Each year over spring break, students from Concordia's two residential campuses in Mequon and Ann Arbor have the joy and humbling experience of serving others through university-sponsored mission trips. This year, from March 10-16, dozens of students from CUW and CUAA traveled to Guatemala and New Orleans to repair and rebuild homes. CUW student Rachel Oostdyk ('20) was among the students who traveled to New Orleans, and this week, she offered her reflections on the experience.
A favor or gift bestowed by God.
My spring break trip to New Orleans was the definition of blessing.
When 46 Concordians, both from Mequon and Ann Arbor, loaded up on a coach bus to head to Louisiana, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. A 14-hour ride with a group of people I, for the most part, didn’t know. This was my first mission trip. How was I expected to serve and work together with people I had just met?
Those worries were short-lived, however. By the time Monday rolled around that segregation between CUW and CUAA had diminished significantly. By Tuesday, you wouldn’t have known we were a group from two separate campuses.
New Orleans took my breath away. Before we left, I was pretty unaware of how damaged the city still was from Hurricane Katrina. The extent of my knowledge about Katrina was what I saw on the news as a child: flooded neighborhoods, helicopters flying over the city, and images of people crying and clinging to each other. I knew that there was still some work that could be done, which is why Concordia was going down there in the first place. But it wasn’t until we were driving through the neighborhoods I realized that the aftershocks of Katrina were far from over. People were still suffering.
When you drive down a street in New Orleans, there will be one beautifully restored home right next to one that hadn’t even been touched. Some properties are now just empty lots. There isn’t a very systematic approach to rebuilding these homes because reconstruction relies on volunteer work and donated materials. But even thirteen years later, there are people still waiting to return; many just cannot afford the repairs themselves.
A lot of the work Concordia did was home restoration, along with working in a food pantry and helping out a community center. All of these were amazing opportunities to not only serve others, but learn about the community. Not everything we did was fun. Some of the jobs were far from it actually. My body was aching by Tuesday night after carrying in full sheets of drywall into the community center. I’m also pretty sure there’s still some insulation residue in my hair from the hours we worked on packing the walls. But despite all of that, I loved being able to participate in the construction work, and learn about these kinds of skills I’m sure will be useful farther down the road.
Additionally, God was so amazing at showing us what this work meant to the people of New Orleans. During construction, those passing by would stop and talk to us, and even thank us for our service. Even if they had no idea whose house we were working on, they were touched. The people shopping at the food pantry thanked us profusely for just standing next to the tables and helping them pick out their groceries.
But beyond serving, beyond exploring a new city, the best thing that came out of my time at New Orleans were the friendships I cultivated. If you would have told me before I left CUW last week that I would be in tears on the way back, I would have laughed in your face; friendship doesn’t seem to come naturally to me.
The opposite was true on this mission trip. I became such great friends with so many new people. Maybe it was the fact that we were forced to work together, or constantly be around each other. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that when our bus dropped off CUAA in Tinley Park, I felt their absence; with some of my new friends from Ann Arbor it felt like we had known each other for much, much longer than six days.
Whenever I look back on NOLA 2018, I will always think of “blessing.”
A blessing to the citizens we served. A blessing to those we helped rebuild and reshape the community.
A blessing to me.
New Orleans – both the city and the group I went with – has left its mark on my heart. Our mission was to serve the people in a way that exemplified Christ. I believe we succeeded, but I think we succeeded even more in serving each other. On our way back to Clinton, Mississippi, the bus ride was filled with stories about how much this trip transformed us and impacted us. There were laughs. There were (many) tears. There were prayers. Six days we were together, and in that time we grew close enough to where it became painful to part ways.
I know that no experience will be the same as this trip, but if the Lord is willing and the trip is still offered, I will continue to go south each spring break until I graduate. I don’t think God is done with me yet in mission work. I’ve learned so much this trip, but I know there is still so much out there He has yet to show me. I can’t wait.
Until next time, NOLA.
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