Phoenix: In the Midst of Devastation, Love Abounds

Post a Comment » Written on July 31st, 2007     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (July 31, 2007) – Thirty-two students and leaders from North Park Covenant and Edgebrook Covenant churches returned last week from a week-long missions trip to Phoenix, Louisiana, where the students became personally involved in the effort to help this Katrina-ravaged community continue the rebuilding process.

Phoenix has been the subject of national attention, including an April story in The Covenant Companion detailing the plight of this historic community and efforts to rebuild. To read earlier stories, please see “God’s Goodness in Midst of Turmoil” and a Covenant World Relief update from director Jim Sundholm.

StudentsStudents (top photo) worked on a number of projects, including roof flashing, installation of insulation and drywall (as well as tape-jointing and “mudding”), grouting, and assistance in building a new roof on one house.

Following what would be considered long work days by any standard, the young people would gather for a time of worship and reflection, with students asked to make personal journal entries detailing their experiences of each day. Different students led worship each morning.

Just before returning to Chicago, the group visited New Orleans and famed Canal Street, with a stop in Memphis to visit the National Civil Rights Museum and the infamous Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot while standing on the motel balcony.

Visiting the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, site of incredible devastation from the hurricane, was a moving experience for many of the youth, especially Andrew Sullivan-Knoff, who was one of the students sharing their experiences during this past Sunday’s worship service at North Park Covenant Church.

Upon completing the Ninth Ward tour, the students immediately moved on to Canal Street, which Andrew described as “tourist-central” in New Orleans. “In Canal Street, there is absolutely no sign of a hurricane,” he observed, noting that the economically important business district of New Orleans apparently had no difficulty in quickly rebuilding. He contrasted that redevelopment against the continuing devastation and horrendous poverty that continues to grip poorer areas some two years after the storm. “It was really eye-opening,” Andrew says.

The visit to the site of King’s assassination was another of the memorable moments, as students stood on the same balcony where the famed civil rights leader was gunned down. “The whole week was pretty great – we drew a lot closer together and to God,” Andrew observed.

A strong sense of family and love for one another in the midst of devastation was one of the significant impressions for another student, Olivia Lynn.

“It was a very small town – they all knew each other and cared for each other,” Olivia says. “It was extremely refreshing to see that – you don’t see that in Chicago. You could see how the tragedy brought them all together.”

ManShe shared a visit she made to a man across the street from one of the project sites where the Covenant youth were working. He was living in a FEMA trailer – water from the hurricane had swept his house from its foundations (see lower photo). “He would sit there in a chair next to his car – you could tell he was waxing it,” she recalled. “It was like the main thing he still owned, and he was really taking care of it. I went over and talked with him. He had lots of cats and seemed happy, like he was going to get through all of this and everything was going to be okay. It was refreshing to see how everyone just loved each other.”

Paul Corner, associate pastor at North Park Covenant, said the work actually completed by the students was not the only positive outcome for the week. “Obviously, the work they did was significant,” he says.

“At the same time, they saw the hopefulness of a community that is on its way back,” he added. They saw the power of Christ at work in rebuilding a town and in the healing that takes place in people’s lives and in relationships. Phoenix is a historically black town in the south. Many of the people who are coming to work in the town to help rebuild are white. I hope that healing and reconciliation is happening for everyone.

“Trips like this are important, both to expose the students to the issues in the world around them as well as to help them grow compassionate hearts for service,” he continued. “I hope that trips like this and other regular service work we do as a group will help them as they discern what it means for them to be a Christian in their neighborhood and in the wider world. It will help them to identify the gifts that God has given them, and it will open their eyes to the possibilities of the calling that God has on their lives.”

For additional photos from the trip, see “A Time for Action.”

Editor’s note: of the 32 individuals included in the trip, 24 came from North Park Covenant and eight from Edgebrook Covenant. Photos for this story were provided by Olivia Lynn.

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