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2009 Journal Entries

July 19, 2009

(Updated late)

Today we visited the Central Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans. The people were very friendly and welcoming. The beat was jumping (a good beat) and the people were praising the Lord. That’s my kind of church. It reminded me so much of my home church. Then aunty Melody made arrangements for me to sing “Because of Who You Are” at the church for the congregation. When I went up to sing, I was not nervous but concerned and hoping that the congregation would accept my performance. Luckily, they did. The church really seemed to like my singing and I felt happy that I went up and my fellow LEAPers doubled my happiness level.

Then later after church we went to eat some crawfish for lunch. I realized something at that lunch—I really prefer crab to crawfish taste wise. Then we went to have free time where my fellow LEAPers shopped and I dropped into a deep nap. Then for dinner we headed to a Central American restaurant where we listened to music. I could not understand the words but the beat was danceable. In fact, that’s what we did—Will, Carina, Rafy, Melinda, Danny and Monica danced to the Mexican style music while we clapped and cheered. All and all, it was a good day.

Yours truly awesome,
Amber Castle


July 21, 2009

Hello from Brethren Woods Retreat Center! We are once again back in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area after another busy day of traveling. We left our New Orleans hotel shortly before 3 a.m. for our 6 a.m. flight to Miami, Florida and then from there to Washington D.C. Both flights went smoothly and we managed to squeeze in a few rounds of Spoons before boarding.

Once in Washington we swiftly loaded our two 15-passenger vans and then headed to Union Station for lunch. Here we had a $10 grab-what-you-want lunch. The many diverse vendors and cuisines allowed everyone to find something from the place (or places) of their choice.

The 3 and ½ hour ride back to Harrisonburg after lunch was unusually quiet with a few muffled conversations as most people caught up on much-needed sleep. We arrived at Brethren Woods, a camp located approximately 25 minutes from EMU, quite exhausted. So dinner and the evening activities were pretty low-key. Some of us went outside to enjoy the cooler weather and rain while others stayed inside playing Dutch Blitz, Kemps, and various musical instruments.

We are all sad to leave New Orleans, but are ready to reflect on and share our experiences and glad to be back in familiar territory.

Sending much love,
Karina Kreider


July 20, 2009

Our last day in New Orleans (tear). Today was exciting. We traveled to MI, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, hump back, hump back, I—otherwords to Mississippi. There we explored several houses that MDS (Mennonite Disaster Service) is building for people that lost their homes to Katrina. Later we had a buffet lunch at Pizza Hut. The cross-cultural part was tasting things like strawberry-strudel pizza. Actually it was pretty good. After lunch we had beach time in Gulfport, Mississippi. I personally enjoyed myself and I’m sure other LEAPers did as well. Later that evening we ate at a Thai restaurant. The food was awesome. I have never eaten Thai food before. I ordered a dish that consisted of vegetables, shrimp, chicken, and a spicy sauce. But, wait, it gets better. For dessert we went to Café du Monde in the French Quarter. There we had beignets (French square-shaped donuts). They were so delicious that I got an order to go!

With laughs and smiles,
Rayana Smith

July 18, 2009

Today, instead of our usual routine of loading into the vans, we went about a block from the hotel and rode a New Orleans street car down into the French Quarter. From there we walked along the sidewalks for a bit. We ate lunch at Café Pontelba which served Creole and Cajun cuisine. We then headed out to the New Orleans Aquarium. There we saw sea creatures including sharks, seahorses, sea otters and penguins. We even saw a few birds of prey. After walking through the aquarium, we went to an IMAX film about the swamps in Louisiana. The film showed how we’ve speeding up its destruction thus making hurricanes potentially even more dangerous. The film also talks about restoring the swamplands. When the film ended, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest and prepared ourselves to go to the Amor Viviente Church (LEAP leader Marvin’s old church). They had a special service to congratulate the young children for completing the week-long summer Bible school “Avalanche Ranch”. They performed some song and dance routines in both Spanish and English since the church itself is bilingual. Afterwards, there were snacks in a cafeteria across from the church building. Even though we had a snack, most of us were still hungry since we had not eaten dinner earlier. So what better thing to do than to head to Applebees at 10 p.m. at night. We ate a great supper and then headed back to the hotel. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us tomorrow.

Rafy C.


July 17, 2009

“Good morning, starshine…the world says hello!” These are the words I wake up to accompanied by a bright smile from my roommate, Amber C. On the downside, it was exactly 8:24 a.m. and I was late as usual. While I’m finishing getting ready for the day, everyone else is enjoying their breakfast. After breakfast, we do our usual gathering—pray, talk about the day ahead and I drink benadryl. The same goes for Jessica and Rayana (Ray-Ray). Today we split the vans by first name, A-I and J-Z.

The ride to the Lower Ninth Ward was smooth—well, not really—the driver listened to our “intoxicated GPS system” named Maggie. She led us into some very unnecessary turns. Arriving at the Lower Ninth Ward was very interesting because we saw new houses built in very unique ways (Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” campaign of housebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward). We arrived at the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) site. The first thing I saw was a very tall man welcoming us to the house (Mike Wilson, MDS director in New Orleans). The house belongs to Pastor Duplessis. He has a very beautiful home with all new appliances and essentials which were donated to he and his wife. Everything was donated except for his abnormally large bedroom set which barely fit in the bedroom.

Leaving the pastor’s house, we boarded the vans and were on our way. As we crossed the bridge, I laid my head to rest. All of a sudden we all were bounced up in the air by a huge bump in the road. We almost touched the ceiling as we flew through the air.

For lunch we stopped at a Subway and it was satisfying. On the road again, we arrived at the Honey Swamp where we took a two hour tour of the bayou. We all took fantastic pictures of the swamp, alligators, birds, trees, and basically swamp-like background. I came across an alligator that must have mistaken my finger for a hot dog (just kidding)!

Late afternoon we went to the Riverwalk (a long mall of shops along the Mississippi River in New Orleans) where we had dinner. Back at the hotel we decided to do laundry. This took forever because there was only one washer and dryer. Some of us did not finish until early in the morning.

So that was most of my day. Everything is going well. I am writing this while eating a delicious meal and it is hard to do. But, hey, I tried.

Monica Solis J


July 16, 2009

Hello family and friends,

We had another great day in New Orleans. We started the day of by being able to sleep in. It felt wonderful! Our first stop we made was at Longvue House and Gardens. We toured the gardens first and they were amazing. After that, we got a tour of the house. The house was built in the 1920s and was really pretty inside.

After that we went to lunch at a place called Mothers. This restaurant is in downtown New Orleans and serves all kinds of New Orleans specialties like po-boys, gumbo, and jambalaya. The food was so good!

From there we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art. We looked around the museum for about two hours and saw some really interesting paintings and photography. Afterwards we went back to our hotel for some discussion of our time here in New Orleans and then had some free time.

After some much needed rest, we went out to dinner to celebrate Julianna’s seventeenth birthday. We took her to a Mexican buffet which is a favorite of hers. She got to wear a sombrero while we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. After eating some more really good food, we all went back to our hotel. There we got into the hot tub and played some volleyball in the pool.

So far we’ve all been having a great time down here in New Orleans. See you all soon!

Jessica Colwell


July 15, 2009

Our day started at 7:30 a.m. when everyone went to the lobby to have breakfast. Our first visit was to the St. Bernard Parish neighborhood where we got the real background story about what really happened there after Katrina. Endesha Jukaila, who we first met yesterday, is a resident of St. Bernard and he talked about how a lot of the neighborhood didn’t come back because of Katrina and because of how the government treated them after Katrina. He gave the percentage of how many people actually came back. It was amazing to see how the storm affected each neighborhood in a different way. He gave the history that the media doesn’t show for different reasons.

After the time in St. Bernard Parish, we had lunch at Landry’s Seafood in the French Quarter. Everybody ordered “po-boys”. It’s a sandwich that’s very popular in New Orleans. Following lunch we went to talk to a group called JJLP (Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana). It is a group where they try to help the young people of New Orleans. Their main purpose is to shut down a place called Youth Study Center which is a detention center for young people. The facts show that how they are treating people in there is wrong. We got to hear their stories on a personal level including what they experienced before and after Katrina. One of the biggest things that stood out was how poorly they were treated in their schools.

Then we went back to the hotel and had some free time in the afternoon. From the hotel we went to have dinner at a Wendy’s. Later that night we attended a youth group at a church called Verbo. Everybody had an enjoyable time. Following the worship service, we talked to the pastor of Verbo. He gave the story about his church and how he believed that Katrina was both a blessing and a disaster at the same time. The group was very moved by his testimony and how the church had recovered from Katrina.

Julianna Griffin


July 14, 2009

Today we started our trip to New Orleans! We got on a bus at around 2 a.m. to Reagan Airport in D.C. Most of us slept since we hadn’t really gone to bed early and were pretty tired. Our flight left around 6 a.m. to Chicago for a connecting flight to New Orleans. In Chicago we hit the Starbucks and the McDonalds at the airport. We had another two hour flight to New Orleans.

At our hotel we met up with Pam Nath (Mennonite Central Committee) who gave us a tour of the main places that Hurricane Katrina affected and she informed us of all the social justice issues that came with the hurricane. Some of the places we visited were a couple of the hardest hit neighborhoods, a levee, and the Lower Ninth Ward. After the tour we went to visit Endesha Juakali, a community organizer, who works with a community center in the Lower Ninth Ward. He answered some of our questions and told us his story of when Katrina hit.

All of us were planning on heading to supper at a place recommended by Pam called Stewart’s Diner in the Ninth Ward, but there was a slight complication. The keys of one of the vans got locked inside it. So half of us went to Stewart’s in the other van while the other half stayed and talked some more. Supper really hit the spot. There was fried catfish, fried chicken, beans and rice, potato salad, spicy peas, macaroni, and cornbread.

It was then back to the hotel where some of us played volleyball in the pool on the roof of our hotel for a bit. But since we have an early morning tomorrow, we’re all going to bed pretty early (9 p.m.). Plus all of us are exhausted from the trip.

Carina Zehr


July 12, 2009

I woke up at 7:30 to start a new day. We went to the EMU cafeteria to have some nourishment to have some energy to go to the second floor of the Park View Mennonite Church. We took some pictures with the whole group before we started the Mennonite service. I must say I have joy when I enter the house of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s been some time since I felt His presence like I did when the church service started with the main theme of “adoption”. Even the little kids were at the front with the leader on a blanket talking about the same theme and sharing their thoughts with the rest of us. I was impressed because at my church we do not have services like that. It was wonderful how the service was filled with music and preaching. I got to meet new people after the service ended.

We had lunch at the cafeteria and after that we got ready for hiking at the Shenandoah National Park. It was a thirty mile drive and, as soon as we got to the parking area, we started our hiking trip. We went to the top of the mountain and took pictures of the group. We all helped each other get to the top of the mountain and back down again. We headed down after an hour so we could get some dinner at 6 p.m. We waited a long time for the food but during that time we made up some games. We saw deer and even a chipmunk. It was an exciting adventure. We got back to the apartments so we could refresh and have a good night. I forgot—I think there will be a surprise.

God bless. Take care.
Wil Martinez


July 11, 2009

We began the program today in the cool and shady Park Woods area for some teambuilding time. After a devotional that included a prayer circle and active song (Hallelujah, Praise Ye the Lord!), we began three hours of activities.

During that time we:

At the end of most games we brainstormed the things we had learned about ourselves and each other. It was fascinating to see the strengths and leadership skills of each participant coming out! Wil likes to get things moving. Ubaldo is sure and steady. Rayana makes certain everything works out in the end. Each one added her/his unique strength to the process.

As usual, our lunch and dinner today were in the EMU Dining Hall, buffet style. The serve-yourself ice cream bar seems especially popular!

In the afternoon, LEAP professor Alicia Horst led a session on relationships. Each of us completed a test of our conflict-situation skills. We learned whether we are turtles (avoiding), teddy bears (accommodating), owls (collaborating), sharks (forcing) or foxes (compromising) when in conflict situations.

Our small groups (Gumbo, Jambalaya and Crawfish) have four students and two leaders in each group. Today nine student participants had pastoral interviews during the afternoon while others had free time.

We also took a WalMart run during free time for some items still needed for travel. The evening plan included a visit to a local baseball game, but it was unanimously voted down by the participants in favor of free time. Soccer, card games, and cookie-baking were possibilities instead.

I’m personally so impressed with these young people! They have quickly bonded with each other and each one of them is able to name new friends. They are open, cooperative, and just delightful to be around. I’m looking forward to traveling with them.

--Linda Alley, LEAP Chaplain


July 10, 2009

We started our day at seven o’clock. At eight everyone arrived at breakfast—some later—not saying any names but it was Apartment E. After breakfast was our first session. The topic was our call—what is our call and how do you know when your being called to do a specific task whether its in ministry, your community, or household.

Then we had lunch. After lunch some of the group sat around the table telling stories about school pranks that was a very funny conversation. Next we had our second session which was about embracing diversity. The whole group enjoyed that session because we all got to interact with each other and give our opinions about different backgrounds and stereotypes that people give each other. It was a very powerful session.

Our last session was about relationships. We discussed the different relationships that we had whether it was family, friend, or romantic. We did an activity outside walking a labyrinth which was a new experience for everyone.

Later that night we were scheduled to watch a movie and we planned that, if the movie was boring everybody would put their heads down and start snoring really loud….Danny said it!...sorry, Danny…

Luckily, we didn’t have to do that. We watched a movie called “When the Levees Broke” which was about Hurricane Katrina. During the movie I was looking around at everybody’s face. You could really tell that they were really moved by this film because we got to see the “behind-the scenes” of Hurricane Katrina. This movie gave us another reason to be excited about going to New Orleans and learning new things and hearing more people’s stories.

Julianna C. Griffin


July 8-9, 2009

Hello LEAP loved ones,

Today (June 9 th) was our second day and first full day of the LEAP365 program. Yesterday, we arrived, did some get-to-know you games, and had an introductory session for the LEAP program and leaders. Altogether there are 12 LEAPers and 7 leaders plus the Lorenzana family. Today began with, well breakfast of course, then a session asking who God is. After that was a worship session and then a briefing on the situation in Honduras. After lunch we had a break to nap, play cards, or pretty much whatever activity we wanted. Then we learned about an area near Harrisonburg called Zenda and an amazing woman (Lucy Simms) who taught there for many years. We also learned about a neighborhood that was relocated to bring in commercial business but destroyed community spirit in the process. Unlike many things we learn about in life, we got to visit the area that the neighborhood is now and where it was before.

For dinner we got to try something that was new for almost everyone, Ethiopian cuisine. Everyone was great about trying something new and I’m fairly certain everyone went away happy and full. But we weren’t too full for ice cream of local fame from Kline’s. Everyone was happy to discover that we had the rest of the evening free and we split into groups, voluntarily, to play Dutch Blitz (a Mennonite card game) or soccer. I went with the soccer group to try to work off some of the many calories I consumed at dinner and we ended up playing barefoot to be fair to those in flip flops. Our makeshift soccer field was called “free-for-all” and “footballito” by some. Then the guys invited everyone to their dorm for a small party. Now before you get all worried, it was supervised by leaders and lights were on and the door was open and we stayed out of their rooms and we left room for the Holy Spirit and all that jazz. We just had a good time playing Dutch Blitz and sharing some refreshments the guys had gotten earlier in the day.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord….oh, whoops, starting my routine early. But seriously, we’re having a blast, learning more about God, and, yes, getting to bed at a reasonable hour (10:15 is supposed to be lights out, but we usually go until 10:45… and get up by about 7:00). It’s hard to believe a mere 36 hours ago I had no clue who any of these people were. I can’t wait to see what the Lord is going to do and how much fun we’re going to have. I already restarted this once because I thought it was too long, but thanks for reading and caring.

Melinda D. Weaver J



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