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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: rain (10/17/05)

TITLE: And Somehow We're Confident They Will
By Patrick Verbeten


When we first entered that Biloxi, Mississippi neighborhood, the people were skeptical. Three dozen orange-shirted young people and me, one token old guy, on a rickety school bus with Missouri plates invading their neighborhood. Since the 18-wheeler had not yet arrived, we did the only thing we knew to do, we began to clean the parking lot and adjacent field with the only tools we had, thirty-seven pair of work gloves and our willing attitudes. Tree debris in this pile, people’s stuff that had blown in from who-knows-where in that pile. Would someone please climb up into that tree and take the chair down? A piece of cardboard from that box will make a great broom to clean up this broken glass so that cars can come through without popping a tire.

The clean up went longer than we expected. That was o.k., though. It gave the curious neighbors a chance to warm up to our presence. Still, only Mr. Jensen would say more than a pleasantry toward us. He was the unofficial “boss” of the neighborhood and, as we would soon learn, everyone knew it. They knew it because in his twenty-five years as teacher and principal at the local high school, he taught most of the people who now live here. Miss Ruby would be here soon. She too would keep the folks in line, including us, because she understood what we must do if we were to meet the needs of her people.

Finally the truck arrived - fifty-four feet of who-knows-what arranged in no particular order. But our eager hands, the skills of Miss Ruby plus some of our own, would transform this make-shift flea market into a useful open market. Toilet paper goes here, diapers go there. Let’s form a line to unload those boxes of food and toiletries. Miss Ruby warns us that if someone does not sort the used clothing that came on this shipment, it would end up in a pile of trash to be discarded at a later date when the bulldozers eventually come to take away the storm debris. We sort it all.

O.k., what are we to do with a four-foot-cube bale of loose diapers? The preacher offers his church’s garage to store them until his flock can break them down into useable quantities. After all, he’s not able to use his church for much else. Though it was preserved from the hurricane, the rain and floodwaters that came afterward were merciless inside his church. The organ, drums, pulpit and pews have been rearranged, and not the way the ladies of the church would have done it! Song books lay open and mildewing from the water that rushed through the sanctuary three short weeks ago. Residue of mud is everywhere. But the folks are talking about restoring what the storm destroyed. As we got to know them, somehow we were confident they would.

By lunchtime some from the community were already beginning to peer through our little store even though the truck was only half unloaded. We ate in shifts, delegating some to help our new neighbors. But after lunch, it was back to work. The truck driver had other duties and needed to be on the road, so it was double-time on that unloading. Get it off now, we can sort it later. What are we going to do with another bale of diapers?… make that two! The good reverend comes to our rescue again. We roll the bales onto a trailer and to the safety of his dry garage. As we leave the church parking lot, I spy their church van hanging from a shoulder-high fence.

The last box and pallet is removed from the truck and the driver on his way, leaving us to sort the stuff and soothe the neighbors. Word on the street is that we are safe and the place takes on a block party atmosphere. Laughter, stories to share, and needs to be met were what we came for, and we were not disappointed. In fact, when it came time to leave that evening, it was as if we were leaving old friends. They made us promise that if we could, we would come back in a year and they would host us with a feast to outdo all feasts. And, somehow we are confident they will.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Debbie Sickler10/26/05
There were several storm stories this week and it was nice to read one from a fresh perspective. Good job on being creative and showing another side of things! I liked how it seemed you were talking in the present tense. It made it feel like the reader is there as you experienced it. :)
Sandra Petersen 10/27/05
This was very timely, and I thank you and those young people for being the Lord's hands and feet in this service. The only thing I would advise is to watch your use of verb tense. You began with past tense (had, was, -ed ending verbs) and by the end of your account the tense had changed to present (is, verbs with -s endings, etc.) I tracked with the retelling of your service anyway. Good job!