Due to the fact that Dry Creek Camp had become a shelter for folks from the New Orleans area during Ivan in September 2004, our staff knew any future evacuation of the City would mean even more people coming, since we had had such a positive experience with them. In fact as they left the day after Ivan’s miss of New Orleans, they all said, “You’ll see us if another storm comes our way.”
That was the understatement of the year! Because that “next storm” was Katrina, and our New Orleans friends kept their word. They returned to Dry Creek and brought their friends and families with them.
In the days after Katrina, especially once the levees were breached, this mass of evacuees one by one became individuals with names, faces, and stories. It’s a whole lot different when a group of 400 people in the camp dining hall begin to become unique faces with their stories of escape, families, and hurts.
During that week was when I first met Ivan Meza. He had arrived with the Horeb Hispanic Church. Twenty-three years old, Katrina had definitely changed Ivan’s world. He was a senior studying engineering at the University of New Orleans. He had arrived with his father.
Ivan shared with me that his mother had been in New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital for most of the summer. She had a combination of a whole host of medical problems. As the city cleared, Ivan’s mother had been transferred to a hospital in Lafayette, two hours southeast of Dry Creek.
In the coming days I got to know Ivan. A big, strong, nice-looking, young man with a fine smile and a quiet manner that belied his physical size, he was easy to like.
As we visited, Ivan shared about his life and dreams. Of course he had a great concern for his mother. It was evident that she was very ill and their being separated was of deep distress to him.
In the second week after Katrina, Ivan’s dad moved back south to be nearer his wife and return to work, so Ivan was with his church family, but not his immediate family.
There are lots of things I’m not good at, but finding talented young people and putting them to work is something I can do. There was a “specialness” in Ivan Meza that drew me to him. It was at this time that Ivan’s gift as a teacher began to shine through.
We had a group of fifteen ladies from Ivan’s church who deeply wanted to work on their English skills. Most were newly immigrated from the country of Honduras. We made arrangements for them to go daily to DeRidder for English as Second Language classes.
Ivan, who was extremely proficient in both Spanish and English, became their van driver/teacher/ tutor and leader. He was hired by the parish school board to help these ladies. I rode with them several days. It was fun to see the ladies get their children off to school on our own Camp bus and then load up for their trip “to town” as we call DeRidder.
On the bus the visiting, laughing, and joking was all in Spanish. I felt as if I was back in Honduras and we were on our way to the market. In the midst of all of this was Ivan Meza with his quiet smile and soft voice.
He was the favorite of these women and quickly became the favorite of everyone at the Alternative School, where the English classes were held. God had given Ivan a special personality that drew people to him. It was neat to see him interacting with the students. He was a born teacher and this ability to connect naturally flowed out of him.
I talked with him about this ability to teach. There is no doubt that he’ll make a lot more money as an engineer than he could in the classroom. That is something he and God will work out.
But I do know this: Ivan will be teaching wherever he is. It may be in Sunday School at his church or by helping others within the framework of his future career.
After Rita, all of our Hispanic friends left. The Honduran ladies returned to the Westbank. Ivan with them. Sadly, not long after the second hurricane is when his mother passed away. I wonder about Ivan and how he is doing. He is an example of how a storm named Katrina changed every detail of thousands of lives.
I have this dream—that Ivan the teacher will return to Dry Creek to help us as a summer camp counselor. I can visualize him in a cabin of twenty boys from all over Louisiana and beyond. Most are country boys from the rural areas of SW Louisiana. A few boys in this cabin are inner city kids from the tough areas of Baton Rouge or New Orleans. Over in the corner are two brothers newly emigrated from some Spanish-speaking country of Central America. They are a little scared of being here but someone sent them to camp believing “it would do them good.” They’ve lost a lot in the recent move from their native homes to this strange country.
Now here they are at this strange camp where everything is different from what they’ve known. But they are in for a great week, although they do not know it yet, because their counselor is Ivan the Teacher, and God will use him in their lives over these next five days.
Ivan Meza, the teacher, has arrived back in Dry Creek.
Now the lesson can begin.