PatrickWhen I first met Patrick Allen, he was sitting in a hotel lobby, quiet and unhappy. He’d come to New Orleans for the 2009 Youth Gathering looking forward to helping with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

On work project day, his group was assigned to clear litter and weeds from a neighborhood hit hard by Katrina four years ago. Patrick had hoped to do hands-on work that was more than “cosmetic.”

“I didn’t think it was worth our time and effort,” he told me in the lobby. The 18-year-old from Richmond, Va., felt that he’d somehow let the people of New Orleans down.

After I wrote about Patrick’s disappointment, people from New Orleans posted comments saying the effort had made a difference. They seemed to sense the sincerity of this young man in striving to serve others as Jesus commanded.

One reader wrote: “You have NO IDEA how much a CLEANED LOT, or one gutted house, one slab removed, affects us in our spirit to GO ON, to know that God is there.”

After reflecting more on his experience, Patrick sent these comments along, describing the spiritual transformation that happened for him in New Orleans. Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your thoughts:

“Hello everyone, this is THE Patrick Allen interviewed for this blog, and I have some more thoughts on our service project.

“I came into this gathering with high expectations of our work because I knew that there was so much more yet to be done in the city.

“For the last two summers, our high school youth have gone down to New Orleans to work on the homes of those who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. We’ve also been doing similar work in Petersburg, Va., for as long as I can remember.

“I feel my expectations however high and lofty, were, well… to be expected. There are still those in N.O. who live in inadequate spaces like damaged and compromised houses and FEMA trailers.

“When I learned of what we had been assigned to do, I didn’t want to believe it, and when the work began, I was dreading every minute of it. There was a lot of disappointment and frustration from not just myself, but many of my peers, who also had the same amount of service experience as I did; on the other hand, I allowed it to dig in deep and nearly ruin my entire day.

“I wasn’t thinking straight until we got back to the hotel, when I began considering what each adult around me had been saying about our project. Now, I DO understand the importance of this type of mission work, and how it can positively affect those who live with the results everyday, ESPECIALLY so for the citizens of New Orleans.

“Also, I felt pretty selfish after processing it all; why should I have the more immediately fulfilling and gratifying type of work that I am used to? As far as volunteer work is concerned, I think I’ve been a little spoiled over the years, but extremely fortunate at the same time.

“This one day of service opened my eyes to the many different ways of how I can be expected to perform God’s work in our world, and that alone would’ve been enough to make my gathering experience. Because in the end, it’s His plan, not mine. God Bless.