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Playground at New Orleans campus is ‘symbol of hope’ for kids

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Samaritan’s Purse has provided a gift of hope and joy to the children of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary — a new playground.

Each year Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham, gives Christmas gifts to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child. In like fashion after Hurricane Katrina, Graham wanted to do something special for the children affected by the storm. His plan: build five new playgrounds in the metro area.

“We feel this is a little thing just to show the community that life is coming back and that kids are important,” Graham said. “It’s just a little investment in the kids.

“If anything it’s a symbol … a symbol of hope for the kids,” he continued. “As the community comes back to new life … New Orleans will be changed, it will be different in the years and months ahead…. [A] playground, a little thing like this, can be an encouragement to many people.”

With so much destruction and devastation still present in the city, Graham said the playgrounds will give hurting children the “opportunity to be children again.” While the children play, he believes healing will begin.

Because of the many Baptists involved in rebuilding the city, Samaritan’s Purse wanted to build one of the playgrounds at NOBTS. Seminary officials were overjoyed and agreed to have the equipment placed near the Farnsworth Apartments –- a 24-apartment building for students with children.

“With Baptists supplying volunteers for our work teams and our long-term relationship, we thought it would be great to build a small playground [at the seminary],” said Barry Hall, associate director of projects for Samaritan’s Purse.

The playground, and one in the New Orleans-area community of Gretna and in Waveland, Miss., was constructed over a two-week period largely by volunteers from Kids Around the World, a Christian organization that installs playground equipment as a ministry.

Because many of the Kids Around the World volunteers are certified playground equipment installers, the equipment supplier, GameTime, is able to honor the warranties on the new playgrounds.

“We’ve done most of our projects internationally -– going to places where the children, for one reason or another, have lost some hope and lost some joy,” said Jim Rosene, president of Kids Around the World, based in Rockford, Ill. Because of the devastation, the New Orleans area fit well with their mission.

When the hurricane hit, Kids Around the World wanted to “show the love of Christ to the children” of the Gulf Coast, Rosene said.

“Through all of those bad things [brought on by the storm], good things happen,” he said. “It has given the opportunity for many Christians to show the love of the church to the community.”

Volunteers from Kids Around the World, assisted by Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and students for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, completed the project March 10 — one day before Graham’s two-day “Celebration of Hope” in the city. They worked through wind gusts of more than 40 mph and blowing sand March 9 to complete the job.

The site includes a bright red, yellow and blue play piece with three slides and multiple climbing areas, while two swing sets are in a large rubber-padded play area. Four benches for parents surround the play area, and the site also has two picnic tables, providing a spot for families to meet and fellowship.

“We are extremely grateful to Samaritan’s Purse and Kids Around the World for their generous donation of the brand-new, state-of-the-art playground for kids ages 5-12,” NOBTS dean of students Craig Price said. “The new playground will be a tremendous blessing to our returning families.

“Our seminary has had a close connection to the ministry of Samaritan’s Purse through our participation in Operation Christmas Child,” Price continued. “We are delighted with their support of our student families.”

The Gretna playground is located in Mel Ott Park, which served as a food and water distribution point in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and housed volunteers with Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in a multi-purpose building who were spending long days cleaning homes and counseling victims in the metro area.

In his dedication remarks, Graham speculated that some people may wonder why Samaritan’s Purse is building playgrounds when so many needs remain. For him, the answer is simple.

“I think a playground is pretty important,” Graham said. “The children that will be playing here have suffered, [they] have been hurt and they don’t understand all that has taken place around them.

“It’s a way that we can show our love to them, to give them hope and to give them the opportunity to be children once again.” They can come to the playground and forget about the hurt caused by the hurricane for a few moments, he said, noting that play can be an important part of their healing process.

Reading from Matthew 19:13-15, Graham spoke of Jesus’ regard for children. In the passage, Jesus rebuked His disciples for preventing children from coming to Him.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me,’” Graham read. “‘Do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’

“Children are important … they are our future,” Graham said. “They need our love. They need to know we care.”

Graham did not miss the opportunity to share Gospel with the crowd gathered at the park.

“We want to remember that God loves us…. He loves the children,” Graham said. “He loves each and every one of us. We’re big kids, right?

“The Bible tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shouldn’t perish but have everlasting life,” Graham said, quoting John 3:16.

Kids Around the World will return to Louisiana in late April to build a playground near a FEMA trailer park in Baton Rouge.

Samaritan’s Purse staff members and volunteers also are restoring and repainting a playground in the Algiers section of New Orleans. The group also negotiating with local officials to find locations for additional New Orleans-area playgrounds.
For more information about Samaritan’s Purse, visit www.samaritanspurse.org; information about Kids Around the World may be found at www.kidsaroundtheworld.com.