I was called to rebuild New Orleans. I did not receive that call through prayer. I was not told how. I was told simply to go.
I did not know how I would make it to NOLA but knew I would arrive. I told loved ones and respected teachers that that was my calling. I signed up for this job without much consideration as to what it would be like or if I was well suited to the task. I did not pick this job because I wanted to go to Mardi Gras or hear jazz music. I picked this job because I was called to.
I had no expectations. Anything that was to come was to be part of responding to my call; I did not leave my home with the knowledge to build a house or that a hurricane was brewing in the gulf. My faith to go and follow has led me to the greatest adventure of my life.
I cannot write words that describe my life here adequately. So let me focus simply on the three homes I have worked on.
The first was in St. Bernard’s Parish, the only county in America that has been completely submerged in water. I was working on Newport St. for the Samienego family. They had come to the U.S. from the Philippines less than ten years before hurricane Katrina had taken their home. Efren had tried to gut his home and work 50-hours a week to feed his wife and kids. In doing so he became ill with Ocular Lymphoma because of the chemicals he came in contact with in his ruined home. All five Samienegos shared one bedroom without a floor and unfinished drywall while we built the downstairs of their house.
I had many great joys in that house. I remember when Elvie first opened up to me and began hugging me every day when I came to work on her home. It was from working on sixteen foot scaffolding to mud their ceiling that I first seriously confronted my fear of heights. I loved working late on Fridays to do things I knew Efren was going to do on his one off day from work and seeing his smile Monday because of it. I remember the smile on Elvie’s face when she came in to her kitchen and saw for the first time the granite countertop I had helped install.
But most of all I remember their tears when their home was dedicated and we feasted with a hundred volunteers in their finished house.
The second house I worked on was in my own neighborhood of Gentilly. The Buisson’s home was in one of the first parts of town flooded. It sat in eight feet of water for two weeks. When I first got to the Buisson home I could see through the studs from end to end and it was filled with debris. Now it is near completion with beautiful rooms of many colors and bamboo floors. Cheryl Buisson makes the best Gumbo I have ever had. Paul has become one of my closest friends. He is the most spiritual person I know and certainly the only published construction worker I have ever met. Paul works nightshifts as a janitor so he can meet every volunteer on his house and work with them.
The Buisson’s are like a second family to me. I worked on their house for six months. We spent many days talking about the Lord and his blessings. His home has felt more alive with the Spirit to me than St. Peter’s in Rome. One of the best weeks of my life was building a deck with Paul and a coworker of mine alone to talk about God and life and love. It was a sad day when I was told I was leaving his home unfinished to begin work on a new project in New Orleans East.
I am now working on my third home, which is on Forest Glen Rd in a rough neighborhood by Lake Pontchartrain. I have never met Lionel Corley but I pray for him and his home daily. His house is the greatest challenge I have met in my life. His home is a large two-story house connected to an adjacent one-story house that will be for his mother. I am working on it for an inter-denominational program called Church World Service that hopes to finish both houses in three months. Both houses have problems to no end, and it has been a zoo of volunteers and sub-contractors. For three Sundays beginning on Easter, Lionel’s house has been robbed.
I will not let myself be discouraged by this new challenge. I came to help rebuild New Orleans, and my eight months of experience has given me the patience and the know-how to get through this task. Every day has formed me into a better disciple of Christ, a better carpenter to do his work and a better leader of volunteers. I have grown more in this year than any in my life. As I pray for Lionel and his home and for those who seek profit from its misfortunes, I have come to realize that God is not punishing me or throwing me a curve ball now. He has built in me a solid foundation to weather these storms; he has given me an even keel to traverse choppy waters. This year of service as a Construction Assistant has been more than a collection of experiences and new knowledge gained; it has taught me to find my strength in the Lord.
– Alex Marino