“It ain’t all about your booty…” (Our Pirate Ship Theme Song)
Spring Break #CUinNOLA
So this past week 400 of us made the trek down to NOLA for the FCA Spring Break mission trip. As my friend Korey puts it, it was “the trip you should have been on.” Truthfully, there’s way too much to process from the week, but I hope this will give you a taste of our experience.
Too Fine Two Nine – Group 29
First off, let me introduce you to the amazing group that I was able to serve alongside during the mission trip. Group 29.
An incredible group of people. I could easily fill the rest of this post bragging on all of them, but then I wouldn’t have any room to talk about the trip. Although we had meetings every Sunday night for the six weeks leading up to the trip, I feel like I only really started to get to know them while we were in New Orleans. I guess 10 hours in a van helped speed that process along some.
Driving on Down to NOLA
In preparation for our early morning departure time, Friday night was spent with the group grabbing supper and raiding Walmart for van decorations. We went with a pirate theme and transformed our white creeper van into a magnificent sailing vessel for the high seas in a matter of hours.
Early Saturday morning, all four hundred of us drove to Kite Hill and got into the vans. We were in the last caravan to leave, but throughout the course of the day we slowly overtook some of the other caravans that left before us. Over 10 hours later, we arrived in NOLA! For supper, we walked over to the Whole Foods next to our hotel. This was a common theme throughout the week. So good.
Sunday was spent entirely with our group and gave us time to prepare for the week. We went to a local church called Vintage Church in Matairie. It was a small hip church that I was immediately a fan of. Afterwards, we headed downtown to a park for some frisbee and testimony sharing. Hands down this is some of the most incredible time we spent together. It’s so encouraging to hear other’s stories and to be vulnerable in sharing yours. God definitely moves during these times.
We then went for a quick tour around town. Bourbon Street lived up to its name…. I guess being there on St. Patty’s day helped magnify its craziness.
We also checked out Jackson Square and the famous Cafe De Monde. There was so much powdered sugar. All over the place. Looking back, I sorta wish we would have had a powdered sugar fight. Their beignets lived up to the hype, along with their cafe au lait. To continue our tour of NOLA food, we grabbed classic New Orleans fare for dinner. My southern po-boy was so good. While we ate, our van driver told us the whole story of how he got arrested stealing cereal from Schilleter… classic. After supper, we explored a leevee and added a new member to our group, Santiago the Stick. Santiago joined us that night as we made a midnight IHOP run and rocked out to some T-Swift on the way back to the hotel. It was a fantastic day and helped unite our group as we prepared to serve the next few days.
Serving the City :. Liberty’s Kitchen
Throughout the next three days, we served alongside youth at a place called Liberty’s Kitchen.
“Liberty’s Kitchen is a social enterprise dedicated to transforming the lives of New Orleans’ youth by providing a path to self-sufficiency through food service-based training, leadership and employment programs.”
Although we were only there three days, I was impressed with the quality of the program. Our group of 14 split into three groups and served alongside the youth in three locations: the cafe, a local elementary school, and a local high school. We originally intended to switch around roles each day, but quickly began building relationships and decided to stick to the same places.
My group worked at the elementary school and helped prepare meals in the kitchen. There was a lot of chopping and a lot of cleaning, but being with friends and having the opportunity to connect with the youth in the program made the time fly. One of the coolest parts of our time in the kitchen was explaining to the staff and youth why we were there. Most of our conversations went something like this:
“What are you guys doing in New Orleans?”
“We’re on a mission trip with FCA just coming to serve the city.”
“So, you’re volunteering during the day then partying on Bourbon Street at night?”
“Nah, we don’t roll like that. At night, we have worship/sessions and hang out with our groups.”
“Oh, okay…. (confused face).”
We confused a lot of people. Like really confused them. This opened up so many doors for conversations and we actually invited the head chef and a couple of the youth to come to our night sessions. We were ecstatic when they came. By the last day, we were good friends with the kitchen staff and couldn’t help but be bummed out that we wouldn’t be coming back the next day. Contrary to what you might think, it was incredibly refreshing serving these people.
Oh, I have no idea how I forgot to mention this, but we got free Starbucks every day at Liberty’s kitchen. Yeah, be jealous. It was awesome.
Liberty’s Kitchen was also dedicated to serving healthy food at the schools. Over 95% of the food we served was homemade…. yeah, 95%. I was in love. For lunch, we were able to eat the meals being served to the kids and they were so much better than even our dining hall food at Clemson. All of the fruit and vegetables were fresh and the chicken was so good. The last two days we also helped plant a small garden next to Liberty’s Kitchen for the Spring. Yes!
Exploring the City
After serving each day, we spent the rest of our time hanging out as a group in the city. On Monday, we drove through the 9th ward to get a taste of the incredible destruction that Hurricane Katrina did. Even 8 years later, it was still rough and in repair. Pizza was provided for supper, but we also made a quick trip over to Whole Foods. A couple of my friends in the group were weird about healthy eating like me, so these trips were a ton of fun. Tuesday night was spent near Jackson Square. We ate at another classic New Orleans place and had everything from gumbo to jambalaya to crawfish. The food in NOLA is soooo good. We spent a lot of time just goofing off too.
Our last day in the city we responded to a request for some help handing out flyers for an Easter block party. We were absolutely exhausted, but our van driver just had a feeling that this would be a really good experience for our group. The church was located in the 7th ward, so it wasn’t the best part of town and set us up for an interesting experience. We knocked on a full street of doors and invited people out to the party. I quickly learned that it’s best to lead with “Free Food….” and not with “I’m with a church…”. After we finished handing out our flyers, we stumbled upon a group of homeless and decided to sit and talk to them. It’s incredible what happens in these conversations.
Night Sessions and Van Time
Each night we came together as a full group of 400 to worship and listen to a message by Chris from City Lights church in Greenville. Before the sessions started, it was basically a massive dance party on the chairs in the ballroom. Once the worship started though, it got real. The worship team at FCA led us through some ridiculous worship.
Chris did an incredible job of teaching us on surfacing what is hidden in our life. After each session, we split off into our groups and then into a guys group and girls group. Some of the best conversations happened during this time and I’m so thankful for the incredible guys that were in my group. After session the second night, I sat down with our van driver for some one-on-one time. This time made my trip.
The last night session was mind-blowing. I wish I could communicate all that happened, but I could spend the next couple of hours thinking about it and still not be able to capture all that happened. One of our friends from the kitchen came to the session. We were in the second row this night and I can’t imagine what was going through his mind with all of the craziness going on around him. During this last session, we celebrated over 40 baptisms. Three of the people in our group got baptized as a public statement of their faith. BOOM. After the session, we hung out in the loft and just chilled as friends amazed at all that had happened the past week.
Back to Tigertown
Thursday was a reverse of Saturday as we made the trek back to Clemson. We were all so exhausted, so the first half of the trip was spent with most of the group asleep. Once lunch time came though, we started to perk up some. On the trip home, we finished sharing testimonies and then talked about our favorite part of the trip. Surprisingly, almost everyone talked about the homeless ministry we did on our last day just at the spur of the moment. So cool. Then, of course, we went around and did MTCs (Mission Trip Crushes). Most people copped out and said Josh Downey (the worship leader), but we had a couple of legit ones. Our van driver was a pro and drove flawlessly all the way back to Clemson. Unfortunately, as we pulled back into the Kite Hill parking lot, the trip was over. Sad panda.
Wow. I can’t really wrap my mind around all that happened and how amazing the people in my group are. One of the most incredible experiences of my life. So thankful and blessed.