“Just Bring Yourself”

by Paula Schlueter Ross


Brenda Johnson (at right in above photo), the head cook at Camp Restore, New Orleans, invites just about every volunteer group at the camp to stop by her house, which had five-and-a-half feet of floodwater post-Katrina and now “is gorgeous,” she says.

Thanks to Lutheran volunteers, Johnson got back into her refurbished home in February, around her 55th birthday, and says she “feels like a queen” and wants to show each worker the end result of their labor, which most never see.

The 300 or so who have been to her house “are always impressed,” Johnson said, “and everybody always wants to take off their shoes” so they don’t “mess it up,” she laughs.

“I love every volunteer that comes here,” she said. “And I hope they continue to come and lift everybody’s spirits … that’s what they have done for a lot of people.”

As ministries of the LCMS Southern District, both Camp Restore and Camp Biloxi, in Biloxi, Miss., offer dormitory-style housing and three meals a day. Those who use the facilities are encouraged to contribute $25 each, per day, to offset costs, which are actually about twice that figure, according to staff.

Work groups typically arrive on Sunday, work Monday through Friday, and leave for home on Saturday. Construction experience is not necessary, but it’s ideal if each team includes at least one skilled worker.

Most important, says Walter Schmudlach, a project manager who has been at Camp Restore for almost two years, you have to “come with the right heart.” Schmudlach helps train volunteer teams at the camp, and says he is “always impressed” by the quality–and quantity–of their work.

“The volunteers are the crux of the whole thing,” he said, and have made a difference “big time.”

Rev. Luke Timm, executive pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Rochester, Mich., brought 16 youth-group kids to Camp Restore last year. This summer, 29 teenagers from St. John signed up for the trip, largely because of the buzz about how rewarding the first experience had been.

“I don’t care about how many houses we build, how much Sheetrock we put up, how many houses we gut, or how many lives we change down here, we are 10 times more blessed [by the experience],” Timm says.

Doing a “mission trip” through Camp Restore or Camp Biloxi is pretty easy, he adds, since food, lodging, and tools are a “package deal” and all you have to bring is “yourself and your work clothes.”

“They’ve got everything you need down here to make a difference,” he said, and to let those who still need help “know that they’re not forgotten.”

For more information, or to schedule a volunteer group, contact:

When you call, please have two or three possible dates–three months ahead, if possible–and an estimate of the size of your group. Workers are needed most in May, August, and September.


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