October 18, 2012
by Kathy Wendling
Driving along St. Bernard Highway, Hwy 39, you begin to feel life slowing down. Thirty miles east of downtown NOLA is the town of Braithwaite located in Plaquemines Parish. Plaquemines Parish is the finger of land that follows the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. Most people make their living by working in the following fields: construction, oil and gas, public service, fishing and citrus farming. The community is one where almost everyone knows each other and families tend to live close by. Over a month ago, Hurricane Isaac hovered over the area saturating the community with 24 inches of rain and 15 feet of flood water, destroying homes and lives.
15 feet of water destroyed the home of Brenda and Lionel Serpas. While mucking out the house, Mr. Lionel suffered a massive heart attack and is now slowly recovering. When the Camp Restore volunteers from Concordia University Texas and St. Luke Lutheran Church, Wisconsin Rapids, WI arrived at the Serpas home, no one knew what to expect. Weeks after the hurricane, wet sludge, muck and putrid air still filled the house. As one of the Concordia students said, “I knew the house had water, but I didn’t think about the water just staying in the house for weeks. It’s hard to imagine the damage and how bad it smells until you see it.”
Each insurance company has different requirements and the Serpas’ company required each item removed to be photographed. Ms. Brenda was there each day photographing her family items as they were removed and was able to save a few precious family treasures. The intergenerational team of volunteers worked hard each day in rough conditions, but they never lost sight of their most important task at hand. They prayed with Ms. Brenda and shared the love of Christ with her everyday. Ms. Brenda did the same with them each day.
When I called Ms. Brenda to make the arrangements for us to work on her house, she told me her neighbors referred to her as the momma of the neighborhood. She and Mr. Lionel lived in the house for over 35 years and raised their family. Their son and daughter built homes next to their parents and are raising their children in the same neighborhood. As you can imagine, their homes suffered the same destruction as their parents. Well, by the time the week ended the volunteers met many of the Serpas’ family and friends.
As people often do in South LA, when we want to show our thanks we feed them.. Sadly, the Concordia students had to leave on Friday, so they missed sharing a meal with the Serpas family at Rocky and Carlos Restaurant in Chalmette. The St. Luke mission team enjoyed some of the local favorites, including seafood gumbo. Miss Brenda said they just about died laughing when one of their new Wisconsin friends found crab claw in their gumbo and had to take a photo of it.
What started as a rough and sad week ended with new friends sharing Christian fellowship, hard work, tears, laughter and thanks to God. Now if that’s not church, I don’t know what is!
If you are able, think about joining us in this recovery effect by leading a team of volunteers to Camp Restore. As always, thanks for continuing to keep the people of our community in your heart and prayers.