The people I have met in New Orleans continue to inspire me. Statistics may tell you this city has a high crime rate, crumbling political and education systems, etc. But I can tell you the hospitality rate soars higher and speaks louder than those numbers ever could. I am overwhelmed by the love the people at both First and Faith Presbyterian Church have shown me in my time here. I came to these two churches as a mere stranger just hoping to help in anyway I could. I was nervous of how I would be accepted and scared that I would be too shy and under-qualified for the tasks ahead of me. But as soon as I arrived my fears were squashed. These congregations immediately welcomed me with open arms and have treated me like close family since I have been here.
I think it’s great how so many people here are all about hugs! During the “Passing of the Peace,” it is not simply a quick handshake and a muffled acknowledgment. People greet you with smiles that burst at the edges and give you giant hugs that feel like they genuinely mean something. No one sits down until every single person has greeted each other. I just love the openness here, the focus on meals and being together as a family (even if not biologically related), and how every one seems so relaxed and laid back. Everything does move slower here. It is not a lazy, careless kind of slowness though but a deliberate thoughtfulness that allows one to soak up the parts of life that others are missing. New Orleans people seem to know what living means at its most rawness, and I find that incredibly refreshing.
I am enjoying participating in the homeless ministry each week at First Presbyterian. What I am doing seems so simple: sorting, labeling, and laying out shoes and clothes for the women and men to come collect. But it truly is a rewarding experience. I enjoy talking with these people and trying to help them get what they need. It is frustrating when I have to tell them we don’t have something. But the experience is humbling, as I realize how basic the things these people need are and how easy it would be for all of us to give them if we would allow ourselves.
So no big things yet, just doing a lot of small things. It can be frustrating at times, but every little piece of this complicated puzzle counts. Even if I don’t get to see the final picture, I know I am part of it. In a world that at times seems broken beyond repair, I am learning that there is a goodness deep within each of us that has the power to change aspects of it. If only people could realize it just takes filling in the gaps with little things to achieve wide-spread, positive change. I continue to hold on to my faith and try each day to retain this sense of optimism despite the suffering I have witnessed. New Orleans is absolutely soul-medicine.