Have you ever stopped to smell the roses? Literally? If you have (kudos to you), you may have received some sidelong glances from confused onlookers. However, you have not just seen the beauty of the rose, but experienced it, and what a difference that makes.
Many people have seen New Orleans, whether while visiting here or looking from afar. People see parties, vibrant culture, lots of rain, good music, great food – you name it (we probably have it). Amidst the typical touristy attractions, you might hear an undercurrent of negativity. Dirty. Lost. Sinful. Godless. But these are words used by those who have merely seen New Orleans, not those who have experienced it.
New Orleans is a city full of sinners and saints (literally and figuratively —Who Dat!) And while some of the negative undertones hold some truth, those who have experienced New Orleans have a totally different perception of the city. She is rooted in fierce loyalty, inspired by hope, resilient, welcoming, beautiful, and a place where the spirit of the Lord is undeniably present and active.
As week two comes to a close, we have already seen over 500 campers come and experience New Orleans first hand. Groups come here and work hard. They do not spend a week in luxury visiting every touristy site as laid out in detail by Trip Advisor or Rick Steves.
Every day campers go to some of the very places that seem to validate negative stereotypes.
They see the poverty and brokenness of local families while running neighborhood VBS.
They see people trying to survive on the streets while ministering to the homeless.
They see the lingering destruction of Hurricane Katrina in the 9th ward.
But what they experience is God at work and beauty amidst the ashes.
They experience the love of neighborhood children that pull at their heartstrings.
They experience the genuineness of people and the value of stories.
They experience beautiful flowers amidst the weeds and overgrowth of a Lower 9th Ward lot.
And if we stop to smell those flowers in the midst of everything in life that seems to distract us and overtake us, we may reach the same conclusion as Mrs. Magnolia (a chaperone from one of our teams this week), “Even in the darkest parts of our lives, God can bring about something beautiful.”