Eleven days in Allendale, plus two full days driving, thirteen days. From leaving South Bend to coming back last night at midnight, it was actually three hundred and twenty-two hours, and almost every one of those hours was an experience unto itself, so actually you're lucky that I'm only taking five posts to tell you all about it. I've planned it out too, here's a preview of topics to be covered:
4. The End of My Rope
5. The Word of the Lord
So hang in there with me. Now, without further ado, your introduction ...
Allendale is a downtrodden neighborhood in Shreveport, LA, where the People of Praise has been working for the past five years. We have a number of people living there year-round - a men's house, a women's house, and a retired married couple - and they are claiming that neighborhood for Christ. They live life in common with one another, as the early Christians did, and seek to draw more people into the kingdom of God. They pray with people for healing, they talk to people about Jesus, they call people on to live better lives, and they extend the love and friendship of Christ to everyone they meet.
In the summer, the rest of us get to join in their work. Since the crucial parts of their work involve long-term relationships with people in the neighborhood, what we can help with is mostly the physical labor part. Over the past five years we have built six houses and done fix-it projects in a number of neighbors' houses. The picture to the left here is Yale Ave., "on campus", where our houses are. What I like about Yale is that it simultaneously is a departure from the rest of the neighborhood - no trash in the yard, the houses are well-kept, etc. - and also blends in with the neighborhood, unlike the gated apartment complex down the road a bit, which is better housing than most of Allendale but sticks out like a sore thumb. Yale Ave. shows Allendale that it can change for the better and still be Allendale.
So this summer there was some work to be done on campus and also at a business PoP runs down there, WDMO (Windows, Doors, and More Outlet, or "widmo"). But most of us were sent out each day to neighbors' houses. Here's how the day went: breakfast at 6 AM, group morning prayer at 6:45, personal prayer time at 7:05, workday starts at 7:30. A list is posted outside one house to show who's on what crew and where they're going - you might not be on the same crew every day. There's all kinds of work to be done - in addition to Yale and WDMO, our team refinished a kitchen and a bathroom and painted two houses. Other teams in other years have propped up people's sagging porch roofs, hung new doors, and built wheelchair ramps. You might not have any experience in the work you're assigned to, but we all just have to learn.
Sometimes the work is gross. The first two days of this trip, I worked on this woman's kitchen cabinets. She wanted them refinished so we had to sand them down but we had to get the grease off first so I ended up spending long hours with dish soap, a green scrubby, and a paint scraper to get the cabinet doors ready for sanding. I had grease under my fingernails for days. But that really wasn't so bad. Grease happens, right? The other job I worked at was much harder. Trash and beer cans strewn everywhere, rotting food in the back yard, a pervasive sewer smell ... the first time you go to Allendale you wonder if it's worth it to do these fix-its when people's houses are still gross and/or falling apart. Having been there three times now, I'm past that particular issue - we desire to love them as Christ by meeting the needs that they want met - but this house certainly was difficult. One girl on my crew almost threw up one day from the smell. And we had a hard time getting work done in the backyard because nobody wanted to be near the corner with the rotting food and the flies.
But we just kept going.
The work is usually just hard too. In the heat and humidity of this past week, I was dripping sweat by 8 AM. My wrists were sore from painting, my ankles were aching from standing on ladders, my shoulders hurt from the wheelbarrow, which at times contained ten gallons of paint and a 5-gallon cooler of water. My right shoulder was bruised from carrying ladders. But ... it's wonderful. One day, heading home from the work site, there were two of us and just the one wheelbarrow. The other guy volunteered to take it; "No," I told him, "I'll wheel it to the end of the street here, then you can take over." At the end of the street he offered again. "No - just to the top of the hill there ..." When else do I get to really use my God-given health like this?
(Speaking of my God-given health, this body needs some rest, so this post is over ... tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!)