2010 Tikhonaire

Page 50

Rebuilding Hope:

A Seminarian’s Reflection on IOCC’s Gulf Coast Relief Program Father Joel Weir


n late August of 2005, just one year before my family and I made our way from Indiana to Pennsylvania to begin four years at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, Hurricane Katrina brought destruction to the Gulf Coast, from central Florida to east Texas. With the subsequent levee collapse in New Orleans, the nation found itself in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly 2,000 people dead, and over one million displaced. The hardest hit areas were the poorest communities. Like most Americans, I watched in disbelief the footage coming from New Orleans and surrounding areas. My wife and I wanted to help out, but with the impending major upheaval of moving to seminary, along with the need to heal and mourn the recent repose of my father, we resolved to try to help the relief effort in other ways without leaving home; it was simply not the right time. Near the beginning of my first spring semester at St. Tikhon’s, I was made aware of the U.S. Program of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). I learned that IOCC had partnered with the local Habitat For Humanity in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. The U.S. Program director, Pascalis Papouras explained to me that IOCC planned on having volunteer teams work on building Habitat homes as long as was needed. I signed up and made my first trip to New Orleans after completing my first year at St. Tikhon’s. The experience of work-

ing with IOCC and Habitat was such a blessing that I returned the following summer along with my wife, Maria. This past summer, our final summer at St. Tikhon’s, Maria and I were blessed to lead an IOCC team to New Orleans. The first full day of every work week with IOCC in the Gulf Coast Relief Program is dedicated to a guided tour of the places most affected by Hurricane Katrina. The purpose of the tour is not “sight seeing” but rather to demonstrate the reality of the long-term rebuilding process in the area. Even last summer, four years after Katrina, many areas look shockingly similar to the way they did my first year in New Orleans. It is unfortunate that when a story leaves the headlines, usually the relief work has only

just begun. The kind of work that IOCC does, consistently, locally, and efficiently is so critical to lasting relief to a community that lost nearly everything. The other essential component to what IOCC does is that it is personal. When you volunteer for an IOCC/Habitat Team, you work side by side with local volunteers, and sometimes even with the person whose home you are building. Everyone you meet has a story, and it is often extremely humbling to hear the hope and faith in their voices, knowing the struggle they have faced in the past few years. I remember Pascalis explaining to me, from his experience, how building homes, providing relief, and simply being present in the midst of crisis is evangelism. 41

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