Saturday, December 31, 2005


Today has fostered a multitude of emotions. Help me be steadfast, God.

Today, as we traveled to the work site along the coastline, I was struck yet again by the magnitude of what I was seeing, hearing, and feeling. When something so big and horrific has devastated these people in such a thorough way, how can a person as small as me do anything of importance? To my right was a peaceful, serene stretch of ocean, a sight which always humbles me, while on my other side was one of the most moving and ghastly spectacles I have ever seen. I often pride myself on being well-traveled and “wise” in the ways of world poverty and devastation. As I have come to think, I’ve done my fair share of poverty tourism and seen the worst of the worst. Driving to Biloxi, however, floored me. This, I had to remind myself, is America. This is not a third world country, yet it is the most humbling and heart-jerking scene I have ever seen. Drew, the driver of my Tahoe transportation, pulled over near a particularly trashed creek and we tentatively stepped out into a full-blown war zone.

I walked with trepidation through the wreckage of someone’s home, carefully trying to avoid the broken china and glass that was scattered across what was formerly a beautiful beachfront backyard. As I walked toward the destroyed brick house, I saw an amalgamation of stuffed animals, clothes, and household appliances littering the lawn. The side of the house had a spray-painted X, a symbol I had seen previously on many houses and buildings in St. Bernard Parish. The X on each building signifies that it has been searched for bodies, and the number in the X signifies the number of bodies found in each building. Seeing this spray-painted X with the number one on the side of what I’m sure used to be a well-loved and beautiful house struck me in a way nothing else had.

After absorbing the destruction as best as could be done in a time span of ten minutes, we reloaded the Tahoe and went on to the work site: Sylvia’s house. Sylvia is one of the sweetest women I have ever met. Yesterday, after seeking a listening ear and finding one in me, she told me about the hurricane. She, her husband, and her son were on her front porch when Katrina hit and she described the acute fear she felt as she heard and saw the storm approaching. She told me how a wall of water from the sea came from the left, while from the right came a wall of water from the bay, and she watched as the two walls met and exploded in front of her house. She doesn’t know how to swim and told me that she has never known a fear as terrifying as when the water began creeping up her body at a steady pace. I talked with her for a few minutes, and she gave me a cursory tour of her trailer, welcoming all of us to “borrow” her facilities at any time. After talking to her about her experience and discovering her undaunted optimism, I realized that even though her house had been destroyed, her home was still within her. Her home was the community, not just confined to the four walls of her house. She also articulated that everything had been put into perspective; her possessions were not as important as her family and community and faith.

The unflagging generosity of Sylvia and her husband astounded me. We arrived each day expecting nothing in return for our efforts, yet Sylvia and her husband provided us with clean bathroom facilities (thank goodness!), cookies, chips, cold drinks, and a ready smile. Sylvia even bought a mechanical back massager and worked on our tight muscles during the lunch break. Our work crew from Tennessee and Canada was there to help them, to fix them, yet Sylvia was the one fixing us. She taught me about optimism. She taught me about compassion. She taught me about hope and generosity and faith. She seemed to be the one healing us, but we’re not the broken ones… are we?

Help me be steadfast, God.

Sarah Terpstra
Group Charlie - Team 3


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