News Articles

Church’s youth form bond with inner-city New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The youth group felt a bit uneasy about the new surroundings into which they had just been released. They huddled together in groups of four or five, moving from house to house, praying quietly as the loud music thumped away in the background. Their first experience with a wake was one that they will not soon forget.
“Little Ray,” a young man in his early 20s, had died of gunshot wounds the week before and now the homes of North Rocheblave and St. Roch in inner-city New Orleans were alive with activity. The mood of the neighborhood was both surprising and disturbing for the youth of Ferris Avenue Baptist Church of Waxahachie, Texas, who were there on their summer mission trip.
“I was initially scared because of what we had been told about the community,” said Josh Shoemaker, a Waxahachie ninth grader. “It shocked me that they were having a party after someone had just been buried. It looked like it was just a regular part of daily life for them.”
But after just two days spent ministering to the families of the district, the 27 “missionaries” now shared a special kinship to the people living in the community. They gladly talked about their experiences as they smiled, fought back tears, and told of the joy they had experienced on North Rocheblave Avenue in inner-city New Orleans — after having being placed there very unexpectedly.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary hosted the group, led by youth minister Cory Hines, during the week of June 27-July 3. They were part of a contingent of four churches that sent youth and chaperones to New Orleans through the organization Youth on Mission, which arranges summer mission trips nationally for church youth groups.
The Waxahachie youth first were assigned to clean and paint at New Orleans Mission, a local shelter for the homeless, during morning work projects. As they completed their tasks, they considered doing more interactive endeavors to put their beliefs into practice. The leaders decided to improvise and looked for an opportunity to do ministry-based evangelism.
John Brittain, NOBTS student and Youth on Mission assignment coordinator, sprang into action. “I contacted two or three different ministries in town [but they] weren’t capable of handling 27 volunteers,” Brittain said. “When I called Tonya Hancock [NOBTS administrative assistant in the provost’s office] to see if we could help Creative Ministries [a seminary-related inner-city ministry], things began to fall into place. I could tell by lunchtime on Tuesday that something special was coming together.”
And sometimes only God’s providence and sovereignty can adequately describe something such as the events that led up to that week.
First of all, just a few weeks earlier Hancock and her husband, Perry (NOBTS associate dean of the graduate faculty and associate professor of discipleship), who together head up the nonprofit ministry called Creative Ministries, had received a donation of 193 pairs of shoes from NOBTS students Johnny and Karen Price. The Prices had owned a shoe business in Sevierville, Tenn., until their move to New Orleans in January 1999. “We gave the shoes to the Hancocks with the only stipulation being that they be given to people in need,” Karen Price said. “We just knew that God had a purpose for that inventory.”
NOBTS student Dale Stone and his wife, Harriet (administrative assistant in the seminary’s financial aid office) drove a rented van to Sevierville to retrieve the brand-name shoes, taking two days of their vacation time to contribute to the effort. Upon their return to New Orleans, they delivered and stored the shoes at Elysian Fields Avenue Baptist Church, which partners with Creative Ministries on a number of projects.
“We had the shoes in storage for about a month,” said Ken Taylor, pastor of Elysian Fields and NOBTS associate professor of urban missions. Taylor has been leading efforts to reach into the North Rocheblave community for the past two years; but for this ministry project, Taylor said, “We didn’t have the necessary number of people available to properly distribute the shoes, until the Ferris Avenue group volunteered.”
On Wednesday afternoon, the youth conducted a door-to-door prayer walk in preparation for their work in the Rocheblave neighborhood. Taylor’s past efforts in the community helped assure that the young people were well-received. The plan was then set into motion to deliver the shoes and other items of clothing with the youth serving as volunteers.
The prayer walk helped familiarize the youth with the neighborhood and gave them the occasion to pray with family members of the slain man. The young people also made fast friends with children in the area.
“What was really neat were the little kids,” said Jennifer Jones, a sophomore at Waxahachie High School. “They didn’t want to have anything to do with us at first. When they saw that we were praying for them and were willing to stop to sing and play, they really opened up.”
On Thursday afternoon, the group met at Elysian Fields with NOBTS students Scott Boyles and Stephanie Smith to set up procedures for clothing distribution. Boyles explained that ministry is defined by meeting the needs of people where they are, while sharing the gospel to meet their spiritual needs. He also reassured the students of their safety as they were heading out to become involved in an inner-city ministry activity.
“I was eager to see if their expectations and attitudes toward the inner-city were going to be right,” Boyles said. “For both the neighborhood and the youth to relate to each other as well as they did speaks volumes about the youth group’s spiritual maturity and God’s work in the neighborhood.”
For nearly three hours in hot, humid conditions, the youth and their chaperones registered visitors and served as personal shoppers and recreation directors. They also handed out refreshments to the approximately 75 recipients of shoes and clothes.
“We spoke this week of servanthood,” Hines said about his youth group’s daily devotional times. At the end of the week, he told the youth, “Your service to God was exemplified in your actions to those in need.”
Some of Ferris Avenue’s youth served as sitters, taking the younger children off to play games, sing and just listen to them. “They were really seeking attention,” said student John Wells. “These kids just wanted the same attention paid to them that we take for granted. They just wanted to know that someone cared.”
During a final share time before their return to Texas, the young people were introspective in their reflections of the week. “We always talk of going off to serve as missionaries overseas, but we need to look right next door first,” said 11th-grader Barrett Lyons.
The group’s five chaperones shared words of encouragement with the youth during their final session. “I want you never to forget those that have impacted you,” said Dixie Burks, whose daughter Katy, age 18, was among the student missionaries. “I want this experience to be so real that you cannot ever forget it,” Burks said.
Gary Chevalier, minister of music at Ferris Avenue, also served as a chaperone during the mission trip. He challenged the youth to maintain the freshness of their newfound fellowship, while challenging them to “hold each other accountable away from the youth group and build up one another” in continuing service back home.
Each one of the young people expressed in some way the life-altering experience they encountered during their week of service in inner-city New Orleans. Many of them returned home with heightened concerns for the salvation of their friends and family. “I’m thankful God put me in the position of having to be bold in sharing the gospel,” said Jeff Schmidt, a 1999 graduate of Waxahachie High School. “Having to be courageous this week has been good practice for when I get back home and need to share Jesus with others.”
Mandie Brown, daughter of Ferris Avenue pastor David Brown, succinctly articulated the sentiments of many of the youth when she said, “I don’t want to say anything about the difference this trip has made in my life. I just want it to be seen.”

    About the Author

  • Joe David Smith