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Volunteers of all ages find ways to contribute in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A team of 55 volunteers — including a 91-year-old man — from Rosebower Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., recently threw a block party for nearly 500 residents in New Orleans, broadcast the following morning’s worship service via the Internet back to their home congregation and helped nine people make professions of faith.

“We’ve never done anything like this before — never a block party or a project this big,” Kenneth Puckett, pastor of Rosebower for 29 years, said.

Leroy Fox, who will turn 92 in January, said there is a job for everyone in the rebuilding of New Orleans, including senior adults. On his first trip with the church to the area in May, Fox helped with electrical work on a home. On his most recent trip he cleaned and prepared a space for the block party.

When asked if the 12-hour trip and hard work was worth it, Fox said, “Absolutely, it’s worth it!”

Puckett said until this year his church had not attempted a mission project that involved adopting a particular church. The church has sent small construction teams to New Orleans twice this year, and they sent a team of early responders to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina last year. The New Orleans-bound team of 55 volunteers included primarily adults, with several complete families involved.

Prior to the event, an evangelistic team passed out 1,400 promotional flyers and led seven people to the Lord. The Rosebower team had first planned for 100 for the block party, then doubled it, then doubled their estimate again as word of the community’s response to the flyers reached them. According to estimates, almost 500 people participated in the block party and two made professions of faith in Christ.

Rosebower worked with two congregations in New Orleans, Gentilly Baptist Church and Elysian Fields Baptist Church — both of which lost a large percentage of their membership to relocation after Katrina. Since their return to the city, the remnants of each congregation have met together for worship.

The extent of the damage to the Elysian Fields facility made it necessary to demolish the building. While Gentilly Baptist sustained heavy flood damage, its facility was salvageable and is being rebuilt. Teams of volunteers have been housed on the second floor of the Gentilly building since May when utilities were restored to the area.

Puckett said his church, which averages 225 in Sunday worship, has been thoroughly changed by the experience in New Orleans.

“We have always been a very generous church in our mission giving,” Puckett said. The church gives 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to the Cooperative Program. “But now we are involved and hands-on. We have seen that we are capable of meeting people’s needs.”

Neil Ward, a Rosebower member and owner of Neil’s Catering, felt led to do something to encourage the Gentilly residents. Tony Baugus and his team of coordinators helped develop the idea into a block party when Ward donated all food items and services.

John Samsill, an Atmos Energy employee and a Rosebower church member, approached his employer with the idea. Atmos Energy provided gas grills for food preparation, gas for the grills, a truck and trailer to haul the equipment, gasoline for travel and Samsill’s time and services at company expense.

“Emotions here in New Orleans are still a little raw,” Baugus said. “But we can listen to a homeowner tell his story and let them know we care.”

The Rosebower team was pleased with the number that attended the event but believed the comments made by community residents were the real measure of its success.

“We really needed this,” a neighbor said. “We needed something to lift our spirits.”
Marilyn Stewart is a correspondent for the Louisiana Baptist communications team. For information on how to help rebuild New Orleans, contact Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild, sponsored by the North American Mission Board, toll-free at 1-877-934-0808.

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  • Marilyn Stewart