By Keith Manuel
Illustration by Heidi Younger
Operation Noah Rebuild volunteers continue to help residents rebuild and
repair their homes. Work includes the removal of trees that fell during
Hurricane Katrina, gutting of homes that had serious flood damage, reroofing
and basic cleanup. Many volunteers have assisted homeowners in salvaging
Operation Noah Rebuild is a partnership between the North American Mission
Board, Louisiana Baptist Convention, New Orleans area associations and churches
and The Salvation Army. For information about volunteering email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 877-934-0808.
Emotions are sometimes as raw and tender as the hands of the volunteers
still gutting and rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes in metropolitan New
Orleans. When looking into the faces of heartbroken homeowners caught between
bureaucracy and bankruptcy, it's hard to hold back the tears.
"This is the first mission trip I've ever gone on," says Marc Byers from
Center Point Church in North Richland Hills, Texas. "Temple, the homeowner, was
sitting across the street crying while we were working. When you see things
like that, it changes you. It makes you thankful to be able to come down here
The thousands of volunteers in the New Orleans area have been a constant
reminder to the churches and homeowners that God hasn't deserted them and
Southern Baptists haven't forgotten them either.
Operation Noah Rebuild, headed by project coordinator Tobey Pitman, a North
American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary, has a goal of enlisting Southern
Baptist volunteers to repair 1,000 homes and 20 churches. The challenges that
overwhelm homeowners are personal for Pitman. Before the storm, he was the
executive director for the Brantley Center, a mission center helping the
homeless find food, clothing and shelter and overcome addictions. After the
hurricane, needs changed, the Brantley Center closed and NAMB reassigned Pitman
to help with housing in a much different capacity.
housesPitman sees the effects of volunteers and churches
working together on a daily basis. The most unique situation he's witnessed
started with a phone call from Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. As
they coordinated their trip to New Orleans, they made a different kind of
request, "Can we bring the homeowners with us so they can be there while we
work on their house?"
Birchman Baptist and First Baptist Church, Hurst, Texas, decided to help
Lenard and Celestine Brousseau who evacuated to the Fort Worth area. The
Brousseaus attend First Baptist and work with members of Birchman Baptist. So,
when they heard the city of New Orleans required homes to be gutted or the city
would demolish them they turned to the church. The two churches sent a team
with the family to gut their home and help salvage some mementos.
Among those struggling in post-Katrina
New Orleans is Marsha McGee, a single mother. She's paying $1,200 per month in
rent while continuing to pay the mortgage on her damaged home. She's working
over 60 hours a week to provide for her six children. Her story is tragically
typical; at least it was until Southern Baptist volunteers showed up.
"Everything they've done, they've done from their hearts," McGee says. "When
they left it looked like I could just go inside. All my neighbors came over to
help. Before the volunteers came, everyone was just taking care of their own
lives, now all the neighbors are helping each other. The volunteers were
inspirational. They made an amazing difference in my life."
Just as Southern Baptist volunteers are ministering to homeowners, they're also
taking care of churches that survived the storm. According to Joe McKeever, the
director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, almost
half of the churches in the association no longer exist. "These volunteers have
saved many of our churches from shutting their doors," McKeever says.
One of those churches is Gentilly Baptist Church. The storm tossed the
church's pews on top of one another as if someone put them in a dirty washing
machine and spun them around. The church's pastor, who developed health
problems, relocated his family to another state after the storm. A sister
congregation about a mile away, Elysian Fields Baptist Church, experienced much
damage and had to be demolished. Their pastor, Ken Taylor, a professor at New
Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, wanted to continue his ministry but found
himself without a building. The obvious answer was for the two congregations to
lean on one another's strengths and merge.
The revitalized congregations, with help from Rosebower Baptist Church from
Paducah, Kentucky, and the Arkansas Baptist Convention, held a block party for
the surrounding neighborhood. Nearly 500 people came to get away from the
tedium of FEMA trailers and home repairs. Volunteers and church members made
sure there was plenty of food to eat and great games to play. At the end of the
day, the church had 50 new prospects, and two people began a new relationship
with Jesus Christ. "It was a real shot in the arm for the church and the
community," says church planting strategist Freddie Arnold.
Volunteers are helping discover new ministry settings in New Orleans. An
electrical team made up of volunteers from 12 churches in the Kansas Nebraska
Convention of Southern Baptists recognized that the local building supply store
was ripe for ministry. Since the storm, these stores are alive with activity.
Contractors are zooming in and out with materials. Hispanic laborers line the
streets, waiting to be offered a day job by a contractor. Steve Treaty, a
member of Gentilly Baptist who grew up in Honduras, went to the store with a
few team members to hand out Spanish Bibles and tracts. Before the team
finished for the day, seven Hispanic men gave their lives to Christ. On another
trip, 20 more men prayed to receive Jesus.
Jackie James is learning to trust God every day in his role as project
coordinator for the Arkansas Baptist Convention's volunteer work in New
Orleans. "None of this would be happening without God putting it together.
Having 10 state conventions working together and it all being coordinated is a
God thing," James says.
As volunteers come to the New Orleans
area, some struggle with feelings of hopelessness because words and pictures
can't prepare anyone emotionally for the damage that remains. As volunteers
come to grips with the idea that they can't help everyone, they suddenly
realize their goal is to help one family at a time get back on its feet. Terry
Medlin from Shiloh Baptist Church in North Carolina summed up what most
volunteers soon discover. "I feel more blessed doing the work than what we are
able to do for the people down here. God has called us to do this, and it's
just a pleasure to serve."
Keith Manuel is a writer and evangelism associate for the Louisiana
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC