Saint John's Evangelical Lutheran Church 
48 Greene Avenue, Sayville, New York 11782
Office: (631) 589-3202 - Fax: (631) 589-1419 - E-Mail:
stjohns11782@aol.com
Rev. Brian Noack, Pastor
 
 

 

Day 1: Sunday, March 26 2006
We arrived safely in New Orleans, a little late, but safely. We arrived at Saint Paul LC, where we are staying, and arrived just in time to see the end of church here. The people were very friendly and welcoming, and very glad to see us. Pam, who is the site coordinator here, showed us around the church. The sanctuary was damaged heavily and had to be gutted, and while they are still building, church meets in the basement. We enjoyed meeting several people from the church. Also staying here is a group from Pittsburg, five of them. They are nice, and since they just got in yesterday, I am sure we'll be comparing notes each day as energy permits.

After finding lunch, we headed to Saint John LC and met with the property chairman there. The whole area around the church is basically vacant...houses have to have power/phone/etc hooked back up. Street lights are either not working or blinking red and yellow. Businesses are closed and probably not reopening. And there is stuff (junk/trash/furniture) everywhere, piled up in front of houses, on the streets, in yards, in empty lots. I am not sure how they are going to get all this out of here. It is inconceivable at this point. Saint John sustained quite a bit of damage. They have power in their gym, but the rest of the property is not hooked up yet, and no phone. When they have services (used to be 3 a weekend, now it's one), they run the whole church building on a generator. The church itself is gorgeous, or used to be. But roof problems plague them at this point, and insurance is not helping. They are ready to seek legal aid at this point. Most of our work will be in the gym building and school, laying tile, sheet rocking, moving cabinets and so forth. A lot of lifting and moving stuff. The church is getting put back together, albeit very slowly. But We feel as though this week we will be able to make some headway.

After seeing St. John, we ventured over to Lake Ponchetrain and saw some bad areas there. We then saw parts of the ninth ward, not the really bad parts, but bad enough. And we then went to Chalmette out on the toe of LA, a place that was basically completely submerged. Pretty shocking stuff there too. Again, not a lot of people around, tons of debris and junk everywhere, and just devastation everywhere. It is an unbelievable site, and I know we haven't really seen the worst of it yet.

After our mini tour, we went to dinner for some Creole cuisine and now everyone is turning in after a long day. Leaving at 5 am was early and made for a long day. Tomorrow we start work, and we'll need the rest.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack

Day 2: Monday, March 27 2006
Today was an early start. Not that we had to be somewhere early, just that we didn't sleep well, the room got really cold (I slept in a sweatshirt with the hood on for about 5 hours), and I think we were a little anxious to get moving. But, an early rise enabled us to have a good, hearty Southern breakfast with grits and smoked New Orleans sausage, all cooked in butter, and floating in butter...it made diner food look healthy! We then headed over to Saint John to start work. We cleaned up a courtyard, pressure washed an outside wall in preparation for painting, moved some cabinets in the kitchen that were put in incorrectly, and starting laying tile in the kitchen. To break up the day, two nice ladies from the church came and brought us Subway sandwiches for lunch. That gave us a nice break and a chance to hear about their stories and how things are going.

One of the interesting things we found out is that many teachers were laid off because of two things: school buildings were not ready to open up again, and students were sparse. Thus, for the high school, kids in Orleans Parish (that's Louisianan for county) are going to a school in Jefferson Parish. They do what is called "transition school" where one group of kids goes to school for 7 or how many ever periods they go, from 8:30-12, shortened periods with no lunch. They then go home, the teachers get an hour for lunch, and then at 1, the next group of students comes in until 4:30. Basically, their school system has fallen apart both because of student loss, and also because Christian education is so big here. And, they are finding that the quality of education is better in other areas (TX, Baton Rouge, etc) that they are staying away.

Anyway, we worked today from about 8:30 until 5, and then we got cleaned up and headed back to Saint Paul. We then ventured out to a small area restaurant and bar and had more cajun type food to end the day. Upon our return back here we got a chance to look at some pictures from the other group that is here of what they have been doing. They have been gutting a house and they said that all around the inside perimeter, you could see the ground outside. They also said that if a couple of them pushed hard enough on one of the outside walls, the place would probably fall over. But, this house is considered repairable. How? I don't know, but they said most of the houses are this way. And, now that they have gutted it, they have to let it air dry for many days before any rebuilding can be done. And, the house has termites, so that has to be dealt with too.

I cannot express in words clearly what it is like here. We asked the lunch ladies today what we could do in NY to help them, either politically or in awareness. Their response was twofold: just let everyone know that things are not okay, that it is not better here. Basically, there are parts of the city that have not been touched since Katrina hit. And secondly, to encourage our government to come up with an emergency plan and ACT ON IT! New Orleans has had plans in theory down for over 40 years, but they never acted on any of it, and so when the big one hit, they got caught with their hands tied, and everyone is blaming everyone else and nothing is getting done. We made the comment today that there is no way that New Yorkers would let our lives continue to be disrupted as these people have. It is just unreal how people are living, or better yet, existing.

Well, we pushed hard today, and we're all a little sore. Tonight, we should rest well. Tomorrow, we may move a little slower, but hopefully not. We are pleased with the progress today, and look forward to a nice week here. Hope all is well in Sayville.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack

Day 3: Tuesday, March 28 2006
Today we got up and got going pretty early, considering how hard we worked yesterday. I think we all slept better last night. After a quick coffee at a local dive we headed back to St John and continued the work on the kitchen floor. There are three drains in there that Art is working at cutting around so they can keep access to them. But it's slower going than we thought. We were able to put two coats of paint up on the outside gym wall, even with lingering clouds all day. And we started sheet rocking the soon-to-be church/school office. And, we continued with the courtyard cleanup, pressure washing the concrete to make it cleaner.

We again had a great lunch provided for us...this time a nice lasagna, bread, and fruit salad. We didn't have much other interaction with people from the church today, but, we got a lot done because of it. We found out today that we are actually here on a bad week. Many of the people who are around all the time are gone this week, and a lot of the people who usually can help if we need things, started new jobs or are out of town on business. But, we are self-starters so it's fine.

Today I also got a call from one of my seminary classmates, Pastor Limakatso Nare who is here in NO. He met us after working and went to dinner with us and had a lot of stories to share about his experience and others in the area. Unfortunately, he counted four churches he knew of that were planning on closing their doors for good because of no funds or people, or both. And he said one of the biggest problems for the city is that they are still deciding what the new building codes are going to be. Therefore, if you are going to rebuild your home here, and if you do it under the old codes, when they are set, if they are different, you may have to do major renovations again to get your home up to code. As a result, people are doing nothing, waiting for the codes to be set in place, and yet, hurricane season is only a month and half away. This place really has a lot going against it right now. But, as for Pastor Nare, his church is back up and running and he is doing well. It was nice to see him again, and to catch up, and to have him meet our work crew.

After dinner we strolled around the French Quarter, and walked down by the Mississippi River. It was a nice night, and we kind of lost track of time. So, we are in late, and will be up early. But, we are excited about our progress, and are looking forward to seeing some of our projects come to completion. Hope all is well in Sayville. Have a blessed Lenten Wednesday.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack

Day 4: Wednesday, March 29 2006
After getting in late last night, today started a bit later, and a bit slower. I think we all hit a bit of a wall today and just had trouble getting moving and staying focused. For breakfast today we headed into the French Quarter to Cafe Du Monde for some delicious Cafe Au Lait, Hot Chocolate, and of course, beignets (fried dough squares about an inch thick with about three quarters of an inch of powdered sugar on top, much like a zeppole I am told).

With hands sticky and greasy, and bellies full, we arrived at Saint John. The wall we painted yesterday survived what little rain we had over night and still looks good. Today, we continued power washing the courtyard, tried to finish laying all the tile in the kitchen (we're almost done with that), hung a lot of sheetrock in the principal's office and other areas of that building, and got a coat of paint on the front church doors that we had sanded. (They called it stain, but when Rose applied it to the door, it turned out to be burgundy. Not my preference, but it's their church) We again had a nice lunch (spaghetti, peas, bread, and chocolate cake, although Rose and Leo ate sushi which they had been talking about since we got here) brought to us by a Melanie who we found out just got married after Katrina. Her house was completely destroyed but her husband luckily had parents in Metarie which is by the airport whose home was not damaged. So they are there for now, but would like to rebuild on their place in NO. She said if they can survive Katrina and living with the in-laws for so long, the rest of married life has to be a piece of cake.

After our work detail we took a drive to the Garden District where we found some really nice houses that looked almost like plantation homes which had survived the hurricane, or at least had the money to repair quickly. And then, just a few houses down we'd see a house with the roof blown off and junk on the street. It was an interesting part of town...apparently no zoning or neighborhood beautification laws. We got back to St. Paul at about 6:30. They did not have a Lenten service here that we knew of, so I quickly sat down to try and find another church that was. We missed going to Pastor Nare's church because their service was at 7 and we would not have made it. Instead we found a church on the West Bank across the Mississippi River in a little town called Gretna. The associate pastor there is a man named Larry Beane whom I graduated the seminary with. We attended service there and had chance to talk with him a few minutes. We also got to meet a few of the congregants there who were thick-accented cajuns with a lot of stories about the olden days. Nice people, loved to talk, and we got some real laughs from our conversations with them.

At this point, the evening was fading quickly. It was 9, and we still hadn't had dinner. Unfortunately, the way it goes around here is that places close up early because they can't afford to stay open and pay people to work late. So, many restaurants only serve for one shift and many have just a limited menu. So, unfortunately tonight, all we could find was McDonald's. Not our favorite, but it was hot and available. So, we brought our food back to St. Paul and ate in the conference room. I think it was the first table we ate at all week without sitting in each other's laps.

Well, another late night, and there's only two days left of working. We have made great progress, but there is so much more that needs to be done. I just wish we could do more, but everyone we have met has been very appreciative of our work at the church. Even when we meet people on the street at night, when they hear we are from NY and are volunteering down here, they always say thank you even if they have no interaction with the church at all. The people of this city are just happy to see a physical manifestation of caring. They are delighted that people from everywhere care enough to take a pause from their life to come and help them. It has really helped to keep our spirits up and our focus right while we have been here. Take care.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack

Day 5: Thursday, March 30 2006
Today we got going fairly early. We were eager to finish our projects from yesterday which were close to being done finally. We finished the tile in the kitchen, sheetrocked the offices as much as we could, we tried to do some plumbing work in the school bathroom, but the equipment was wrong and the tools inadequate, and we finished staining the doors to the church. Then, we had a bit of bad news. A member of the church came in and said that the stain we had been given was the wrong stain, and he asked if we could re-sand the doors and do them again. To be nice we said okay, and then we proceeded to leave them as they were. We already had two coats of stain on, and we are only planning on working a half day tomorrow. The doors look 100% better than they did before, and I think for now, they can stay the same. They have bigger fish to fry.

Speaking of food...I know, it seems like all we do is eat. But, today's lunch was homemade jambalaya, bread, and cookies. It was great! And, the ladies that brought it also gave each of us goodie bags of New Orleans stuff. It was very nice. The members of the church are just so appreciative of us being here, and they want to thank us, but it really isn't necessary. In the afternoon we moved a bunch of stuff around in the school in preparation for teachers to come in and get set up for the next year, and for the church to start storing stuff in the school so they can renovate the church building. We also set up their computer lab, painted the kindergarten classroom and moved some cabinets to the school. It was a lot of lifting and moving, and we are sore today from it.

We finished up around 4 today, got cleaned up, and headed out to Metarie by the airport. We had been invited to the Lutheran Disaster Response camp by the chef to have dinner tonight. He was doing southern barbeque (or bar-b-q, or BBQ, which ever you prefer). It was delicious, and we had a chance to visit with the other 130 people who were at the camp and are doing work down here. It was a great time, and Bill, that's the chef, is trying to get funding to go around and do New Orleans cooking at various churches that have been down to raise awareness and raise money for the relief effort. I gave him my card and said we'd be glad to have him. We'll see if it comes to fruition.

We got back to Saint Paul at about 8:30 and we are enjoying some down time for once. Tomorrow, like I said, we are only working a half day, and then we are going to see some sites in the area as a close to our trip here. The work has been long and hard, but has been good, and we have fallen in love with the people around here. Everyone is so nice and welcoming and has appreciated our presence. It's been great, but there is so much more to be done. I hope our district keeps sending groups down, maybe even us again in the fall. We'll see where the Lord leads us.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack

Day 6: Friday, March 31 2006
Our last day of work. We got to the church around nine, and no one was around, and we had really completed all the tasks we were assigned plus some. So we started out by finding things to do on our own, general cleaning, picking up trash and the like. Once Bethany, the principal showed up we started doing windows and prepping the floor in the school building so they can lay tile once it comes in. Overall, today was a bit misdirected but still worthwhile.

Lunch was provided by a very nice lady named Sarah (by the way, down here everyone is Miss or Mr so and so. Thus, Sarah is Miss Sarah, and so forth). She brought shrimp po boys and pralines (pronounced prah-leans down here) which were very good. Sarah also shared a lot of stories about how the congregation slowly started to trickle back in after the storm and how comforting it was to gather in the church for the first time for service.

After lunch we cleaned up and went for a drive through a hard hit part of the Lakeview area, and we saw the place where one of the levees broke. All the houses we saw had been completely submerged, and all of the sand and silt had piled up inside the homes. Unbelievable sights. We then headed back into the lower 9th ward again and saw some places that were in really bad shape. But what was amazing was the number of people who are around, trying to take care of what's left of there house and property. The people really believe they are going to move back and rebuild. By and large, the people here have a great deal of hope which is kind of neat to see. It is sometimes easy for us to say that it's a total loss. Bulldoze it. But the people here are saying no. This is home, and it's going to stay that way. I am sure the attitudes would be the same if roles were reversed.

After we drove around we came back to Saint Paul to rest, and then a few of us headed out to the French Quarter to look around again. Cindy, Leo, and I went to the Cathedral of Saint Louis for the 5:00 mass and stations of the cross. It was kind of bland but the cathedral was neat on the inside. We then came back to St Paul and got the rest of the crew and we headed into a nice part of NO which was not really hit hard. It is the home of Tulane and Loyola Universities. We were able to meet up with Cindy's distant relative, Allison, at a local dive called Franky and Johnnie's. The food was good, the waiter was really nice, and Allison was even gracious enough to pick up the tab. We had a great visit with her and got to hear the scoop on the political scene here, as well as how colleges are dealing with the devastation.

Now, we are back at St. Paul getting ready for our last night on the cots. It has been a really good experience here. There is so much more to be done. As I said on the first day here...things are not okay here now. This cleanup will take at least another 5 years, and who knows about the local economy. It's going to be a long process, and they are going to need a lot of support.

Hope everything is going well in Sayville, and we look forward to seeing you all in the days to come.

In Christ,
Pastor Noack