Inspiration

The Fault in Judging a Book by its Cover: Swamp Base Story by Nasia Woods

In the days leading up to my first adventure crew trip, I began doing my typical pre-trip research. Yet, the more I read about Swamp Base, the more pictures I saw, the more questions I asked, and the hotter the Louisiana summer got left me deeply pondering “What the heck did you get yourself into Woods?” I’m not really a big fan of the outdoors, I tend to have a few germaphobic tendencies, not to mention how truly out of shape I am — I started contemplating loopholes in my commitment. Alas, considering character traits I hope to stand by, backing out wasn’t an option.

When we arrived at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to begin the training portion of our trail, I had the pleasure of meeting a few members of a boy scout troop that had just completed the adventure. The first three, a man and two teenage boys (whom were all caucasian) happened to share their semi-rosy picture of their journey. Just before I fully regained confidence in my ability to complete this excursion, I met a middle-aged physically fit African American male who had also just returned from Swamp Base. 

I’m sitting in the lobby with my gear, waiting for the rest of my team to arrive for our final meeting of the night when the man approached me. Looking at my two packs, he began pleading with me to lighten my load before we left out early the next morning. “If I were you, I’d drop that big bag and condense everything you have into that little bag (aka turn 60lbs of gear to 20lbs). With that much stuff, your canoe is going to sink. There’s no way you can paddle with that much weight. I had half your gear and my son and I could barely move. But if you're anything like my wife (which I must be), you're not going to listen (I absolutely did not), and you’ll regret it in the morning (I did eventually regret not packing an extra pair of shorts).”

With sweaty palms and the taste of fear climbing up my throat, I asked him about his experience.  He said with a sincere look of disgust masked on his face, “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! I barely made it out. I begged the medical team to take me off, but they refused. We even had an ex-marine with our group and he struggled the whole time. If there’s anyway to get out of going, I’d suggest you do that now”. As he was expressing his final sentiments, our students began exiting the elevator. The slender man took one look at my team and chuckled “That’s who you’re going with? This kind of stuff isn’t made for us (black people), this is white people [insert explicative]”. And with his final words ringing loudly in the back of my head, he got on the elevator my crew just exited and went on his way.

Fast forward four days and five nights and we are heading into our final day of the trail. By this time, I’ve managed to get sick and experienced way more mosquito bites than I thought were possible being drenched in 30% deet; however, the pride in my-scratch that- our accomplishments deeply outweighed the pain we were currently experiencing. Our crew, the urban outreach group from Opelousas have been dominating the trail. The number of times we had to stop to swim, nap, and hang out in the shade due to being so far ahead of schedule became ambition to continue paddling harder. We were our own competition. Storms, waves, heat, nor winds could stop our drive. Everyday we worked harder than the day before. I watched our group encourage and support one another. We suffered together. But, we also rejoiced together. Our community grew on that trail, and our confidence followed.

Finally, we reached our goal. 61.6 miles under our belt, and the right to shout “We conquered the Swamp!” As we returned to the room that I had that awkward encounter just five days prior for our badge ceremony, I shared the story with our team of the man who didn’t believe. On that day, (thirteen) African American young people “Conquered the Swamp”. This was a group that looked incapable to many. An urban outreach group that many had low expectations of. Some who worried we’d possibly be the worst group to take the trail. I’m so grateful that the cowardly man came to speak to me on our first day of Swamp Base, because he afforded me the opportunity to share with our kids a real life example of the fault in judging a book by its cover. I hope our team learned that some will say because of their life circumstances, lack of money, schools they attend, neighborhoods they live in, whatever cards they've been dealt, they cannot achieve success; but so long as they have an understanding that suffering will happen, quitting is not an option, and live with a mindset for victory, they can challenge those stereotypes and dismantle negative opinions of them by proving some of the best novels ever written have broken covers. 

After the Flood: A Reflection by Executive Director Loren

One thing that you learn living in Louisiana is that weather is the great equalizer. Weather doesn’t care what neighborhood you live in, the color of your skin, or if you’ve been in church or the bar lately. 

It also has a way of teaching us we are all equal. Making those of us not affected by the devastation grow in empathy for those that are. When these times are upon us in Louisiana we get to see the best in each other while working together to overcome the worst of times.

As schools were canceled many students in Opelousas were excited to sit at home and enjoy the time off.  Learning about the devastation surrounding our parish and region I told a group our High School students I wanted to go and help. Without hesitation they said they wanted to come. I told them to organize a text message and see who wanted to come that we would meet at 8:00am and I wouldn’t wait around for them.

The next morning 10 of our students arrived on time and worked eagerly serving families that lost everything in the flood. As we walked carrying the soggy belongings of our neighbors to the street, strangers turned into family and we felt for a moment what our brothers and sisters were experiencing.

Each evening I would offer the option for our kids to come again in the morning. But, only if they wanted to work. And, each day they came. Five days in a row they served. And each day they were an encouragement to everyone, even inspiring friends to come and help. 

Many people look at today’s generation with disdain. I look at our students with Hope. And that’s what the families felt when our kids served at the moment of their greatest need. To see our kids have that experience knowing that it will stay with them for the rest of their lives makes me proud. And, it helps me believe even more that Love Changes Everything.

Photos from the Daily World article which can be found here.

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Loren wins "Franciscan Spirit Award" from Our Lady of Lourdes

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This May, Loren was selected as the Fraciscan Spirit Award winner for 2014 by Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette. People from all across Acadiana were nominated for this honor which is awarded to an individual who exemplifies the spirit and ideals of St. Francis. Loren was very humbled to receive this award and we are encouraged to know that Opelousas’ neighboring cities witness HFO’s mission and dedication to families. Check out their press release about our director…Franciscan Spirit Award

Remembering Jaylin

Remembering Jaylin

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With huge and heavy sadness, the community of Hope for Opelousas celebrates the life of Jaylin Levier, and grieves his loss. Also known around our tutoring tables and basketball courts as “Pop,” Jaylin was the kid everybody loved—the staff clowned along with his humor, and his competitive spirit sparked everyone on to better work, better play. It feels too soon to say goodbye, and to be honest, we don’t want to.  It is difficult to try to remember Jaylin’s presence, his spunkiness and sensitivity, when we still feel like we will see his huge smile and soft eyes around HFO.

While it is easy to think of fun times—Jaylin dancing with his cousins, racing to define vocabulary words, cheering on the Tigers—HFO also wants to share some different and very special moments. Times when Jaylin joined in Bible studies and thought deeply about his faith and community that we will treasure, knowing his heart was being pulled toward heaven and he was listening. Just this summer, Jaylin traveled with us to a Christian sports camp, and responded to the gospel message with great intensity. How precious to witness that hunger, joy, and tenderness. Scripture affirms this time of grief, telling us “precious are the deaths of saints;” we are deeply grieving the loss of this incredible life and lift the Levier family up in our prayers. But with equally deep gratitude we celebrate the privilege of knowing Jaylin, loving him, being loved by him, and trusting that he is now laughing and clowning with our Father.

 

Love Changes Everything!

A Home for Grace

Home of Grace

“The Home of Grace is a holy place. Where a man can have his sins washed away.”

These lyrics describe a place I will always call home. Two days before my 19th birthday, I walked into the ‘Home of Grace’ chapel at the end of Jericho Road. That moment marked the end of another personal road—I had just been released from jail with a court order to complete the 90 day drug and alcohol program at the HOG. You might assume I was feeling pretty hopeless, but instead I remember a nearly overwhelming feeling of excitement. A program or a place alone can’t change you but it can certainly be used. In that program, that place, and that community of brothers I experienced the love of Christ. And that changed me!

Over the last 12 years I have been able to partner with more than 100 men and women in their search for hope—hope found in the sanctuary of HOG. Lives of strangers, friends, and family members have been restored because of Christ’s freedom taught in that place. This month, the connection with HOG has deepened in some unexpected ways.

Recently, I have been able to visit with several local judges and Drug Court representatives to tell the stories behind the impact of the HOG. The Assistant Director of the HOG, Josh Barton, also visited Opelousas to meet these community members and share the vision. Our goal is to see men and women caught in the judicial system for drug or alcohol offenses have the opportunity to attend the HOG instead of going straight to a jail cell.

This was the grace I was given. I would have stayed in jail if not for a judge allowing me to attend the HOG; that allowance changed my life forever. Praise God for working in powerful ways even through the structures and systems in our communities. Pray that we might see financial provision for these men and women from our parish. Pray to get them the help they need to become restored to their families and communities. Pray for the Home of Grace to be supported and that Opelousas can continue to be a part of that ministry.

Home of Grace
 
From Left to Right: Jonathan Fisher, Jonathan Moore, Josh Barton, Loren Carriere, and Johnny Carriere. Four HOG graduates now involved in various ministries across Acadiana with Josh Barton Assistant Director and grandson of the founder of the HOG Bill Barton.