07/12/2018

Magis Moment

FaithActs, Loyola and the Lower 9th Ward

By Materrinan Zehyoue

Picture this:  it’s June 20, 2018, at 11:15 AM. The temperature is 93 degrees. It was here, that I found myself sitting in a church amongst 25 high school students and 8 college students, with a heart full of tears and an overwhelming sense of emotions. You might be wondering just what was going on. And where was I exactly?

Well, the students and I were beginning our third day of the FaithActs Summer Youth Theology Institute, a weeklong institute designed to help students think theologically and work towards environmental sustainability.  That being said, there was no greater place to do this than in the Lower 9th ward in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Loyola faithacts studentsThe students and I were inside Greater Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church, which sits at the corner of Chartres and Lizardi Street, just one block from the levee, and two blocks from the Old Holy Cross High School. This church was home to an organization called Lower 9 Resilient, which we volunteered with for two days. On the wall outside of the church was a large banner in white and blue, with the words “We’ve come this far by faith. Acts 16:5”. The banner perfectly described the week that we were embarking upon with the high school students, many asking if that was how FaithActs got its name. When a group of Loyola faculty members got together to generate this program, I am sure they thought about the connection between that particular Bible verse, and the learning that our students would be doing.

You see, the natural world and all that is held within it is an amazing, abundant gift from God. In August of 2005 in New Orleans, this gift was damaged and devastated in ways which were absolutely heartbreaking. Families evacuated and could not find money or space to return home. Men and women lost touch with their children, wives, husbands, parents, and pets. Those who stayed behind struggled to find food and shelter; many lost their lives. My emotions rose because I kept thinking about the pain and emptiness that I felt lingering over a decade after this storm. I wondered why, 13 years after Hurricane Katrina, was this community still struggling to rebuild? What could the city of New Orleans do to help them? What could the average citizen, like myself, do to help? What would we do to make sure that our faith in God kept us encouraged and joyful? But more importantly, what gifts could this community give to us?

In the art gallery Studio Be there is a painting of a young man, a rainbow extending from his hands, wearing a hoodie that says “Baptized When the Levees Broke”. The quote stems from musician Erykah Badu, who sang to a crowd in New Orleans,

“I got love fo’ my folks. Baptized when the levees broke, we gon’ keep marchin’ on, until we hear that freedom song.”

Keep on marching on, is exactly what the Lower 9 Resiliency has strived to do for their community. For this organization, resiliency meant doing everything they could to nurture the land and the people around them. Resiliency meant clearing overgrown lots to grow gardens, supporting those who wanted to return home, and of course, maintaining the church as a space where they could worship and fellowship with one another to celebrate God’s love for them during the best and worst times. Resiliency meant taking care of the Earth, the gift that God gave to all of us, and saying yes to the call for us take care of one another.

So how exactly does our faith in God call us to act towards the world around us? What drives us to learn more and do better? And how do we keep this in our hearts and in our works?

In his encyclical letter Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes

“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become

painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening in the world into our own personal

suffering and thus discover what each of us can do about it.”

As program coordinator of the FaithActs Institute, I worked for many months to put together something that I hoped would change the way that students see our world and God’s people. It was evident in the students who showed up with smiling faces, ready to learn and serve; it was even evident in the students who complained about being hot, tired, and bored by the lessons. Community members opened up their homes, their lives, and their stories to us.

So, whether we were cleaning out a garage, pulling weeds, or painting a house, we were never just doing service; we were receiving the goodness of God’s love and the promise that he will never leave this community and all of us.

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Materrinan Zehyoue is  the Coordinator of the FaithActs Summer Youth Theology Institute for high school students on Loyola University New Orleans campus.  Terri hopes to inspire young people to put their faith first and live with concern for all of God’s creation.

 

 

 

 

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