Hurricane Katrina Relief Mission Trip Journal (by Suzanne Burley)



Don, Brad, Kim, Hanna, Gloria, Paulo, Jamie, Matt, Fred, Heidi, Liz, Suzi & Jim – Our team yet to be defined.  It is exciting getting to know everyone.  It’s scary not knowing what we’ll find Mississippi.  God, give us Your strength.


At the church we wait for the vans to arrive, unpacking cars as they pull up.  We will have 2 15 passenger vans.  We are all here now, milling about, waiting for the vans and getting to know one another.  We were supposed to have close to 20 people in our group, however, the devil has been at work and we are down to 13 total.  12 of us are in the vans (5 in one and 7 in the other), Jim is going to be staying for all 7 weeks, so he is driving down and pulling a camper.  I am in awe of God at this moment.  We are melding well, even though none of us knew each other before the trip.  Our van contains Brad, Paulo, Matt, Liz and me.  We are having a good time getting to know each other.  Paulo is quite the comedian, we are all cracking up.  He is the co-pilot while Brad drives; manning the CD player.  “Here, listen, this is good song.”  I don’t think we have heard an entire CD yet. =)  We change up drivers after lunch for the remainder of the trip to Tennessee.  Matt is driving and Paulo is now his co-pilot.  Paulo is having a good time teasing Matt about his driving.  “I am going to put sticker on the back of van that says how is my driving?”  He tell Matt that he is deducting points from Matt for letting a car get in between our van and the other van ahead of us.  All of this, of course, is in jest; we are all laughing and having fun.  We arrive in Tennessee, at the Red Roof Inn.  We made good time, it took us about 8-9 hours to get here.  We sign in and go for diner.  Half of our team chooses Cracker Barrel and the other half chooses a Mexican restaurant next door to the hotel.  The food is good and there is a lot of laughter during the meal.  We hit our beds at about 10:30pm, after devotionals.  It was a very interesting discussion which ended with the topic of the impression we want to leave with Samaritan’s Purse.  It is very important to all of us that we leave a good impression with them.  We are the first team from Northridge to ever work with Samaritan’s Purse.  Of the 12 of us only 3 people have ever been on missions trips in the past; and none of us have been on a missions trip through Northridge.  No wonder Northridge is a little nervous about the impression we will leave with the people of Samaritan’s Purse!



We meet at 7am at Cracker Barrel for breakfast before we hit the road again for the last leg to Mississippi.  We decide to change up the vans for today’s ride, so Liz and I switch with Hanna and Jamie.  We are now in the 7 passenger van with Don, Gloria, Fred, Heidi and Kim.  Boy, the friends I am making!  Heidi is so cute, at age 20 she is our youngest team member.  She has a wide eyed wonder about her that is so refreshing.  How she looks at everything is so great.  Lord, let me come to you like that!.


We stop in Alabama for BBQ at Dreamland BBQ (A famous BBQ joint).  It was an adventure finding the restaurant in Tuscaloosa.  It was off an exit, “up the way”, through a neighborhood, around the bend, past the big rock, etc.  We pulled into the parking lot at this old red building that looked as if it had been through a hurricane.  I admit it, I was afraid.  (What a hoot!)  The food was good.  They had 3 things on the menu; a full slab of ribs, a ½ slab of ribs or a ¼ slab of ribs.  Dessert came in three sizes single, double or triple (all of which were banana pudding).  Thank you, God, for this experience.  Help me to focus on other’s needs and not just me own.


10/17/05 - Our first job…

We went to help clean out the house of an elderly women.  She wasn’t there, but her daughter, Karen, was there.  Karen is in her early 50’s, I think.  She is a very nice lady.  When we pull up she is very happy to see us and shows us what they are hoping to have done while we are there.  “Oh,” she says, “I forgot to put on the work order that I needed help to get the pool out of the back yard.”  (It was laying in a heap)  She seemed concerned that we would tell her no, sorry, it’s not on the list, you’re on your own.  Instead we say no problem what else do you need; what else can we help you with.  I cannot believe the hard work we are doing.  I have an office job; I am so out of shape! Yet, I am wide awake, and nothing is aching.  God is good!  I am so excited about how I feel God moving in this place.  On the way back to the church we head down to the beach.  I cannot fully explain or describe what I feel as I look at the destruction.  There once was a road that went from Kiln, MS to Pass Christian, MS (a peninsula across the bay).  Now all that remains are the pillars that once supported the road.  The area once held multi-million dollar homes, art galleries, and restaurants; now there is nothing but rubble.  It looks like it was once a beautiful place to live.  Now, however, all I can see are the smashed dishes and clothes that lay in the dirt.  Now it is personal for me, now I understand the human connection.  God, keep me in that place of understanding.


10/18/05-Second work site

We are assigned a “mud out” of a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home about a mile from the Gulf.  Calvin, Jo, Anna and James are the family we are helping today.  Or should I say the family that will be such a blessing to us!  Their home was flooded almost to the ceiling. This means that all of the flooring, drywall and insulation will need to be removed along with everything that was in the home.  Jo (the mom) has not been able to even enter the house yet (Katrina hit on 8/29/05).  We don’t know if it’s the emotional aspect of it or the debris that holds her back.  Anna (the 16 year old daughter) has been helping her dad try to clear out the house.  Calvin (the dad) has asthma and it is just too much for him to do the work.  Calvin and Anna have cleared out the garage and the living room, but it was just too much for the two of them alone.  So here we are to help!  Anna has been able to get into her room and she has been getting items out.  I asked her how she was handling all of this and I get the standard teen-ager answer “I’m over it.”  Is she really, though?  When we asked her how old she was she said she felt like she was 40, which I am sure is not an exaggeration.  I remember being her age; how important all of my “stuff” was.  I cannot really comprehend how she must be feeling.  How hard is it to see everything (that has been your life) just gone?  Her posters (some still on the wall), a box with notes from friends, stuffed animals from her childhood, make up that she uses to be an adult; again it brings me to tears.  Lord, be with Anna, she has a heart for You and yet is still a hurting child.  I am so amazed by Your grace, even in this place of destruction.  As the day goes on Anna puts on a mask and is in the muck with us, pulling her life out of her room and sorting through her treasures to see what she might be able to save.


As I talk with Jo later in the day I hear some scratching and barking coming from the FEMA trailer that is parked in the front yard.  “I think someone wants to come outside,” I say to Jo.  Then out comes Monte’.  She is a 14 year old terrier and, as Jo puts it, a survivor.  I ask Jo why she says that and the story unfolds.  Monte and her partner were left in the garage with food and water when the family had to evacuate.  The family thought it would just be high winds and rains and that they would be back to the house in the morning.  Jo is almost in tears as she says’ “We just didn’t know.”  If they had known they would have found a way to take them too.  Four days later the family was allowed to return to their home.  There they found Monte, hiding and scared.  The other dog (and James’ bird) had died in the flooding.  God, how do you deal with that?  Or should I say how do I deal with that?  Thank you, Jesus, for saving Monte.  I am so glad I am able to meet her.  As the day goes on we break for lunch and Monte is feeing left out (barking for attention).  Not a problem, it’s just what I need, actually.  I head over to where she is, sitting to share my chips with her.  She has no interest in the chips, she just wants the attention.  She rolls over on her back for a belly rub.  God, thank you, I needed that as much as she did!  I weep with Monte.  For her lost companion, for my feelings of pain.  How hard it must have been for them to come home and find only one beloved pet.


We continue ripping out the rooms.  Drywall, insulation, Purgo flooring, the cabinets from the kitchen, the tub and shower from the bathrooms; it is slow work, but you really don’t notice the time passing or the sweat pouring down your face.  God is good in His mercy to us.  Not only does he allow me to come here to serve and to be blessed, He let’s my body be stronger than it truly is.  Again, Jesus, I thank You for all You are giving me this week.  Please let me be a blessing to someone else today.  Let me be Your hands and feet, Lord.  Use me in any way You wish!



We head back to Jo and Calvin’s; we are almost done.  At least that seemed the case when we left yesterday.  This day, however, we are tired and moving a little slower; both mentally and physically.  The cleaning, moving, and throwing away, still continues; just at a little slower pace.  As the day picks up we get a second wind and work seems lighter.  We don’t finish all that we hope to today; we’ll come back tomorrow and work for about an hour to finish up.  This day has been so hard on all of us.  Jamie worked with Anna today; building a relationship as they peal away the debris in her room.  Anna is an artist; she writes and plays music.  A lot of this work has been ruined and you can see the pain on Anna’s face. However, when I get a chance at the end of the day to talk with her she lights up and tells me that she was able to save more items than she thought she would be able to save.  This is where joy is found amidst the devastation; the smile of a young lady who realizes that more of her childhood is able to be captured and preserved.  Thank You, Lord, for allowing me this time!  My heart is so full.  We took a little time this morning to go down to the beach and look around, maybe that was part of what set the mood for our day.  We were told that the main road that runs parallel with the water once had multi-million dollar homes on the other side of it.  It’s hard to imagine it and I say imagine because there is nothing there now.  Rubble and debris sits in piles all around the area, but not homes.  Some still have cement foundations, others don’t even have that.  Some homeowners have been back; you know this by the USA flags that are flying in their yards; tied to trees or whatever they could find.  A sign, spray painted on plywood indicates how this person feels, “Keep out or be shot.”  It helps you to remember that this is still someone’s home.  It is someone’s life that has been changed forever.  Lord, change me forever through this experience.  Let me forever be changed for You.


10/20/05 third work site

Heidi, our youngest team member, is such a blessing!  Her enthusiasm is a riot!  She wants to get as dirty as possible before we have to leave here.  I decided to change out with her and let her go with Brad’s team to the next “mud out”.  “Mud Out” means that there was so much water that went into the house it left mud when it receded.  It can be an inch of mud or it can be 4 feet of mud.  So far we have not seen that much mud, but the houses have been smelly and dirty.  My team today is Don, Matt, Liz and me.  Don has now started calling Liz and I “Sissy” or “The Sissies”.  As I think about our team, I don’t think there is one person on it that I don’t like.  As the week has gone on I have begun to love each one of them.  It is amazing to see how they are growing; especially when you feel growth in yourself!  God, in His wisdom, placed us together for this time.


10/21/05-Our last day

We are tired and sore and our fuses are getting short.  Don, Matt, Liz and I start our day by cleaning the church.  Not too bad-I get the showers. =(  the showers are housed in a semi trailer.  Six individual stalls, which you enter from outside (they really are pretty cool).  It takes awhile but we do a through job (it is pleasing to serve those who are serving others)!  Next we head to the house that Brad’s team is trying to finish up, to help.  We help to get it done and head out to make a few more stops.  Don and Liz want to stop and see Bill and Sandy, the first homeowners they worked with that week.  They make sure there is nothing else they need and we say good-bye.  I had a great day today!  Thank you, lord for this week!  My heart is so full right now!  As I sit her on the patio of the church, in the warm Mississippi air, I cannot help but reminisce about this past week.  It is very hard to put into words what I have learned on this trip; things about myself and about other people.  But most of all about You, oh God!  You are so good to Your children; even when we do not deserve it.  Someone mentioned this week that you give the faithful the desires of their hearts.  Also, they indicated that those desires usually have nothing to do with monetary things.  As I look deep inside myself, at the desires of my heart, I cannot help but smile and get excited with anticipation at what You have in store for my future.  As we signed the beams of the homes we cleaned I signed Jeremiah 29:11; the verse you have placed on my heart.  Also, I realized, yet again, how blessed I truly am.  Not only with the material, but more importantly with my family, my friends, with the country I was born in, with my relationship with You, dear Lord!  I am so blessed today…