Last weekend, as "super storm" Sandy took aim at the northeastern part of our country, my boys ran in a cross country meet in the little known town (village?) of Henry, Louisiana. I was eager for this meet, because it was the first time in several years that I had occasion to visit Henry, and I was anxious to see the progress that had been made.
As you can see, Henry is a little town not too very far from the Gulf Coast. My first dealings with Henry were when I interviewed for a job there a little over 20 years ago. At the time, I think they had a K-12 school, but it has since closed due to consolidation, and at this point, all that appears to remain is a gym. I chose to wait for a job a little closer to home, and that was that.
Until about 4 years ago. Hurricane Ike had rolled through, and my sons' Boy Scout troop had offered their services in helping with clean up. We stopped first in Erath, where we wiped down walls and picked items strewn about in the cemetery, and then journeyed on to Henry. The destruction there was just heartbreaking. We concentrated our efforts on the Catholic Church. A few weeks earlier, it had looked like this.
The church was already about 3 feet off of the ground, and the water left by the storm surge reaches to the door handles.
There we met Fr. Matthew, a priest from India. The church had suffered a similar fate after Hurricane Rita, 3 years earlier, and they had just completed renovations. He had moved back in to the rectory only a few months before Ike. He was so proud of the new furnishings - real wood pews in the church, new furnishings in the rectory. It was so sad to see the pews and the buckled wood floor in the sanctuary. We wiped the film from the pews, and it came back as soon as we wiped it way...probably mold, rather than mud. The rectory was being gutted that day. Loads and loads of moldy, wet sheet rock carted out. We did what we could (which wasn't much), but we left touched that day. Sometimes when you attempt to give, you are the one who receives, and it was true that day.
Fr. Matthew has since returned to his native country, but he touched us all. So appreciative, but seemingly in shock, as he carried a few more items that had been on the second floor to his car.
But Henry is a place that you don't happen upon, unless it is your destination, as it was for us this past Saturday. The school was gone - demolished after Ike, except for the gym (which still smells faintly of mildew). In the gym hang banners from championships and teams past. Rather sad, as if time stopped in 1991 or so.
But what we most wanted to see was the church.....
It has been raised another six feet or so. Unfortunately, it was locked (as most churches are today) and we could not see the inside. The rectory is gone, moved to a house a few doors down.
And so there is hope. Things do get rebuilt. Life does go on. And in the chaos and in the sadness in the good that we do for others, God does work and touch hearts and lives.