an unexpected teacher
In the summer of 2010 I had the opportunity to bring life back into a city of destruction, to bring love where there was none, and to bring hope when all was gone. After traveling sixteen hours in a fifteen passenger van I was determined to change lives, unaware it would be mine that would instead be changed forever. I was in New Orleans, a city that had looked death, destruction, and devastation in the eye and yet decided to pull together and help each other out in whatever means necessary when many of them had nothing left to give. Although it had been five years since Hurricane Katrina had tragically taken everything from the majority of the people in New Orleans, from the look of the city it could have just happened yesterday. The streets were dirty with paper, mud, weeds, and just about everything else imaginable- the yards overgrown, the houses deserted, the neighborhoods childless. New Orleans had lost its vibrancy, its color, its hope and its life, all of which we hoped to help restore. We devoted an entire week solely as servants of God. We picked up trash, demolished houses, fed the homeless, cleared lots, had a carnival, and gave away free clothes. However, it was on the sixth night of my mission trip, when we went to downtown New Orleans to serve the homeless, that I learned more in five minutes then I had my entire life.
I had never seen so many famished, exhausted, dirty people in one place as I did that night. They came by bike, bus, and many by their own two feet desperate for anything we could give them. Men, women, children, teenagers, old men, and babies came in tens, hundreds and thousands. From among all the people I met and stories I heard, one man exceptionally stood out: A man by the name of David. He was A tall gray-haired man, who looked like it had been weeks since his last meal. We offered him everything from spaghetti and meatballs, Caesar salad, cookies, punch, and bread, all of which he refused besides a tiny slice of garlic bread. “That is all I need” He said, “Save the rest for the children or for the people who really need it.” Never have I ever been so amazed, astounded, or flabbergasted than I was that moment when A man who had absolutely nothing decided to take the bare minimum when offered a full meal. He had nothing to give yet in that moment he gave everything to one more man, woman, or child who would eat that night because he refused it. When we asked him how he would make it, as it was apparent he had not eaten in weeks, he just looked up at the sky and responded, “I’ll make it through the night, I have him” and turned to leave with his single piece of garlic bread and a smile on his face. The rest of the night I continued to hear stories of hope, hard work, and faith but nothing came close to my encounter with David. I could not stop thinking about his generosity and faith in God’s plan.
Not only did I return home with a few souvenirs, a bracelet one of the children made me and a New Orleans shirt to commemorate my trip, but also a newfound sense of hope, peace, and love. Of all the things I learned that week about myself, New Orleans, and the world I learned the most from a tiny piece of garlic bread and a homeless man by the name of David: to always have hope even when no one would blame us for having none, to always have faith in God because everything that happens is part of his plan, and to always have love for ourselves and each other as in the grand scheme of the world we are all a family and all God’s children.