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At N.O. hospital, parents began to see God’s provision unfold

HOUSTON (BP)–For more than three days, Byron Townsend and his wife, Cynthia — and Ethan, their newborn — had been holed up with Cynthia’s parents at Lakeside Tulane Hospital in New Orleans.

It was Tuesday, Aug. 30, and the last 38 hours had gone by with no power, air conditioning or running water. Floodwater was being collected in buckets and used to flush toilets. The bottled water supply was gone and hospital staffers were preparing to distribute saline packets as an alternative.

The Townsends had witnessed the birth of their first child and ridden out a hurricane. Neither knew at the time that the church where Byron had served would be in 12 feet of water. Neither could they have known how a congregation in New Mexico would be answering their prayers.

“In the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, Cynthia and I were focused on the anticipation of Ethan’s birth -– thoughts of this being not only our first child but the first grandchild on either side of the family,” said Byron, a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where Cynthia graduated in May with a degree in psychology and counseling.

After getting his family out of New Orleans (more on that later), Townsend found himself in the position of a homeless, unemployed father of a newborn. His music minister position at Edgewater Baptist Church was gone. And, though the couple’s second-floor campus apartment had escaped damage, no re-entry into the flooded area would be possible for weeks.

Temporary housing would be found with Cynthia’s parents in Houston while Byron began making plans to support his family. It helped that the Townsends had saved money from Byron working fulltime over the past few years as well as from income as a member of a band. In addition, Townsend was hired by the seminary’s development office to travel to churches around the country as a representative of NOBTS, telling a story of recovery not only as a husband and father, but also as a student.

Then, weeks following the storm, Townsend received an unusual job offer — from First Baptist Church in Texico, N.M.

The church’s senior pastor, Rob Hollis, previously had met Townsend through a mutual friend, Jim Shaddix, who had worked closely with both the Texico and Edgewater congregations. “Last fall, Jim had come and led a conference at our church and Byron had done the music,” Hollis recounted.

“When Pastor Rob heard about our situation,” Townsend said, “he called me and mentioned that my name had been impressed on his mind. He asked me what our needs were and what I thought our future might look like.

“I told him I wasn’t sure what the future looked like for us, but that I was committed to completing my education at New Orleans. I told him how Edgewater was now under water and it looked like we had a long road to recovery.”

Hollis then informed Townsend that the 300-member New Mexico church had voted to put him on its payroll for one year as an extension of its staff. In addition, the Texico congregation provided a replacement vehicle for Edgewater staff member David Platt.

Townsend credits God’s provision for the timing: One day after receiving word he would be paid through Sept. 30 by Edgewater, Hollis called with the news of First Texico’s support, beginning Oct. 2.

“Other than laugh at the amazement of God, all I could think of were Christ’s words: ‘Consider the sparrows in the air…,’” Townsend reflected.

Since being employed by the New Mexico congregation, the Townsends have visited the church and were given a baby shower by church members. Byron led worship at an Oct. 2 service and during the church’s missions conference Nov. 13.

Recounting the ordeal of getting out of New Orleans, Townsend said Cynthia was 11 days past her due date on Friday, Aug. 26, and was told by doctors she would be induced soon. At 2 a.m. she began feeling contractions. By 5 a.m. she was at the hospital and at 7:30 Ethan Byron Townsend was born.

Doctors told the Townsends they would have to stay for 48 hours for observation. Although initially anxious about the approach of Hurricane Katrina, Townsend said he grew more at ease as doctors’ families began to come to the hospital to wait out the storm.

Although the family made it through Katrina, Townsend grew uneasy at the dwindling supplies and the dehydration his wife and son were now experiencing in their second-floor hospital room. Unaware that levees had broken that would send the city into chaos, Cynthia and Ethan Townsend loaded up in Cynthia’s parents’ suburban and prepared to leave the hospital. Permission was granted from hospital personnel and a National Guard representative. A nurse from the hospital looking to hitch a ride home joined them as well.

With Byron walking ahead to guide them, Cynthia’s father drove through the knee-high floodwater onto a nearby ramp to Interstate 10. After safely making it onto the highway, the group began the trip back to Houston.

With his family gone, Townsend began helping unload supplies from helicopters at the hospital, while waiting out the floodwater until he could drive his own car through. However, rumors began to swirl about floodwater 12 feet deep in nearby Metairie.

“I decided to give it a shot in my Camry,” he said. “I figured if I don’t get across, the car sits in water for a few days and I just chill at Lakeside.”

Before attempting the crossing, Townsend witnessed an elderly lady drive through the same stretch of water he was eyeing in a car similar to his own. She got stuck and Townsend, barefoot, helped push her car out of the way.

Recalling later the strength that comes from prayer and a desire to reunite with his wife and son, Townsend got into his car and gunned it into the same area. With water rolling over the hood, the Camry didn’t flood out; the car jumped a hidden curb and made it onto dry land.

Townsend’s story doesn’t end there. Driving through New Orleans, he gave a lift to a couple of hitchhikers. It turned out the two men lived next to the ill-fated 17th Street Canal. They were surveying damage to their home when the levee broke. Both men had to swim out of their neighborhood with nothing but a backpack of essentials. Dropping them off at a hotel, Townsend continued to Houston.

“We didn’t know how bad things were until we were in the car and began listening to the radio,” Cynthia Townsend said. “We passed a number of buses coming from Texas that we found out later were on their way to evacuate people from the Superdome.

“The entire experience reminds me of the providence of God,” she said. “The outpouring of love we’ve received from families and churches has reminded us of how He takes care of His children.”