Being a member of one of New Orleans' professional sports teams, the Saints of the NFL and the Hornets of the NBA, is not easy these days.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 decapitated the Superdome, leaving the Saints without a home field for much of the season. In recent weeks, New Orleans Saints football has been roiled in shame over a bounty scandal that left coach Sean Payton and several players suspended for part of the 2012 season.
But as in the Bible's story of redemption, the grace of God always shines most luminously against the background of human depravity. And so it is with the New Orleans professional sports teams: amid the trouble and turmoil, the goodness of God is evident through Christian players who give of their time and means to help the poor and to spread the good news of God's redeeming love in Christ. Some have done so in cooperation with Southern Baptists.
One shining example is the relationship between players from the Saints and Hornets and the Baptist Friendship House, a transitional housing program for homeless women with children. Led by North American Mission Board missionary Kay Bennett, the Friendship House sits on land owned by the New Orleans Baptist Association and partners with the Louisiana Baptist Convention for special events.
The Friendship House provides housing for the homeless, but far more: it provides the ultimate healing balm of the Gospel for hurting women and children through intense Bible study, mentoring, and counseling, along with training in life essentials such as job skills, financial planning, and educational programs.
One Saints offensive lineman held a fundraiser and provided several truckloads of food for the shelter's emergency food pantry. Former Hornets player David West also provided a truckload of food and came to the shelter to help distribute it. The Hornets adopted the center and renovated family rooms for the transitional housing several years ago.
"They set up our community room as a café, painted our facility, and placed new furniture in parts of the building," said Bennett, Friendship House director.
"The Hornets did not donate and place used items, they bought brand new items and brightened up our building. They gave of the best. When we place our homeless families, a common thing is for the children's faces to light up when they see their rooms and [for them] to say, 'I get to stay here?' with excitement in their voices. The work the Hornets did to make our building look nice is like a gift that keeps on giving, for it continues to build our people's self-esteem and self-confidence to have a nice place to stay."
Due to its location, the shelter was spared the catastrophic damage that Hurricane Katrina visited on most buildings in New Orleans in 2005. Bennett says the city's professional athletes such as Drew Brees, an outspoken Christian, have played a critical role in the region's rebound.
"Both teams have been very active in rebuilding New Orleans," she said. "Not only have they provided monetarily through fundraisers, they themselves have participated in the rebuilding of homes, schools, and agencies in our city. People sometimes fail to realize after a natural disaster [that] when people are helping to rebuild houses, they are also helping to rebuild lives. These teams have been an inspiration to our city."