NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The bright and colorful walls inside the Baptist Friendship House just a few blocks from the French Quarter in New Orleans reflect an atmosphere of hope — hope in Christ, who is proclaimed daily here, as well the hope that exudes from Kay Bennett, the director of the ministry.
That hope is in stark contrast with the misery Bennett’s clients have endured before showing up at the ministry. Most are mothers who have been so abused by spouses or boyfriends that they must seek refuge and protection. They arrive with their young children and just a few belongings.
Bennett and her staff welcome them, give them lodging if there’s room and then start the process of helping them back on their feet so they can provide for their family. It’s a task that has become more difficult and time-consuming since Hurricane Katrina.
“We provide literacy training, GED preparation, computer skills, life skills, job readiness training,” Bennett said. “Before Katrina, we had a five-to-six month transition time for most women. Now it is closer to a year.”
Housing is much more expensive since the hurricane — on average $1,200-$1,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. And childcare — a necessity for a woman must work to provide for her family — runs $1,000 a month even with government assistance.
Bennett, a North American Mission Board missionary, and her team gave NAMB trustees and some staff a tour of their facility Oct. 6 and shared the highlights of what goes on there. Trustees also visited the Carver Baptist Center, another Southern Baptist ministry where missionaries bring the hope of Christ to inner-city New Orleans.
“We want to train them in a way so they will share their faith when they go home,” said Larry Miguez, director of the Carver Center.
“It was thrilling to see God at work through faithful Southern Baptists in the New Orleans ministries we visited,” said Reva Daniel, a NAMB trustee and member of Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Miss. “As a trustee who spends much time dealing with administrative issues and looking at the big picture, it’s encouraging to zoom in on the specific mission points and see the picture up close where lives are changed by God’s grace as He uses dedicated Southern Baptists to pray, give and go.”
After visiting the ministry centers, trustees visited homes restored through the ministry of Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Home) Rebuild. To date, more than 23,000 Southern Baptists have given days or weeks to help gut-out and rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. They’ve helped 1,800 homeowners and seen 403 professions of faith in the process. That doesn’t even include the thousands who were helped in the immediate weeks and months after the storm when Southern Baptists prepared more than 14 million hot meals and pitched in to help homeowners with immediate needs.
Trustees concluded their tour of New Orleans with a prayer ride through a nearly vacant section of the Lower Ninth Ward. This area — where hundreds were killed when a nearby levy wall failed — saw almost complete destruction after the flood. Three years later, a handful of original homes remain, but in most cases the only reminder of what once stood are foundations being overtaken by weeds on now-vacant lots, a few bearing crosses and other signs of remembrance.
“Pray for the families of those who lived in these homes,” Larry Miguez told trustees over the sound system from the front of one bus. “Pray for the dozens of lives each one of them touched and whose lives were dramatically impacted by the deaths that occurred in this neighborhood.”
After visiting such ministries, trustees approved a $133 million NAMB operating budget for 2009 during their Oct. 8 business session in New Orleans and confirmed Van Kicklighter as the new senior strategist for NAMB’s church planting group. Kicklighter has served at NAMB nine years and also with the Illinois Baptist State Association and the Missouri Baptist Convention.
In addition, trustees were told that the board has spent well below budgeted levels for 2008 and that numbers for missionaries, chaplains and missions volunteers are all on the upswing. A record 2,837 NAMB-endorsed SBC chaplains now serve in North America and throughout the world. Additionally, 5,643 NAMB missionaries were serving on the field at the end of September. World Changers, the volunteer home renovation ministry that deploys middle school, high school and college students as summer missions volunteers, is experiencing a 30 percent increase in early registrations, compared to registrations seen at the same time last year.
NAMB President Geoff Hammond closed the meeting by thanking Southern Baptists for the financial support they’ve given the mission board.
“In the midst of a difficult year, Southern Baptists have come through on Cooperative Program giving and I want to say thanks to them and thank you Lord,” Hammond told trustees. “I want to thank Southern Baptists for contributing to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering as well.”
Hammond noted the work of Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers whom NAMB has the privilege of helping to organize when a national response is needed. He told trustees Southern Baptists have prepared more than 4.5 million hot meals in response to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and completed more than 3,000 chainsaw jobs. In addition, Hammond shared that more than 220 churches in Louisiana and Texas had been damaged or destroyed in the storms.
“I’m making an appeal to trustees and to Southern Baptists to consider adopting one of these churches as they try to rebuild,” Hammond said.
Hammond also announced a national convocation for associational directors of mission to take place Sept. 9-11 next year at the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
In closing, Hammond made reference to the recurring theme of change during the current national presidential election.
“The thing on the horizon that we are looking for is for God to give us spiritual awakening in North America,” he said. “What we are talking about is real change. It’s eternal change. It will transform a nation because people’s lives will be transformed.”
Mike Ebert is publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board.