EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the third of three parts on the crew that stayed at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as Hurricane Katrina approached and as the city’s flooding crisis began to unfold.
ATLANTA (BP)–While 24 people from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary struggled to find a way out of the New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, their families waited. Cell phones were out and floodwaters were rising. The families were left to cope with the silence.
Just a few days earlier, Peggy Friedmann left New Orleans with only four changes of clothes. Her husband, Chris, associate vice president for operations at NOBTS, stayed.
Hurricanes and tropical storms had become routine for the Friedmann family by the time they heard that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans. Chris Friedmann always stayed during storms; Peggy and the children always evacuated.
This storm was different. Peggy evacuated alone. Their children, now adults, were already out of harm’s way.
Peggy went to stay with their daughter Karen, 22, an English teacher in Katy, Texas. Jonathan, 20, was in Ruston, La., waiting for school to begin at Louisiana Tech; classes had started for Eric 19 at Louisiana College in Alexandria.
They all expected the hurricane to miss the city just like all the others. Peggy planned to return in a few days.
After Hurricane Katrina passed near New Orleans, Friedmann called each member of his family to let them know he was safe. They would not hear from him again until after the levees broke and after his daring escape from the flooded city.
The silence affected each family member in a different way. During this emotional time, they leaned on each other and prayed for Friedmann’s safety.
“Going those two days without hearing from him and watching on TV how bad things were getting, it was all I could do just to believe that he would be alright,” Peggy said. “I knew how capable he is, but I just didn’t know what he would have to go through and when I would hear from him.”
When daughter Karen first heard of the storm, she did not want her father to stay. He had always told Karen that he would leave during a Category 5 hurricane. Forecasters were predicting just that. But Friedmann did not leave. When Karen and her mother heard from Friedmann Monday evening after the storm, they breathed a sigh of relief.
Karen left for school the next morning without hearing news about the levee break. For half of the day she taught without worrying about her hometown or her father. However, during her lunch break, Karen heard that the entire city had flooded. Fear and worry welled up inside.
“I had wanted him to leave and he hadn’t,” Karen said through her tears. “Now things were out of control and he was stuck there.”
Eric and Jonathan also had received calls from their father Monday evening. Initial reports sounded good. Katrina had only grazed the city and their father was safe on the seminary campus.
When Eric heard about the flooding and the looting, a sick feeling welled up in his stomach. The days passed without any news from his father.
“I had not heard from my dad, I didn’t know if he was OK,” Eric said. “I didn’t know what had happened.”
When he heard that the city was flooding, he immediately began to pray for his father and the people of his city.
Even though he was deeply concerned about his father, Jonathan started helping others. He immediately joined a disaster relief feeding unit from Temple Baptist Church in Ruston and headed for the hurricane zone.
The team stopped at a Wendy’s restaurant on their way to Baton Rouge. It was there that Jonathan’s intense worries began.
Jonathan met a man in Wendy’s who had just come from New Orleans. The man had been working with drivers throughout the city. He had left New Orleans to refill oxygen tanks. The man told Jonathan of massive flooding and a rising death toll throughout the city. He even mentioned being near the Highrise Bridge -– an interstate bridge only blocks from NOBTS.
“He said, ‘If anyone hadn’t gotten out two days before, there was no chance they were alive,’” Jonathan said. “I just kept praying and said, ‘God is bigger than this storm.’”
As he waited to hear about his father, Jonathan served food to hurricane victims and rescue workers in Baton Rouge, Covington, Houma and Hammond. He said it felt good to “feed the needs of the people … my people.”
Time ticked by slowly with no word from Friedmann. However, the family never lost hope. In the midst of this emotional time, the family experienced God’s peace and hope. As they prayed for Friedmann, he and 24 other members of the seminary family worked on a way to leave the city –- an exit via vehicle caravan that proved to be harrowing yet successful.
Late Wednesday afternoon Aug. 31, Friedmann called his wife on a borrowed cell phone. He was out and his entire crew was safe. Tears of joy flowed freely as Peggy and Karen heard Friedmann’s voice.
Peggy called Eric and Jonathan with the news. Their burden lifted immediately. For a moment the family forgot about all that was lost.
Eric and Jonathan both wanted to speak to their dad. After countless attempts to reach Friedmann’s cell phone, Eric was surprised when the phone finally rang.
“To hear my dad’s voice after waiting that long was just overwhelming,” he said. “It was emotional for both of us.”
Jonathan was unable to talk to Friedmann for several days. Cell service was spotty at best and Jonathan was busy helping others affected by the hurricane.
Finally, Jonathan got the call he had been waiting for -– it was his father.
“You can’t really put words behind that kind of joy,” Jonathan said as tears welled up in his eyes. “At the same time you are feeling such grief and mourning for all those who are still suffering.”
Jonathan said he continued to struggle with the emotions of the tragedy for several more days -– all the worry, loss and even the joy was overwhelming. He asked God for guidance. God led him to the book of Job. Jonathan said the words of one who lost everything gave him the comfort and encouragement he needed.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I depart, the Lord has given and he has taken away,” Jonathan said quoting Job 1:22. “And the name of the Lord shall be praised.”
The Friedmanns reunited for the first time in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 9. It was an emotional time: Even though the family lost so much during the flood, they had not lost their precious husband and father.
“A lot of the material things we’ve lost don’t mean that much anymore,” Eric said. “The fact that I could have lost my dad puts a whole new perspective on life.”
The storm had a profound impact on each member of the family. When the Friedmanns speak of the storm, they downplay their own losses and grieve for friends affected by the storm. Most of all they praise God alone for His power to redeem such a terrible event for His good.
“I am completely blown away by the power of our God,” Jonathan said. “He can take probably the biggest disaster this country has ever seen and turn that disaster into glory -– His glory … and joy -– the joy of the giver and the joy of the receiver.
“That’s the biggest miracle of this, He can take something that seems to have no good at all and bring so much good out of it,” Jonathan said.
For Parts 1 and 2, see Recent News at BPNews.net.