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N. Orleans resident works for God’s rewards

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–He’ll be knee-deep in weeds at the Interstate 10 underpass at Franklin Avenue in New Orleans or setting sod at a neighborhood home, but one thing is certain: Robert Claverie, 64, won’t be in one place for long.

Claverie, who is retired, feeds the homeless at 7 a.m. and directs teams of volunteers in neighborhood clean-up the rest of the day, all financed from personal funds. One of the first to return to his flood-ravaged neighborhood after Hurricane Katrina, Claverie tapped into his insurance money to feed relief workers and start the clean-up process.

Staff employees of MissionLab, a ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that links church mission teams to ministries in New Orleans, spotted him clearing debris from a neighborhood street three months after the storm.

“They asked me if I wanted help,” Claverie said. “I said, ‘Sure, if you’re in it for the long run. But it’s hard work and there’s a lot to do.'”

MissionLab connects church groups of all ages to mentors like Claverie for hands-on experience with ministries such as an AIDS health care home, childcare programs and neighborhood recovery programs. Each mission trip is customized to fit the team.

Since partnering with MissionLab, Claverie has supervised more than 3,000 volunteers from places as far away as Hawaii, Canada and Puerto Rico in cleaning up the Gentilly community.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for Jesus,” Claverie said. “Christians should lead the way.”

Long known for his charitable work, Claverie said he avoids the limelight. He even sidestepped an opportunity to be interviewed with President Bush.

“A lot of people come out when the cameras are rolling,” Claverie said. “But it’s not about me. I don’t want man’s awards. I don’t want a plaque on the wall. I’m willing to wait for God’s rewards.”

Youth from Parkway Baptist Church in Tupelo, Miss., worked with Claverie cutting grass, pulling weeds and picking up trash beside a busy city intersection. Ashley Hays, 15, said she wondered, at first, how their work could communicate the Gospel.

“But while we worked, people drove by, honked and waved,” Hays recounted. “People would come and say, ‘Thank you so much for cleaning up my neighborhood.'”

Homeowner Kwane Agansi-Bona watched as the students laid sod at his home on a quiet street just behind the New Orleans Seminary campus. Disabled after coming from New York City to do relief work in the city, Agansi-Bona and his wife decided to stay and renovate the flooded home.

“I’ve read about Jesus’ goodness, and these kids are expressing what Jesus was about,” Agansi-Bona said. “They may have me going to church now. I just love them.”

Katey Witt, youth minister at Parkway Baptist, said working through MissionLab made the trip easy and the hard work had helped the group bond. Witt said the students were impressed with Claverie’s dedication and energy.

“The students think it’s really neat to see somebody do this just because he loves his community and loves Jesus,” Witt said. “They realized you don’t have to have a lot to make a difference for others.”

Claverie said many of the volunteers he has worked with have come from South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama and Georgia, but he is especially moved by those who come from states affected by disaster.

“Mississippi was hit hard by Katrina, but they came here anyway,” Claverie said. “All of them have done a beautiful job.”
Marilyn Stewart is a writer based in New Orleans.

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