"MDS Weekly Reports from Cameron, Louisiana; Winter 2009 By"
MDS Weekly Reports from Cameron, Louisiana; Winter 2009 By Carl Dube December 5, 2008 Synchronization and Alignment Even the ten o'clock television news had a report on the event, pushing aside news, sports and weather to tell people to look up. Heavenly events such as this rarely happen, so it really was big news. Many people did not notice or otherwise care, but for people who look up at the sky, it was a big deal. I had noticed it coming for a couple of weeks and I am no astronomer. I had seen the two bright points of light in the sky that were getting closer each night. Their westerly paths would soon take them into close proximity in the sky. It was Jupiter and Venus, but something was different. Venus was brighter than Jupiter, because it was so much closer, both to the sun and to us on planet earth. The really big event happened when these two planets moved into their closest apparent position for us on the exact night that our earth's moon was within a few degrees of these planets. It is amazing to observe the immense and complex universe which God created and be blessed with the knowledge of His love and care for us in the midst of such grandeur. We can barely grasp the fact that our solar system moves in such fine balance and precision to bring about this unique beauty, which can only be observed by looking up at the right time and the right place. The efforts for MDS to return to Cameron Parish for the 2009 winter building season have seen some cases where normally distinct elements of our surroundings have come into alignment and synchronized with other elements. The September 12, 2008, landfall of Hurricane Ike and its huge storm surge made a big impact on Cameron Parish. MDSs’ efforts to return became much more complicated, yet almost as soon as the storm waters subsided, things began to come into alignment. The clients for three new homes were identified and funds were available. The parish building department was required to become more stringent in requirements than in the past, but local partners stepped up their efforts to get information and meet those requirements in the permitting process. Volunteers to assist in removing three to four inches of mud left by Ike on the MDS facility site soon were located and the choreography of moving vehicles and trailers for this mobile site was blocked out. Other local supporters stepped up to provide safe places to stage the MDS equipment while the facility in the lower part of the parish was prepared to receive them. We got an RV site permit and electric power to the site in record time, allowing us to move to the site and be closer to our daily work of shoveling mud and setting up trailers. We hoped to have two of the three foundations completed by Christmas and were getting great support from Cathy, Sarah and others in Akron to make this happen. Two groups of short-term volunteers answered the request for help on the foundations on December. Plans were coming together. Then we got the news that one of the new houses was going to require a much more complicated foundation, including piles driven about 16 feet into the ground. However, after about one hour and two telephone calls, a local contractor was found who was willing to work with us on this project. He said he'd do the work for the same pay for the project that MDS gets... namely, nothing. Well, nothing in the form of money. But, if you look at just the right time and the right places, you can see God working to bring about unique cases of synchronization and alignment that might rival that of Jupiter, Venus and the moon. That's payment enough for me. January 9, 2009 Back in the saddle again, Out where a friend is a friend... From about 1938 onward through his performing career, Gene Autry's signature song was "Back in the Saddle Again." Some early movie memories are of that theme song in a darkening theater as another Gene Autry western was about to begin. As we begin our third season of building homes in Cameron Parish, I gladly sing those words in a different context. We are ready to begin the process of guiding the daily and weekly tasks that enable an MDS project site to function. It is kind of like sitting back down at the controls of a familiar machine... somewhat complicated, but comfortable... back in the saddle. The words about friends ring true also. For such a sparsely populated area, there are really a lot of friends here in Cameron Parish. There are folks we've come to call personal friends, plus people who are friends of MDS and the ministry it strives to carry out. They are found in many corners. They are among the local churches and businesses that support us with encouraging words, by including MDS in the weekly prayer lists of their churches, and by making us welcome, whether we come to worship, buy something, or just visit and see what's going on. They are among the MDS volunteers... some of whom are returning to renew relationships and some we are meeting for the first time. They are among the chance encounters we have in the community. One such encounter happened across the gas pump last night up in Lake Charles. The couple in the adjacent car saw the MDS logo and began to visit. They were life-long residents of Cameron Parish, neighbors of some of last year's clients, and friends of two of this year's clients. As we topped up our vehicles and prepared to leave, they both came across the island to shake my hand and say how thankful they were that MDS was in Cameron again. Lots of interesting connections and ingredients that form the spicy life of Southwest Louisiana. Even the client names are interesting down here: Big Mac and Lula Fae are one set of clients and Bean and Ina Jean are another. Nobody knows them by their given names. It makes Robert and Brenda seem pretty mundane. But all three couples and their families are looking forward to having a place to call home again in Cameron Parish. So, we are "fixin" to build some homes again. What a blessing to be a part of that. From Cameron Parish, Louisiana, Bill and Margaret Friesen, Patrick Bresnan, Yvette Guerra, Martha Moyer, Naomi Wiebe, Meg Brennamen, Laura and Carl Dube January 20, 2009 Out of the ordinary, into the sublime I like the word sublime, especially as the name for the process in which ice turns directly into water vapor. Everyone can see ice melting into water and water boiling away into steam. Heat input is needed to accomplish those two transformations. You can see the H2O change right in front of your eyes. However, when ice sublimes, it is much more subtle. You start out with a block of ice, then have some cold air blow across the block of ice, and eventually you see the ice taking on a new shape. The shape reminds me of how majestic rocks in the desert are shaped by the wind and sand. There's nothing ordinary about it. You never see any water, but there’s less ice. During most weeks on an MDS project, there is a mixture of the ordinary and the sublime. The routine tasks of making lunches, preparing breakfast and dinner, loading up tools, pounding nails and spreading mortar are actions that we can observe. Without too much effort we can see the inputs and the resulting products. As pieces of wood are cut to length, placed in the proper position, then glued and nailed together, the frame of a house is formed. Cement blocks are stacked up, filled with reinforcing steel, concrete, and a piece of chain to become a foundation column. We saw plenty of that this week, as a group of 17 volunteers from Iowa put in an excellent five days of work. The house in Hackberry was close to having its hip roof trusses completed and will soon be ready for shingles. The foundation down on Creole Highway was completed and ready for framing. Yet, as these routine tasks were being carried out, some out of the ordinary events were occurring. You cannot see the process happening, but you can see the fellowship, smiles and hugs that have been shaped by the wind of Christ's love. Something sublime is happening. At the beginning of the week, some of the construction tasks seemed a bit overwhelming to some of the volunteers. Compared to the interior painting, flooring and trim work they performed last year during their week in Cameron, the framing and foundation work seemed out of reach. However, at the end of the week, important milestones were reached. People talked of learning and growing in ways that were out of the ordinary. Acquaintances who had attended the same church for several years became trusted friends, perhaps for the purpose of being pillars of strength and support in a future storm, similar to the concrete columns they built this week. Volunteers who would have called themselves “prissy” before last week, learned how to mix mortar, instead of apply make-up, and to live in a cramped space with seven other people. Some learned for the first time how to check the fluids and tire pressure on the crew pick-up truck. The really sublime part came as they began to appreciate the hardships of a family who has not had a real home for over three years now. Others, who normally care for sick patients, found that painting cement board siding or handing up boards, bolts and boxes of nails from the ground to the crew member ten feet up in the air are also acts of love. When the love is returned by the clients in the form of hot coffee on a cold morning, or a sampling of Cajun boudin balls, you know that something sublime is happening. Volunteers are being reshaped. There’s less of “me”. From Cameron Parish, Louisiana, Martha Moyer, Ivete Guerra, Patrick Bresnan, Naomi Wiebe, Meg Brennemen, Margaret and Bill Friesen, Laura and Carl Dube January 23, 2009 The New Pony Express Anyone who is remotely interested in the history of the western part of the United States has heard of the Pony Express. Starting in April, 1860, and lasting for only 18 months, this innovative system delivered express mail from the outpost of St. Joseph, MO to San Francisco, CA. The typical travel time for an envelope sent by Pony Express was between ten and eleven days. That was a huge improvement over the 25 to 28 days achieved by the Butterfield Stage via El Paso, TX. The key to the Pony Express was a series of about 190 relay stations, where riders and horses were constantly changing. As a result, the mail pouch was always on the move, 24 hours per day, rain or shine. As we worked through our second week of homebuilding in Cameron Parish, we could look at things which remind us of the genius of the Pony Express. In the MDS scheme of things, there is a constantly changing set of volunteers who come to the project. These fresh sets of willing workers keep the project always on the move. Even when some of the volunteers are short on experience, their fresh legs and arms provide the “horsepower” to get shingles to the tops of roofs, trusses in place, and electrical wires pulled from box to box to panel. We had several fresh sets of legs last week as one group of ten young guys from the Goshen, IN area and another group from Iowa came to take their turn in Cameron. The four young adults from Iowa and Ontario, not yet 30 years old, were counted among the older leaders for that week and encouraged to share their skills with the young folks. Five days of great weather later, we could see that a lot had been accomplished. Mr. Bob was pleased with the progress on the house being built for him and his wife, Ms. Brenda. Interior walls were complete, the roof was completed, windows were in and electrical rough-in work started. On Saturday, we were pleased to have Mr. Mac and Ms. Lula Fay come to see the work on their house for the first time since MDS started work. Although the roof trusses were only partially in place, the shape of the house was plain enough for them to enjoy visions of their future home. We were also pleased to see the sub-foundation piling driven for Mr. Bean and Ms. Ina Jean. The bottom ends of these 16 foot long timber piles were driven into the ground to a minus ten feet elevation, deep enough to anchor the future house against the fast moving water anticipated in a FEMA V-Zone. With those pilings in place, we could begin our footers and block columns the following Monday. Perhaps we can’t complete a house in the 11 days of the Pony Express, but based on casual observations, the pace of the MDS houses is a big improvement over almost any other home building going on here in the parish. Much like the Pony Express, the constant progress, made possible by the fresh volunteers, means there is very little down time. The long-term volunteers can have the sense that they are either being carried along with the mail, or are kind of like the station masters who work diligently to have fresh horses so the rider can take the mail pouch another ten miles down the trail. Either way, it is a great thing to be a part of. It is also a blessing for us older hands on the MDS Express to see young people making up the big majority of this past week’s volunteers. Usually there are many more grey heads around than any other kind. Weeks like this tell me that there is indeed a fresh generation of Christ’s disciples who are becoming enthusiastic about the work of helping people recover from disasters. As these two groups headed home, I was encouraged by their expressing a strong desire to do this again. I would not mind being the station master the next time these riders come through. From Cameron Parish, LA, Carl Dube For Laura Dube, Bill and Margaret Friesen, Naomi Wiebe, Martha Moyer, Ivete Guerra, Meg Brenneman, Patrick Bresnan February 5, 2009 Will There be Any Stars? "I am thinking today of that beautiful land I shall reach when the sun goeth down..." Eliza Hewitt (1897) We’ve lived in some locations where the sunsets (and sunrises) were spectacular. Near the top of the list is the time we lived on an island in the Caribbean, where we would see a bright green flash of light as the sun disappeared beneath the ocean waves. Then, like the question in the chorus of the song, we would look for the stars to come out. Travelers, like the Wise Men who visited the Christ child, learned to use the patterns of the stars to guide their way over land and sea. Scientists have studied the movements and changes of stars whose very light takes hundreds of years to reach us here on earth. Even, casual observers marvel at the immense scope of the universe revealed in the stars. Believers are awed by the power and genius of our God who created all of this intricate, physical beauty by merely saying it should be so. In Cameron Parish, there is rarely any terrain that is more than ten feet above sea level. As a result there is nothing to impede observations of sunsets and the night sky. Driving from Hackberry to the ferry crossing at the Calcasieu River at sundown, you witness some nearly indescribable colors. Near the horizon, the sky is both bright and soft, nearly orange and nearly salmon pink. As your eye moves upward, the light transitions into a silky blue, then indigo and finally a lavish, velvet blue. Looking farther upward and eastward, the anticipated stars come into view. What a marvelous God! In the strength of the Lord let me labor and pray… This past week we had two groups of volunteers, four traveling by bus and train from Ontario and eleven from Virginia who arrived together in a large van. They were here to serve by helping to build the three structures that will become the homes for our clients. Up in Hackberry, the insulation, electrical and plumbing were nearly complete, and final preparations were made for the top-off inspection needed to begin hanging drywall. The house on the Creole Highway would have had a completed roof, except for running out of shingles. The foundation for the house with a view of the Gulf was completed and ready to begin framing on Monday. In the same way that we look for stars to appear in the sky, we looked for the bright spots of light that were apparent each evening as stories of the day’s events were shared around the dinner table. On Wednesday, the foundation crew was blessed to see the cold rain end not more than five minutes before the first concrete truck came into view. During the week, some young women who don’t ever expect to drive a car learned how to expertly drive nails and secured the strapping that will soon support the ceiling drywall. The crews on all three houses learned to understand a mixture of accents from Louisiana, Ontario, Manitoba, Latin America, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas and Virginia. New games were learned around the tables in the evenings. One group got to share in the work of dredging and harvesting oysters, which Mr. Bean and son, Ronnie, then shucked on Friday, in time for the ride home to Virginia. O what joy it will be when His face I behold, Living gems at his feet to lay down! As the week progressed, it was apparent that the work here in Cameron Parish was not about us at all. We all marveled at and gave thanks for the work that had been accomplished. We stood outside of the dining trailer in the evening and marveled at the glory of a Louisiana sunset. We could claim none of those as stars to put in our crown. Instead, we recognized that all are merely gems of sacrifice and praise that we can lay at His feet. It was a weekend full of goodbyes and welcomes, as Naomi, Meg, Margaret, Bill, Patrick, and Ivette left by Saturday morning. Then, Saturday afternoon, a new crew of long-term volunteers, Cindy, Evie, Polly, Verla, Bob, Dennis, Don and Melford, arrived to pick up the work. From Cameron Parish, Martha Moyer, Laura and Carl Dube February 6, 2009 “Ohhhh, Worship the Lord…in the Spirit of Holiness…” There are many passages in the bible that talk about worship in some form… praise, fasting, sacrifice, reading the Word, thanksgiving and just entering into His presence. We are told that the Lord is more interested in intent and attitude than form. Sacrifices of broken hearts are better than bulls offered on altars. Providing food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless is more acceptable than building gold plated temples. Loosening the chains of injustice is more pleasing to God than the donning of sackcloth and ashes. So, what does that mean to the people from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alberta, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas who gathered in Cameron Parish this week? As siding, gypsum board, electrical wire and plumbing pipes were installed, we considered the importance of those materials and actions. Were they just the pieces and steps required to build a structure, or were they more than that? The crew on the house in Hackberry reported on the accomplishments of the week that included finishing the siding and starting to hang drywall. With Mr. Bob on the site every day, they could see the joy in his eyes as each day brought more progress toward a new home. There were times of worship as they gathered to enjoy break times with fresh coffee. They even sampled some boudin balls while they met the rest of the four generations of the family. The crew on the house for Mr. Bean and Ms. Ina Jean experienced some worshipful times when they looked out at the Gulf of Mexico. They were framing up the house amid the live oak trees that have grown up on this bit of high ground that is known as “the front ridge” around here. At times it looked like the Gulf waters were higher than the house, but logic prevailed once it was pointed out that this piece of land was a good 4 and a half feet above sea level. The job site visit by Mr. Mac and Ms. Lula on Friday gave a worshipful finish to a work-filled week. A completed roof, plus lots of siding in place, made the house appear much like a finished project. The clients lifted up an abundance of thanksgiving and praises for the sacrifices of the volunteers who traveled to Cameron to work. A weekend wild game cookout brought up images of savory meats being roasted on altars in the wilderness. What is worship in Cameron Parish? For those of us on the project this week, it was gathering in His name, offering our bodies as living stones, breaking bread in communion with God’s family around our long dining table, reading His word each morning, enjoying the stark beauty of the marshland, and offering praise in the form of some bluegrass gospel songs. It could even happen during the ride across the ferry, as seagulls, pelicans and dolphins feasted in the rapidly flowing waters that occur during tidal changes on the Calcasieu River. The consensus was that worship could happen anywhere at anytime that our hearts and minds were open to His presence and being willing to do the work that He has prepared for us. From Cameron Parish Martha Moyer, Mel and Verla Haas, Evie and Bob Nafziger, Polly and Don Winters, Cindy and Dennis Detweiler, Laura and Carl Dube February 13, 2009 I’m a Workin' on a Buildin' for my Lord, for my Lord. Bluegrass music legend, Bill Monroe, made one of the earliest recordings of this old gospel song that talks about changing from our wayward ways to spending our time on working on a building for our Lord. Since then, the song has been sung by a long list of performers. It is a popular part of the Sunday morning music by Marley’s Ghost during the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. By the end of that song, almost everyone around that stage is clapping their hands, singing along, up on their feet moving with the music, or at least patting their feet. Charlie-on-the-Radio says that if you’re not moving something by then that you ought to go to the hospital to see if you’re still alive. This past week we had something like a reunion here in Cameron. We had one group of four from Hickory, North Carolina, who are friends of some of our long-termers, plus a group of ten from Ontario, whose leaders had been in Cameron two years ago. Of course, in the dynamics of working, eating, visiting, and sleeping in close quarters, the two groups formed some new relationships in addition to the renewed ones. The level of energy and enjoyment each week never fails to amaze me, much in the same way that the fun and spirit of “Workin’ on a Buildin’” never fail to get me enthused about that song all over again. We were indeed working on a building; three actually, and it is our intent that they are being built for the Lord, trusting that He will be a prime occupant of the houses along with the chosen clients. The Hackberry house made some huge strides as drywall hanging was completed and drywall finishing work progressed. The porch, railing, and steps were advanced as well. We were glad that the rains of the week came at times that did not affect our work schedule. In the house on Creole Highway, the electrical and plumbing were topped out and passed inspection with flying colors, which means that drywall work will begin next week. The house on the Front Ridge had a completed roof, almost completed siding, and the start of rough-in electrical work, once the delivery of those materials occurred. The meals of Martha and Verla were enjoyed by all, providing energy and good flavors to start and finish each work day. “Oyster chili” was a surprise addition to the menu on Thursday evening, as a result of the donations of fresh oysters by Mr. Bean and his son. Not everyone was tempted to try that culinary creation, but the oyster eaters claimed the recipe was a “keeper”. Little did they know that on Friday afternoon, there would be three more sacks of the savory, salty crustaceans ready to shuck. There will be some more surprise additions to the menu no doubt. We’ve had some good music moments on Wednesday nights here at Cameron. There’s been a lot of joyous singing, some clapping and even a little foot patting. There’s not enough room in our dining trailer for everyone to get up on their feet and move very much, but it has been a joyous time none the less. The sharing around the tables, on the theme of prayer, revealed that there has been a lot of building up of our faith to go along with the physical work of building houses. So, we’ve been working on a building here in Cameron Parish. It’s a Holy Ghost building for our Lord… For Our Lord! From Cameron Parish Cindy, Dennis, Polly, Don, Evie, Bob, Martha, Verla, Melford, Laura and Carl February 20, 2009 Through the 1950’s and 1960’s Charlie and Ira Louvin recorded some great country music before Ira’s death in 1965. Their harmony was applied to a large number of gospel songs. Among those is “Just Rehearsing”, which exclaims that we are just rehearsing for “that day we’ll sing together as we gather ‘round God’s throne.” A recent project by 81 year old Charlie Louvin, Steps to Heaven, includes a great rendition of this wonderful song. Last week, we experienced several nights of “just rehearsing” as two groups of short-term volunteers converged in Cameron Parish. One was from Michigan and one was from Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. Some of the volunteers were young and some could be considered older, but differences soon vanished as the crews were formed for the three houses. It was discovered that the groups included several people who loved to sing and an impromptu choir was formed on Tuesday evening. Sheets of music were produced and soon the rehearsing began. It sounded pretty polished after only a couple of times through. During our Wednesday night singing, scripture and sharing time, we were treated to another “rehearsal”, along with the impromptu and spirited singing that goes along with our bluegrass flavored gospel music. The culmination of the arduous rehearsals came on Thursday night. A local family invited the entire contingent of 29 people to feast on Shrimp Stew, Cajun sausage, boudin and other fixin’s. As a way of saying thank you, the Cameron MDS Choir performed their entire selection of three songs. The fine harmonies of the music and the wonderful flavors of the stew provided a perfect balance to the evening. The voices were as beautiful as you could imagine, and the wonderful acoustics of the family home were a huge improvement over the tinny sound of our cramped MDS dining trailer. Listeners smiled at the songs, but the singers were also pleased. It was not something they planned, but God provided the opportunity, and they were blessed to be able to lend their voices to create a sound much larger than just the sum of the parts. Several times during the week, people were pleased to be able to lend a hand in the work being done on our three houses. People who had never “mudded” a house before exhibited some patience and followed some basic instructions. After a bit of practice, they were able to contribute to the completion of the house for Mr. Bob and Ms. Brenda. By the end of the week, walls were primed and final coats of interior paint were underway. At the other houses, other new tasks were taken up by the volunteers. Insulation was placed in walls and ceilings, drywall was hung, electrical and plumbing rough-in were completed, inspections were passed, earth was moved, and holes were drilled in concrete. If you visited one of the jobs, you would need to look carefully to distinguish those who were old hands and those who were novices. All were practicing the skills that are needed to build a home. All was done in preparation for the day of completion of the houses. As project director, I was glad to see all the work accomplished. The workers were also smiling, blessed to have lent their hands and energy to something much larger than just the specific task they were doing. There was a great harmony in the effort and results. As we progressed through the week, we realized that we were all “just rehearsing” in other ways. Voices lifted up in prayer and in conversation, hands busy in eating and joined in handshakes and hugs. Twenty-nine people came together for this week in Cameron and the atmosphere we experienced must be something like a “down payment” on the joyful gathering of throngs of believers around God’s throne. We all enjoyed rehearsing to be God’s people gathered ‘round His throne. From Cameron Parish, Don, Polly, Bob, Evie, Dennis, Cindy, Melford, Verla, Martha, Laura, Carl February 27, 2009 New Iberia is steeped in the history and culture of the Acadians, those French speaking people who were kicked out of Canada by the British and traveled to southwest Louisiana. The down- home style of Cajun food and music is part of that culture, but there is also a sense of unique elegance and style. When the long-term volunteers from Cameron decided to travel there to see the Tabasco plant, Avery Island, and Konriko Rice Mill, we knew we would see a variety of influences. When we decided to go Mr. Landry’s Lagniappe Too Restaurant, we knew we’d experience the best of Acadian style, plus some wonderful food prepared by Mrs. Landry. Since this was a return trip for some, we also knew we’d experience the most welcoming atmosphere as if being invited into Mr. Landry’s home. So, we decided to invite the New Iberia MDS volunteers to come and renew friendships over the evening meal. Everything about the welcome at Lagniappe matched or exceeded our expectations. People from other tables greeted us and offered to take photos with our MDS cameras so no one would be left out. Mr. Landry remembered us from our visit a year ago, and made sure the other tables knew what we were doing in southwest Louisiana. Mrs. Landry, at 81 years old, defied all expectations with the delicious meals she produced for the 17 MDS people, plus all the regular Saturday evening clients. Needless to say, we had a great time visiting and enjoying the relaxed meal. As our visiting continued, I began to wonder when the bill would be arriving. We had a two hour drive to return to Cameron and did not want to get back too late. Not seeing any movement in that direction, I got up to ask the server for our bill. She met me half-way across the room and said that our bill had been taken care of. My shocked reaction prompted her to repeat that “The entire bill for your group has been paid by one of the other tables… anonymously.” Once that word passed around the MDS table, we began to gather our things and milled about giving parting greetings. We wanted to thank someone, but did not know whom to thank. The server repeated that the patron wanted to remain anonymous. What a jolt! Our meal and visit had been changed from a delightful evening into an awesome experience. As we enter our third month of volunteers in Cameron, we have lots of those awesome experiences. Whether the service is as small as recertification of a propane tank, two hours of computer de-bugging, three months of scaffold use, or driving piling for one of our houses, there is a sense of awe each time a vendor says that there is no charge for you, you’re MDS. How can you respond to that? I know it is not about me. Instead it’s about the organization and those hundreds of volunteers who leave home for some period of time and give of themselves in Jesus name. The short-term volunteers for the week after our New Iberia trip were from Pennsylvania and included many skilled and willing hands and feet. But, as the three new homes marched closer to completion, we knew it was neither about any one person nor any one group who’ve come to Cameron Parish. When walls are painted, cabinets installed, and the concrete slab troweled to a nice finish at our Hackberry project, we know it is not just this week’s work that makes this house look like it’s about ready to move in. When drywall is hung, steps are built and concrete is placed for the house in Cameron, we can look back to the block work of January and the framing of early February that defined the shape of the house. When working in bright sunshine on the vinyl siding, the steps and railings for the house on Creole Highway, we can still see the deep ruts made by the concrete trucks on those cold, rainy, muddy days in December. We realize that it’s not about us, and the days of fun and hard work are changed into an awesome experience. We realize that we are being used by God to further the work He had planned to do. And then the light clicks on and we remember that God’s Son has already paid the bill for our new lives in Him. Now, that’s awesome. At the end of the week, it was time to say farewell. The people from Hinkletown departed for home, and when we added the six of our long-term volunteers who were leaving, there were a lot of farewells. Yet, we could all look back at some awesome experiences. From Cameron Parish, Melford, Verla, Martha, Laura and Carl… saying farewell to Cindy, Dennis, Polly, Don, Evie and Bob. March 6, 2009 "This Little Light of Mine" was written in approximately 1920 by Harry Dixon Loes, who wrote several other gospel songs. The song spread and was then collected by John Lomax in 1939, mistakenly attributed to be a traditional Negro spiritual. It has been sung at all kinds of settings, from civil rights marches to folk music gatherings, church Sunday Schools, and children’s camps. The message comes from Mathew 5:16, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven:" As the assortment of short-term volunteers gathered in Cameron Parish for our first breakfast together, someone started singing this song. She said the atmosphere reminded her of camp days and this song sprang into her head. It was the start of another fine week in Cameron Parish. The short-term volunteers came from Ontario and Pennsylvania, with ages spanning from 18 to 78 and occupations spanning from students to nursing, farming, and engineering, plus retirees from various careers. The new long-term volunteers included two first-timers and a returning veteran of MDS in Cameron. Church affiliations ranged across the spectrum, with Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, United, Mennonite and non-denominational believers coming together to form God’s family for the week. During the work at the three new houses, the volunteers all strived to let their light shine. The two houses down in the lower part of the Parish were getting their interior wall mudding completed and smoothly sanded so painting could begin. The new concrete slabs under those houses provided nice work spaces for painting of interior doors and trim, plus a staging area for cabinets in anticipation of the next steps in the house building process. At Hackberry, the final electrical inspection was completed. Wall receptacles and lights were powered-up to let their lights shine on the newly completed flooring. With the plumbing fixtures being installed, we can anticipate completion in time for the scheduled dedication. The only hold ups on all three jobs are some back-ordered bi-fold doors and the under-house insulation. Since the new houses are nearing completion, we branched out into other work. The new job this week is a house in Cameron that received just a couple of inches of water during Hurricane Ike. It was enough to require removal of the lower drywall and insulation, plus some extensive mold remediation. The crew managed to complete the main removal and apply the required mold treatment in anticipation of insulation and drywall installation next week. This week’s volunteers, like many before them, were thrilled to see marvelous colors in the wide expanse of sky as the sun set or rose. The patterns of illumination seen in Cameron Parish must be especially brilliant, since people from almost everywhere exclaim at their beauty. I’ve written about sunsets in Cameron before, but just like God’s love and grace, it is an amazing thing to behold each day. At our Wednesday sharing time, each volunteer got to share about how they had seen God working and what stories they planned to take home to friends and family. Just as each sunset is unique, each volunteer had observed God working in a unique way. By the time we finished going around the room, it was obvious that God had let His light shine in our spiritual lives as much as He had in the glorious skies. So, now it remains for us to make sure “This Little Light of Mine” will shine, whether it is those who remain to continue the work, or those who’ve returned home to tell the story. From Cameron Parish, Louisiana Shirley, Lowell, Verla, Melford, Ren, Martha, Laura and Carl March 13, 2009 Cameron Parish is a place of distances. The flat terrain encourages people to look into the distance. On a clear night from our MDS camp, we can see the red marker lights on the storage tanks of the LNG terminal north of Hackberry, about 20 miles away. In the daytime, when driving back to Cameron from either Hackberry, around the western edge of Calcasieu Lake, or Lake Charles, over the Gibbstown bridge, you can easily pick out the 150 foot tall legs of the jack-up rigs at the port and the four-legged water tower more than ten miles away. In addition to seeing into the distance, we can also hear sounds across a distance. This week the full moon night was decorated with the sounds of coyotes howling and yapping out in the marsh. On more rare occasions the screech of an owl punctures the dark of the night. The hearer wonders where the did the owls and coyotes go when the waters came up during Hurricane Ike, and what did they feed on for the two weeks that it took for the waters to recede? There are also sounds from a much larger distance. There are a lots of supply boats entering and leaving the port in Cameron. They load-up pipe, drilling fluids, food, tools and other supplies to take out to the drilling and production rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. These range in size from 100 to 200 feet long, and many of them are powered by room-sized 12 cylinder diesel engines whose exhaust notes are unique. From our MDS camp, we can often hear those big diesels, three to five miles out, winding up to cruising RPM as they leave the mouth of the Calcasieu River channel and head out into the waters of the Gulf. The hearer wonders what it would be like on one of those supply boats heading out across the waters. When we lived on an island in the Caribbean, my work took me out on similar boats. Whether the waves were a gentle three foot chop or the mighty ten foot rolling swells from a storm in the North Atlantic, being on those boats was a time for realizing the grandeur of God's creation. Weather that was over 1,000 miles away could affect the surface of the ocean around that small island. Forces that can reach out to that distance are simply amazing. With another week of work in Cameron Parish behind us, we can look into the not-to-distant future and see the completion of the three new houses. Final touches were being completed on the house in Hackberry... windows, floors and every other surface were cleaned, wiped and polished in preparation for the dedication next Tuesday. The other two houses are just about neck-and-neck heading into our last two weeks... painting is complete, flooring is going down, cabinets, lights and counter-tops are being installed. The short-term volunteer groups this week were from Delaware and Illinois. They each came from churches that have sent groups of volunteers across the more than 1,000 miles to Cameron before. These faithful people have made the commitment to organize the resources and volunteers, sending them to Cameron to be God's hands and feet for this week. Churches and people who respond like that in obedience to God's leading are an amazing force. Those actions allow the work to go on in this distant place called Cameron Parish. It happens every week, but is still an amazing thing to behold. When looking across the marsh to something in the distance, the image is not always clear. For us right now the exact sequence of getting the houses completed is not always clear. Material delivery delays and back-orders are like the waves out in the Gulf that impede the progress of those supply boats. We strive to keep the helm pointed in the right direction and wait for the weather and waves to change. Like those supply boats, we have a powerful engine driving our progress and trust it to get us to the destination. From Cameron Parish Carl, Laura, Lowell, Shirley, Martha, Ren, Melford and Verla March 20, 2009 Spring is a good time to be in southern Louisiana. Azaleas and other shrubs and trees put on quite a show of colors. However, along with those very obvious flowers, there is another tree that is flowering profusely at this time of year. The live oak, with its spreading branches, is a symbol of strength and longevity. Many of the oldest specimens were providing shade for gatherings of native peoples long before white settlers arrived. Some were given the name of Treaty Oak, commemorating their role in agreements between tribes or between native people and new settlers from the east. In Cameron Parish, the live oaks mark the best places to build. If you see a line of oak trees across the marsh, then that area used to be a stream bank or the line where the Gulf of Mexico beach front used to be. The soil on those ridges, called cheniers, is a nice mixture of compacted sand and clay and is much more stable than the layers of decaying matter in the marshland. The oldest live oak trees along those ridges have withstood many powerful hurricanes and tend to be anchors for settlements such as Grand Chenier, Oak Grove, Creole, and Cameron. But now is the season for change and renewal of the live oak trees. The leaves that have clung to the gnarled branches since last year are finally allowed to drop. They are replaced by fine, feathery, olive colored blossoms. It's not as showy as an azalea, but it is a beautiful sight, once you know what to look for. Soon the shiny new leaves will appear along with the tiny buttons which will grow into acorns. As we near our last week in Cameron, two groups of short-term volunteers, one from Lancaster county in Pennsylvania and the other from Kansas City, all brought their abilities and energy to serve in Cameron for the week. They worked to bring about change in Cameron Parish. Like the oak trees, the new homes are going through changes. Exterior changes are hard to spot, but a lot of work is being done inside as volunteers make tight the final plumbing connections, get those doors hung just right, and touch up nail holes in the trim around doors and windows. Careful cleaning of windows, cabinets and floors made the new house ready for it's occupants. This past week we held the dedication of the house for Bob and Brenda in Hackberry. Several family members and neighbors joined the MDS volunteers and some long-term recovery committee members to read the litany, hear the prayers of blessing, and watch as gifts were opened. The emotions ran high as the family started this new season in a new home. Long-term and short-term volunteers were thanked and God was given the glory. The other two houses were also nearing completion and dedications are scheduled for both of those next week. Mr. Bean and Ms. Ina expressed their surprise, excitement, and thanks as each part of the interior was completed. Mr. Mac told everyone that since the elevator was not installed yet, he was going to get up those stairs to see the house. In each of the families, some emotional baggage that had clung to them since these last big storms will finally be released. New hope and encouragement will sprout and hopefully grow into a fruitful family life. As we gathered for the ceremony to celebrate the completion of the new houses, we were a bit like some of the people who gathered around the old live oak trees. We gathered to mark a change in the community and a new start for its occupants. In those early gatherings, the oak trees were a lasting symbol of people coming together for peaceful agreements. In our gathering, we pray that these new houses will be a lasting symbol of God's people coming together in obedience and service. From Cameron Parish: Ren, Shirley, Lowell, Verla, Melford, Martha, Laura and Carl March 27, 2009 It is often said the world is very connected. These days that usually refers to the World Wide Web, cell phones, e-mail and networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, when you look closely and learn a little about southwest Louisiana, you become aware of other connections. Huge reservoirs of oil and natural gas were discovered in the geological formations of southwest Louisiana and its offshore waters. As you travel around Cameron Parish, you will often see a line of colored poles sticking out of the marsh. This means a pipeline has been buried under the surface, bringing crude oil or natural gas from the wells to the refineries or to the distribution hubs. From there, another network of pipelines takes gasoline, fuel oil, and natural gas to consumers throughout the eastern half of the United States. The short-term volunteers, this week from Washington, DC, might be using natural gas piped from Louisiana to heat their homes or cook their meals. The volunteers from Michigan might use gasoline refined in Sulphur, Louisiana to power their vehicles as they travel home. Bird watchers are also aware of the importance of this region. Birds like the white pelicans spend their summers in the northern latitudes and their winters in the coastal bays and marshes of southwest Louisiana. You can often look to the sky and see huge formations of birds on their migration paths. You notice the departure and arrival of different species in the marshes, scrub brush and trees. The red-winged black birds have begun to head north, while the stilts have just arrived from down south. The short-term volunteers from Winkler, Manitoba might return home and see some birds that also spent part of their winter down in Cameron Parish. The fishing industry also connects this region to the rest of the world. The fishermen of Cameron harvest a variety of creatures from these waters. Volunteers from Pennsylvania might be eating Louisiana shrimp or oysters the next time they go to a restaurant. The volunteers from Alberta might be using hand lotion made with fish oil processed in the poagie plant along the Calcasieu River. As we finished our last week in Cameron Parish for this season, we recognized connections between Cameron Parish and other parts of North America. Our last two home dedications, held this week, provided the occasion to celebrate the gifts that God has brought us. It all felt like a family coming together to mark a major milestone for one of its members. The volunteers learned a little about what it might feel like to lose a home and then be provided another. The clients and local friends learned that God does care and will provide. Whether it's a hurricane or the rising waters of the Red River, we've learned that it is not about the damage to houses or buildings. As addresses and telephone numbers are exchanged, we find it is instead about a Gracious God, who provides a network of friends and family around us to help cope with all that life might bring. It has been a privilege and blessing to have been entrusted with the task of helping rebuild some hope and community in Cameron. Departing from Cameron Parish; Verla, Melford, Ren, Martha, Lowell, Shirley, Laura and Carl