Asburians return to the Pass

By Joe Wiley ’06/Collegian

wileypass2.jpgThe smell of four-month-old, raw food definitely did not disappoint this time around, especially when Tim Bailie ’06 and I tried to remove a vertical freezer from a house that had received damage because of Hurricane Katrina in late August. First mistake: We didn’t duct tape the door to the freezer shut. Result: The door fell off as we hauled it out of the house and leaked rampant, distasteful juice and other moist solids everywhere. Consequence: An unfavorable smell encompassed the surrounding area.

Even though last Saturday was a lot fun removing other laundry room appliances and getting the chance to swing a crowbar, I found that my second time to Pass Christian was better because I got the opportunity to get to know the residents and those staying at the church a lot better. I met owners of three houses affected by the storm while I was in Mississippi. These people all had troubles before the storm hit; however, the storm brought total devastation and loss to their lives. Getting to know them is what I cherished most about the trip. Looking back on my experience, I know I could work construction and participate in clean-up crews anywhere, but getting to listen and pray with the residents is what I felt was most important.

A verse that I was reminded of was Matthew 25:45, “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’.”

These houses are going to be rebuilt at some point during the next few years, but the hearts of the residents may never recover if God can’t work through someone to reach out his amazing love and comfort them through these extremely tough circumstances.

I was disappointed during the first half of the trip because, although we worked on the houses, we never saw the owners. That all changed when Joel Meyer ’07 began a mud-out Fri. Jan. 6. Marcus and Minh lived about a block and a half off the water in a very spacious three-bedroom ranch. I joined the group with Bailie, Brian Helton ’06, and Clark Kendall ’06 the next day.

As the waters rose the family moved to the attic and eventually cut a hole in the roof. Marcus was on the roof for about three hours with his wife, his son, and his son’s friend, along with his two dogs. He said the big wave came in and covered everything up to the base of the roof for around 30 minutes. They eventually were able to climb down and go down the street to a house that had a second floor where they stayed for a few days.

Marcus avoided total devastation because his house withstood the storm thanks to its brick exterior and solid cement-slab foundation. His wife, Minh, brought us a wonderful dinner that night to express her appreciation. We were just doing what we knew how to do, which is gut out a house. For Marcus and Minh, it was a step to rebuilding their house and their lives.

The following Tuesday some of the Asbury team was blessed to move Wanda Stevens, an elderly lady from Long Beach, back into her home. Wanda has had some rough times in her lifetime. She lost her first husband and son years ago in a car accident that left her with 47 broken bones. Her second husband passed on about five years ago. She also lost a good friend in the storm. Wanda doesn’t have any grandchildren.

We set up her furniture and moved many boxes out of the garage and into their proper rooms. Wanda caught a break during the storm because she only had 18 inches of water in her house in an area that witnessed some houses falling under water up to their respective roof lines. I hoped that moving her back in could allow for a fresh start to her life.

My last day sent our team 12 miles to the north of town to Lewis and Sandra Niolete’s residence, a 48-year-old man and his wife. Lewis has lived in the house we worked on all his life and he said the house was an estimated 90 years old. The roof, however, was in shambles after the storm as part of the roof had blown off and the floors inside needed to be replaced. Danville native and senior Asburian Curt Rowland along with a member from a Danville church group spearheaded the re-roofing project. They did a great job and Lewis’ house had a brand new roof for the first time.

Lewis’ sister lived right next door and had many children along with other relatives nearby. With Lewis’ offspring, I venture to say that there were about 15 to 20 relatives among the two families. They were kind in providing us with all the hot dogs we could handle for lunch.

“It was different from other houses we worked on,” said Rowland, “because Lewis and Sandra were there everyday we worked on their house and were there when we finished. We really got to know the Nioletes well and it was sad having to leave them.”

Sandra expressed her gratitude to the group by providing them with miniature angels saying they were her angels. Sandra even returned with a prayer of her own.

I loaded up and headed home the next day, but the thing I took away most this time was the opportunity for deeper conversations with the owners of the houses on which we worked.

The great Mike Zimmerman said, “We are building hearts, not homes.” This statement couldn’t have been more true. I am so proud to be a part of the groups with whom I worked. Every time I looked up, a member from the group was spending time with one of the residents and listening to his or her story. These houses will eventually be rebuilt, but more importantly, with God’s strength and encouragement through some servant leaders, their hearts will be as well.

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