RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–When lives get turned upside down by tragedy, missionaries at the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans have seen that God has a way of opening new doors.
They were excited about the way God was working through their ministry in 2005. The Friendship House, a transitional housing program for homeless women and children, had started a new program for teen girls called Project HOPE (Helping Others Prepare and Equip); the New Orleans Hornets NBA basketball team donated funds for renovations and a new café in the facility; and community education classes were in full force.
But on Aug. 29, 2005, the doors shut at the Friendship House. The missionaries evacuated with their residents to Columbia, Miss., just before Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury, the levees broke and floods ensued.
“We had a great year before the storm,” Friendship House missionary Karina America said to a gathering of 750 women and men at Woman’s Missionary Union’s national missions event Sept. 27-Oct. 1 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Now more than a year after the storm, there is hope.
Assistant director America and executive director Kay Bennett, both NAMB appointed missionaries, returned three weeks later to find the Friendship House near the city’s famous French Quarter without damage. In fact, none of the four Baptist centers in New Orleans were harmed, America reported.
The building still stood, but those in the surrounding community had disappeared.
“The first entire year was very hard for us,” America said. “It would be like going to church and having everyone you know there gone. We had to go through a grieving process of letting them go and giving [them] to God.”
But where doors closed, God has opened others. The focus has shifted from housing women and children to accommodating volunteers who show up week after week to mud out flooded houses — a feat that would cost around $4,000 per house without volunteer help, America said.
“Southern Baptists have been incredible to come and volunteer to gut out these houses,” she said, adding that a partnership with Oklahoma volunteers has been particularly helpful but there are still 300 houses on the list.
Rather than having women and children come to them, Friendship House missionaries now go out to the people who are living in FEMA trailers to pass out laundry baskets full of supplies. America thanked WMU for those supplies that were provided by Christmas in August donations, a WMU project in which churches collect donations for specific missionaries’ needs.
“You wouldn’t believe how thankful they are and how positive they are,” America said of the people who receive the baskets.
The Friendship House workers are also positive about the future of their ministry and how God is working in their devastated community. For instance, America said they hope to restart their transitional housing program in January and offer community education classes and programs like Project HOPE again soon. Meanwhile, they’d like to reach all 300 flooded houses on their list.
“Thank you for praying for us…. Keep praying,” America said. “Our city is still very, very fragile.”