Grace Presbyterian Church

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My first impression of the Grace Presbyterian Church occurred when my mental condition was affected heavily by 40 miles of biking, being completely drenched in my sweat and my readiness to collapse from exhaustion. I felt excitement as we biked along Roselawn Boulevard and the lovely brick building hidden by large masses of bright green leaves branching off a couple of thick, sturdy tree came into view. The colors of red, green and blue painted the prospect of a pleasant stay, and my initial prediction based off these vague impressions proved to be correct!

We met Pastor John in the parking lot of the church. Recognizing our slight discomfort from biking at least 4 hours in the heat and humidity, Pastor John tactfully kept his introduction succinct and led us into the church, where a large picture of Jesus laughing greeted us. (I discovered soon after that laughing Jesus adorned many walls of the church, he had a friendly presence within the building). He told us briefly about a cool project where plastic bags are woven by hand into sleeping mats to be given to the homeless. The construction of one mat takes 30 hours of patience and the laborer’s dexterity. I was curious on how well they function so I tested it myself by sleeping on one for the night and I can confidently say I’ve never slept better! An anecdote Pastor John shared with us stuck with me, he told us that the church had initiated efforts to donate shoes to poverty stricken communities in Haiti, but instead of wearing the shoes, the Haitians used the plastic bags carrying the shoes to sleep on them. It highlighted the disparity and gap between our experiences as individuals that have never suffered severe poverty and those that live it everyday, and how it could lead to misguided aid giving.

Pastor John lead us on a tour around the church, showing us the library, which we instantaneously designated as the area for productivity and work after we discovered it was within the range of WiFi, a room with a carpeted floor and groovy, colorful chairs, which I immediately decided was where I was going to sleep, and the kitchen, which was spacy and full of all the equipment we needed to whip ourselves up a delicious vegetarian meal (which, now that we’re halfway through the program, is our staple diet). The church was truly lovely, not just because its facilities contained a washer, dryer and a shower so we could conduct common practices of hygiene, which have become not so common for us riders, but because we understood the space was to be utilized by the community. Throughout this program we have been staying in Houses of Worship, which readily accepted to host us. This openness led to my comprehension that religious institutions, prevalent in the South, are significant points of community and provision of help for those in need, for example the space is used for elementary education, and AA meetings. Despite my lack of religious affiliation, each stay encourages the growth of a deep rooted respect for these institutions and their service for the people of the community.

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Plastic Bag Mats

Our stay in Grace Presbyterian ended far too early, I’d say, but I’m extremely filled with gratitude for all the church and the pastor has done for us by allowing us to store our bikes, trailers, panniers, our sweaty selves and host dinners. Thanks for letting it become a home where we lived comfortably, event if for such an interim period!

-Daphne Chang

Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Democracy Project

1001447_546530882053016_556959833_n 1002091_546530888719682_202879575_n943721_10152880080220247_1298885727_nOn the first day of arriving in Baton Rouge the Ride For the Future Team was invited to attend a meeting called Pray for our Air. So we got on our bikes and headed over there. We pass the second largest oil refinery in the country to the north and sporadic patches of an Exxon-sponsored flower garden to the south. We were overwhelmed by the horrible stench of the plant.
Stephanie Anthony began the meeting with, “The first thing we should all do is pray for our air. God we pray that the politicians, lawmakers, and businessman allow our children to breathe clean air.” Stephanie Anthony of the Louisiana Democracy Project was hosting a meeting at Allen Chapel Baptist Church in the Scenic Blvd. neighborhood, a fence line community. The 2,400 acre ExxonMobil petrochemical complex had an underpublicized incident last week. Only one resident at the meeting had received a phone call from ExxonMobil following the accident. The company representative only stated that an incident had occurred and that it had already been resolved. No quantitative measures of exposure were mentioned to the resident. Last week’s incident is one of several that occurred in the past year. Ms. Anthony and several community members are outraged by the audacity of Exxon’s request for a new permit to increase the annual limit of chemicals released into the atmosphere. Exxon already releases 24 tons of sulfur dioxide a day, a dangerously high amount.
In response, the community has formed a petition to be presented at the Environmental Protection Agency conference on environmental justice in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hopefully the petition would place Exxon on probation for new permits so that Scenic Blvd. residents have healthier air. The Ride for the Future team collaborated with the Louisiana Democracy Project and canvassed around the neighborhood surrounding Exxon to gain signatures and support for the petition.
A few days later we met with Stephanie Anthony again and helped to clean up a community garden at the Little Rising Sun Baptist church. We met with local children and showed them our crane project.
-Erik Rundquist
-Omar Navarro

Arriving in Baton Rouge: A list of Positives

936387_4754798842712_1893710202_nI am writing this the evening of June 4th, 2013. The following are the contributions to what I now reflect on as a great morning.

1. The sun was hidden by the big fluffy clouds. 50% chance of rain but it never did, instead our team was greeted continuously by the cool breeze, which flew past us and created the illusion that we were light and purposefully speeding across the roads towards our destination. I could feel myself getting stronger as my feet relentlessly peddle. I felt the same ache in the muscles of my legs but it didn’t stop me or slow me down this time, I only wanted to go faster.

2. I managed to take wonderful pictures of my team on the road. Although what hung above us most frequently were thick blankets of cloud, occasionally they would separate and let the sun rays fall onto Baton Rouge, which enhanced all the colors that we could see: our shirts a juicy bright orange, the sky blue with a radiating calmness and the trees a lush green.

3. A happy accident. We stopped at Home Depot on our way to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, halting our bikes in the parking lot. A few people asked us questions, their curiosities about what a group of sweaty young adults were doing in a Home Depot parking lead to their momentary stop beside us. I never tire of the shocked reaction, the unrestrained gasp of “What?” when we tell people that we are biking to Houston. There are others that give us advice on biking on the freeways, telling us to be careful. The most memorable being “There are three kinds of drivers: Those that don’t know how to drive, those that don’t care how they drive, and those that don’t care that they don’t know how to drive.” The brief connection with these people as we tell them our purpose and the formation of a rapport as they give us their sincere opinion make up the special moments of this trip. One individual who stopped by made me feel truly lucky. As the team’s media coordinator, I’ve found the prospect of outreach quite daunting. When Othello Carter, an independent photographer of New Orleans walked up to us, with a camera slung over his shoulder, he shooed away those doubts I had, that perhaps our story wasn’t that great or significant, by asking about what we were doing and wanting to capture us with his camera.
Othello Carter is a talented photographer, you can check out his amazing work at http://www.othellocarter.com

All these things culminated into a great arrival in Baton Rouge.  I am looking forward to our stay in the capital.

-Daphne Chang