Each morning, the diverse group of volunteers working for Samaritan’s Purse, dressed in matching bright orange t- shirts, along with the local congregation of Crossroad’s Church here in Lafayette, Lousiana gather for a time of meaningful reflection before heading out to a worksite.
It’s a time of welcoming newcomers, and enjoying a satisfying meal lovingly prepared by the volunteer kitchen staff on site. I’ve met folks from all over the United States and while their geographical locations vary, their mission remains the same: To show Christ’s love to those who are hurting and in need of community during times of distress.
Samaritan’s Purse operates in conjunction with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a rapid response prayer team offering chaplain services to disaster areas where crisis management responders are needed.
Yesterday a combined team of 12 volunteers and two leaders, Lenny and Bob, headed a massive clean up project on Demanade Street, an area where standing flood waters still remain. We arrived to the flooded street at 8:30am, assessed our work assignments for the day and began unloading the U-haul stocked full of the necessary supplies.
This was the scene when we arrived:
I was struck in particular by the soaked memories of this couple in their late 70’s and early 80’s.
Their single story home was inundated with 4 feet of flood water while they were spending the weekend near Lake Arthur about 50 miles west of Lafayette.
Albert, “Burt” as he prefers to be called, and his beautiful wife of 59 years, Erline returned home to find what Erline referred to as a mixing bowl of meatball ingredients swirling around inside her home.
After hours of cleanup inside the property, I was able to steal a few moments with the couple in their garage where they were salvaging photographs in albums soaked to the core. The colors of the printed film swirled together like fresh tie dye.
“We met in 1956“, recalled Burt when asked how he and his bride first met.
“I was older than she was, and I remember the first time I laid eyes on her. She had the best butt I had ever seen, and then I saw the face to match the body and I was well pleased!”
Coming from a man in his eighties, I found this quite humorous, and appreciating his candid storytelling, let him share the love story of his life.
As Burt retrieved more warped photo albums tossed in the back of his pickup truck, Erline and I reminisced about her high school days and the beginnings of her infatuation with her dreamy husband who she claims, “was not just cute, but movie-star cute!”
“I wasn’t allowed to go to dances, being a country girl and all…” Erline shared in a beautiful southern Louisiana drawl, “so I used my sewing skills to make up some of the prettiest skirts. I remember the exact form fitting, white pencil skirt I wore that day that Burt noticed me. It wasn’t polite for girls to accept invitations to go out on the first or second ask…. so I patiently waited for the third time, hoping he wouldn’t give up on me. ”
As the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers removed drenched sheets of mold-infested drywall from the home, Burt removed saturated photographic memories of trips they had taken in the mountains in Colorado many years prior. He loves photography. She loves nature and animals. Their love for one another in that moment was a testimony to the bond and strength of their relationship in light of the destruction surrounding them.
I wanted to capture their essence and decided we would take photos under a big Oak Tree in the corner of their front yard. To the immediate left stood heaps of crumbled drywall, reams of moldy insulation, damaged furniture, swollen library books, bundles of soaked clothing, along with piles of soiled personal effects collected during their 59 years together. But there, leaning on that thick tree trunk they were reminded of their roots, and felt the strength of their firm foundation rising up. This tree stood majestically , symbolically, calling them to rejoice in their personal victory together. The tears from the morning had turned to joyful laughter as they posed together rekindling the love they had for each other in their youth.
I thanked God for the opportunity to bear witness to this profound example of perseverance, and hope their story inspires everyone in the Lafayette community and in the world that there is hope on the other side of pain.
I recalled the words of encouragement shared in Wednesday night’s service at host church Crossroads, “Pain leads to pursuit. Pain leads to passion. Pain leads to purpose.”
What is the pain in our life teaching us? Is it a subtle reminder to go back to our roots, and take an introspective look at the things that really matter?
Faith, Hope, and Love. And of these, Love is the strongest.
Going back today to finish up and help restore a bit of their memories in the pages of the albums.
Stand in love, like Burt and Ernice.