together from across campus and across Crawfordsville with a common goal and we united as one to meet that goal.
“They worked tremendously hard and had real satisfaction in the work. They came away spiritually enriched. They returned with a much greater sense of poverty and hardship, with a deeper appreciation for the vagaries and vicissitudes of life. They returned with a deeper sense of what it means to love one’s neighbor. Several students told me that their time in New Orleans was one of the most important experiences they had had in their time at Wabash.”
The group will leave from campus at 5:30 a.m. Sunday and drive the 15 hours straight to New Orleans. They will rise between 6-6:30 a.m. each day to begin their work and quit about 5 p.m. each evening. After time to clean up from a hard day’s work they will eat at the mission and take a night or two in New Orleans while working and staying in the Crescent City.
The group will return late Saturday night.