Eating with the crowd of Christians under the canopy Sunday morning, freedom began to ring as Don Stedman and other leaders explained our job choices. They stressed that relationship building with residents and praying in the tent "tabernacle" were as important as roofing and mucking!
I chose to attend the service in the little Baptist church next to our tent city. The contrast of our work clothes to the Sunday-best of the congregation didn't stop them from grabbing our hands during the circle prayer time. An older gal helped me with my poor rhythm as we all swayed back and forth.
I worried a bit as I walked to the little house on blocks where I would join my husband Neut in sheet-rock work. Could my tendinitis elbows do this? Joy! I discovered a niche for me, mudding and taping that involved no lifting or pulling. When meal times or the snack car came I was weary -yet without a single elbow pain.
The next morning I woke early and promised myself the luxury of using the church's flush toilets if I got up to help with breakfast. (Small joys.) What fun to prepare eggs, bacon, fruit and biscuits with a group of gals (and Devin!) before the sun came up.
Overalls on, I headed back to the small white house to work but I took the freedom to hear more of Joyce's story. (She is the 71 year-old owner.) We sat between her small cave of a Fema trailer and the kitchen steps by her old home. Joyce drawled on, "When I heard dat Katrina was headed for our river, I knew the whole gulf'd be flowing up it: so I started puttin' stuff up high in my house to save it. My suits were already up when I saw da suitcase and I tol my gran' daughter: 'Get those down and put 'em in dis case.' Now, they laughed at me at the shelter 'bout bringin' suits (some never worn!) but after Katrina I axed them: 'Where's yor navy suit?' 'Cause ya see, we all wear navy suits when we usher at church."
Joyce shared many stories with me those three days. Scary ones like her sons surviving on top of the school roof for days. Sad ones like deeply missing her twin sister who died last November -not living to move back into her house where her wheel chair would have room to move. Amazing ones like the tree her grandfather planted surviving the flood. Crazy ones like re-construction people charging exorbitant prices to repair houses and doing a shoddy job. Happy ones about her children and grand children's lives.
That afternoon freedom gave me permission to break away from my exhausting labor to nap and then spend time in the prayer tabernacle. The leader needed a break so she left me "in charge". A group of children came in to color their prayer and giggle. Olga, a little older, scolded the others. "If Mrs. __ was here she'd shoo us out." I pondered her words and my possible duty to "shoo". The thought of Jesus' words "Let the children come to me..." convinced me to put up with the noise.
Another time that I was in the tabernacle a resident from down the road hobbled in. She made the sign of the cross, listened to the Bible reading and joined her prayer to our spontaneous intercession. As I helper her crippled knees navigate the step to leave, she confided, " I'd heard about this 24/7 prayer tent an' when I was invited to dinner I decided to come in here and see for myself."
One evening during group worship I glanced up at the levy and saw the top of a ship all lit up like Disneyland. As it glided silently by I wondered if that party-boat held the joy that our star-lit community worship had in Jesus.
Too soon the silver bus was pulling up to be loaded. We joined the youth in the final litter patrol. There was Joyce under her "grandfather's tree". Neut and I hurried over to hug her good-bye. She sat there as the big bus began the trip back to our intact, lovely homes.
Sally J. Williamson