News Articles

Couple views rebuilding N.O. as their part in Great Commission

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–With one year of experience under his belt as project coordinator for the Arkansas Baptist Builders in New Orleans, Jackie James said he wouldn’t trade his volunteer position for any other job.

Jackie and his wife, Linda, put the business that had been in their family for more than 50 years in the hands of a friend last October and went to New Orleans to join the Arkansas disaster relief team. In January, the Arkansas Baptist Builders were set in place for the rebuilding of homes in New Orleans, with Jackie leading the team. They joined Baptists from other states in restoring a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

As the supervisor for a growing workforce now numbering more than 1,400 volunteers, Jackie and the Arkansas Baptist Builders have completed 44 homes, are working on 312 homes on an active construction list and have a waiting list of homeowners that is six pages long. They have seen 50 professions of faith.

“Our primary goal is to rebuild lives,” Jackie said. “Rebuilding their homes is an important step in that process.”

Jackie and Linda meet with every homeowner one-on-one, often spending days together as the homeowner shares his story and concerns. Although Jackie and Linda both work the construction end of the project, they came to New Orleans with a single commitment to the Great Commission.

Jackie believes God was preparing them for a year for this mission. Part of God’s preparation, he said, was that they “lived for a year without a paycheck.”

Two years ago, when Jackie and Linda felt God calling them into mission work, their lifestyle was very comfortable. Then, for a full year prior to Katrina, Jackie met every construction obligation on time and paid every employee without accruing debt but lacked the funds to give himself a paycheck.

“God taught us that we can live without money,” he said.

The Jameses live in an RV trailer owned by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention that sits on the property of Gentilly Baptist Church in New Orleans, the base of operations for the Arkansas Baptist Builders. Food and other necessities are taken care of through the volunteer provisions.

Each week, crews of volunteers come not only from Arkansas but from around the country to work with the Arkansas Baptist Builders. Ten state conventions have chosen to work within Arkansas’ established framework, such as the Kansas Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists, which provides valuable electrical work for the organization.

Gentilly resident Lionel Vincent recently celebrated his first month back in his home after its reconstruction by the Baptist builders. With most of the neighborhood houses around Vincent’s home still gutted, the New Orleans pastor said of the Arkansas group, “They are a blessing. Truly a blessing.”

So successful has the Arkansas effort been that after a local New Orleans television station covered the Arkansas Baptist Builders and spotlighted some of the homeowners, people recognized Jackie on the street, calling after him to ask for help, “Hey, Arkansas!”

Skills and abilities differ from group to group, but Jackie said he can use anybody of any skill level who will come and be an ambassador of Christ.

“Anybody can put a house back together,” he said. “But we are here to help the families.”

Teams that might have considered themselves unskilled labor when they arrived have been trained by the Arkansas Builders to do skilled work. Jackie thought he might have to break his rule of training people for the job needed with one particular crew: an all-woman team from California. But he soon had them hanging drywall as well as the men.

One group, a team of high school students, was missing the significance of what they doing, Jackie said. So he decided to give them an assignment of content removal on a house, but he pulled them aside first. He explained to them that the homeowner would be present and that as they carried out her belongings, they would be carrying out everything that was materially important to her.

The group’s attitude was transformed by what took place. The youth began to understand all that the woman had been through and began to respond to her need. When they finished, the youth had embraced the woman as a friend and had signed up for a return trip to New Orleans.

Over the last year, Jackie and Linda have sacrificed some time with family, particularly with their only granddaughter, who recently celebrated her first birthday. Although it hasn’t always been easy, the Jameses feel a kinship with the city of New Orleans and are committed to seeing the task through.

“This work is very fulfilling,” they said. “God called us here and we will stay until He leads us somewhere else.”
Marilyn Stewart is a correspondent for the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s communications team.

    About the Author

  • Marilyn Stewart