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Volunteers tackle damaged trees & roofs in N.O. community

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The lack of portable showers and cooking facilities could not deter the efforts of a chain saw crew from Florida’s Orange Blossom Baptist Association.

Jenniffer [sic] Wells, leader of the 33-member team, exemplified the flexible spirit needed by the first chain saw and roofing volunteers to enter the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans.

Although Algiers did not experience the flooding that overwhelmed much of New Orleans, the destructive winds and rains of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused extensive damage to homes and trees.

The trip to New Orleans was Wells’ second as a team leader, or “blue hat” in disaster relief jargon. She would lead her team through such hurdles as a clutch going out in one vehicle and trailer tires going flat. However, the problems could not dampen the volunteers’ spirit.

“Being a part of the larger body of Christ is the greatest blessing,” Wells said, “because we are called to work together.” Her diverse team included crew chiefs Robert Roberts, director of missions for the South Florida Baptist Association; Mike Roberts, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Avon Park; and Robert Thorn, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Avon Park.

Thorn’s Methodist church has been working closely with Roberts’ congregation for 11 years. When Hurricane Charlie decimated Avon Park last year, Thorn and Roberts led their congregations to begin repairing the roofs of their neighbors. To date, the congregations have repaired about 110 homes. Their experience, along with the five teams Robert Roberts, Mike’s brother, had sent from his association to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has helped the residents of Algiers begin to recover from the devastation.

“I like helping folks who can’t help themselves,” Mike Roberts said. “It’s just a way to pay back folks who helped us after Hurricane Charlie.”

Yvonne is just one of the people aided by the Florida volunteers during their weeklong mission. Her year has consisted of more trials than a hurricane. Her daughter, who lives with her, is battling reoccurring cancer.

After a month of being under a mandatory evacuation, Yvonne and other residents of Algiers are finding insurance adjusters and contractors hard to find. Yvonne did not have the extra money to patch her roof. Not only did the Orange Blossom team meet the physical need of a patched roof, but also they helped Yvonne by taking the time to minister to her and her daughter.

Why do people volunteer their time to face the rigors of a disaster relief mission? “I like to meet needs,” Robert Roberts said, echoing his brother, “and share Christ with people.”
Keith Manuel is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans.

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  • Keith Manuel