Evacuating New Orleans, Part 3 #Katrina10
When we finally reached Southeast Texas, Osheta’s godparents, Mickey and Missy, opened their home to our entire motley crew. It was an incredibly loving demonstration of Christian hospitality. We just can’t say enough good things about them. For the next several days, with many millions of other U.S. Americans, we were glued to the television, watching the news closely as Katrina made landfall and reporters tried to assess the damage. I don’t think anyone was prepared to witness what went on to happen when the levees broke.
Day after day, I was filled with anger and heartache as every major news outlet showed photographs and video of U.S. American citizens being left for dead by their own government. Tens of thousands of people were herded into the Superdome and the Convention center and provided with minimal care, if any. While this was going on, people were trapped inside attics, being air-lifted off rooftops, and rescued from floodwaters.
Somewhere in all the news coverage, I saw a photograph of an italian restaurant I recognized from the same street in Mid-city our friends from church lived on. The floodwater was up to the sign above the door. I found out later the floodwater in Hollygrove was just as high, if not higher.
Long after everyone else had had enough of the bad news, I couldn’t pull myself away from the screen. How would we get back to our apartment? Would any of our things be salvable?
That’s when I heard the words that changed everything.
“City officials say it could be weeks, possibly months, before residents will be allowed back into the city.”
“What did they just say?” I asked incredulously.
No one else was paying attention.
“Did you hear what they just said? It sounded like they said ‘weeks, possibly months’ before we can go home. But that can’t be right, right?”
Now, everyone was watching. Eventually, they reiterated. The city has been closed to residents while relief agencies, federal, and state agencies send workers to the city. FEMA, a week too late, had finally shown up, and “brownie” was Not doing a “heck of a job.”
That’s when it hit me. We were effectively homeless. Our apartment, our belongings were gone. And we didn’t have “weeks, possibly months” to wait. We had a baby on the way now! We had already begun seeing our doctor Weekly by this point.
Paralyzing fear rushed in on the heels of a thousand questions. Where are we going to have this baby? Where are we going to live? How would we afford to live there? How would we get there? It felt like there were more questions than air to breath.
We cried and prayed a lot for the next few days. We talked a lot to friends and mentors from all over the country. A lot of people called to make sure we were okay. We weren’t. We were in crisis.
That’s when our pastor, Mike Hogg, called. The website message board I’d installed a few short months earlier was now the primary way the church was keeping in touch with displaced members, many of whom couldn’t make phone calls for days. Many cell phones with New Orleans area codes weren’t working anymore. Others had had to get new phones in their new displaced locations.
Pastor Mike organized a gathering in Houston of members who had evacuated to the West. As we gathered in the parking lot of a strip mall, prayed with one another, cried on each others shoulders, and swapped stories, I saw the body of Christ form before my very eyes. Pastor Mike continues to be a shining example of what it means to be a pastor. He shepherded a flock of scared sheep, scattered by a storm and not sure what would happen next. I’ll never forget the way he cared for us all through the storm.
Back at Osheta’s godparents house, we’d hit a wall and Osheta and I finally broke down. The fear, the uncertainty, the sadness was too heavy for us to bear. I remember the two of us collapsed on the floor next to the bed trying to pray through sobs. We didn’t know how to pray anymore. So we just cried out.
Words begin to fail when I think of just how lost we would have been had it not been for the body of Christ surrounding us. In those dark days, the only glimmers of hope came from prayer and conversations with people who were family to Osheta and I, even if they weren’t blood relatives. We saw the miraculous love of God in the voices and embrace of our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Jimi and Melissa Orekoya were classmates of mine in Bible college. They had lived in New Orleans with me until after graduation, when they’d moved to Boston to attend Gordon-Conwell Seminary. Jimi and I both felt called on to seminary when we were still living in the Bible college dorms together. But, I’d put off seminary to serve in Hollygrove.
As Osheta and I prayed and sought God, moving to a city where I could go on to study in seminary seemed like a hopeful transition. There were two seminaries that had urban ministry programs I had my eye on: Fuller in Pasadena and Gordon-Conwell in Boston. I still laugh when I remember the comment Osheta made about the idea of moving to Pasadena. “They’re still waiting on ‘The Big One’ too! I’ve already survived one natural disaster; I don’t want to go through another one!”
Okay, so Southern California was out (back then!). So that made our conversation with Jimi and Mel all the more amazing. I remember Jimi saying, “Massachusetts will love you guys. This state is so liberal, they’ll take care of you.” He and Mel said we could stay with them until we get on our feet. We were scared but hopeful. Maybe Boston could be a new start. Maybe it was time for seminary.
We left Texas with a mixture of fear and faith in our stomachs. But the roadtrip to Boston was amazing. Every leg of the trip, we visited friends and church family who prayed with us, gave us generous financial gifts, baby clothes, and encouraged us. We experienced such an outpouring of love and support from the family of God on that road trip; we were amazed.
When we arrived in MA, we were told we need to register down at Cape Code so we could get FEMA and Red Cross assistance. There was a very unassuming table with a piece paper taped to it that simply said “Housing.” I very reluctantly approached, with one foot pointed away. “What kind of ‘housing’ are you guys offering,” I asked.
“Where do you want to live?” the man behind the table asked in response.
This was my first time east of Ohio. I knew next to nothing about Boston. I remember thinking “All I know is that Harvard is in Cambridge.” So I heard myself say to the man, “I hear Cambridge is nice.”
He looked through a stack of papers on his clipboard.
“Would you like a two-bedroom, or a three-bedroom?” he asked.
“Ummmmm …three-bedroom,” I said like a question.
“Okay, just sign here and we’ll see you in a few days.”
Two weeks later we were moving into a three-bedroom townhouse in Cambridge.
Our evacuation from New Orleans because of hurricane Katrina changed our lives forever. God met us in our darkest and most fear-filled days. And through the body of Christ, God showed us more love and care than we’d ever experienced. We’ll always love New Orleans and we thank God for the many wonderful friendships that were forged there.