RCA members are blessed by UMVIM trip to New Orleans

November 20, 2007

By Rev. Dick Corson


In what many hope will become an annual event, thirteen members of the Retired Clergy Association (RCA) of the California-Nevada Annual Conference headed to New Orleans to participate in the ongoing effort to rebuild the Katrina-devastated city.


Under the leadership of Nadine DeWitt, the team of VIM volunteers spent a week installing insulation and hanging, taping, and mudding sheetrock in a home in the Gentilly area of the community.


Guided by a text from the prophet Nehemiah who looked upon the ruined walls of Jerusalem and said, “Come, let us rebuild….,” our team members were encouraged to see ourselves as Nehemiahs. “You are Nehemiahs,” suggested Louisiana United Methodist project coordinator Len Carter. “You will make a difference, not only as you help rebuild the city but as you listen to the stories people need to tell.”


And with those words stirring in our hearts, we said farewell to volunteers from New York, Arkansas, and Wisconsin – packed a load of power drills and bits, knives, T-squares, saws, sanders, ladders, screws, and tape into our rented vans – and headed to our assignment: a modest, flood-ravaged, two-story house that will soon become home to three generations of a large and beautiful family we came to know, admire and love.


Fully aware that we would not see the restoration of this home to its completion, we did all that we could in four long days of intense labor, encouraged by the home owner’s son, Don, who repeated over and again, “You are a blessing.”


When we left the house on Baccich Street for the final time, we left it clean, orderly and almost ready for texturing, painting, flooring and completion by the team from Pennsylvania that was to follow. We also left it full of our laughter, warm thoughts and positive, powerful prayers.


Not only that, we left the house knowing that our labor, valued at $18.04 an hour by the government, meant that Louisiana would retain $8,208.20 of FEMA money.


It is often difficult to quantify the impact of a VIM team on a local community. That our labor had an established value was unique to this and comparable Gulf Coast situations. Yet beyond this measure we left New Orleans with the assurance that the food we consumed, the vans we rented, the musicians we supported, the tips we left, and the contributions we made to St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, and North Rampart Community Center all boosted the struggling local economy. And if that weren’t enough, we were reminded everywhere we went in the city – made recognizable by our identification badges and accents – that the fact that we cared enough to come and “help rebuild our city” was widely appreciated. That was repeatedly expressed in restaurants, grocery stores, and the aisles of Lowes: “Thank you for coming. Thank you for caring. Thank you!”


During a debriefing on our last evening together, one team member shared this insight. “There are two sides to New Orleans. The dark side is here. Death is here, as are devastation and despair. Yet hope is also here. Everywhere we look we see institutions like the church responding in creative and compassionate ways. And people are responding. That’s the light side of it all, the good side. And our faith says that good will eventually triumph.” It’s such faith that encourages teams like ours to lend the stubborn ounces of their faith to the cause of justice, goodness, and hope.


North Rampart Community Center, where we were housed, is a project of the Women’s Division of the Board of Global Ministries. Every afternoon when we returned from our work site we were greeted by energetic children who couldn’t get enough of our attention. When told why we were there and what we were doing, one little boy looked into a gentle face and said, “Will you come work on my house?” Who knows? Maybe next time we will. By God’s grace, maybe we will.


As is always the case with VIM projects, those of us who went to New Orleans received back a double measure of blessing, some of which we hope we can share with our colleagues in ministry. One team member put it like this: “Repairing a home together, in the face of great destruction, bound us together. We returned more deeply aware of human need and suffering, convinced that little acts of caring can make a significant difference.”


For further information feel free to contact team members: Nadine DeWitt, Jerry Angove, Linda Butler, George and Louise Carter, Jim Corson, Richard Corson, Don and Lillian Cunningham, Dick and Barbara Ernst, Betty Pagett, or John Sublett. Also participating with our group was Myrna McMillan from New Zealand.


Photo captions:


1. The Cal-Nevada UMVIM team led by Nadine DeWitt.

2. Dick Ernst, Jerry Angove and George Carter installing drywall.

3. The house belonging to Don Guy and his family which was the focus of the team's attention.  

4. Don Guy, one of the homeowners.

5. Jim Corson (in striped shirt) and Dick Corson at work.


(Photos by John Sublett, Jim Corson, and an unidentified Baptist.)