Nine months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the people and landscape of New Orleans, a tidal wave of Southern Baptist volunteers is still needed to help rebuild the historic city and surrounding areas.
In March, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) announced a $5 million, two-year rebuilding project called Project NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope), which will use Southern Baptist volunteer labor to rehab more than one thousand homes and twenty Baptist churches over the next two years. The program was slated to be up and running by the end of April.
"Project NOAH is a challenging plan that represents a new level of commitment and cooperation, because Southern Baptists should consider nothing less," the announcement said of the NAMB effort that will be coordinated in partnership with the Louisiana Baptist Convention and New Orleans-area Baptist associations.
The $5 million earmarked for Project NOAH is part of the $22 million contributed by individuals, churches, state conventions, and other organizations for Southern Baptist cleanup, recovery, and rebuilding ministries. NAMB immediately sent $11 million of that money to the state Baptist conventions in the hurricane-affected Gulf states.
"Project NOAH gives Southern Baptists a framework for demonstrating our cooperative mission spirit among NAMB and our Southern Baptist mission partners in the Gulf and across North America," the announcement said. "This promises to be a good case study of the strength we have as Southern Baptists. It's actually a microcosm of our Acts 1:8 strategy and our commitments to Empowering Kingdom Growth."
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said he is "very excited" about the new initiative.
"I think it will be an opportunity to help people in real-world ways and have a lot of implications for people coming to know the Lord. It will be done in concert with local churches and will help them get to know more people … and even plant new congregations," Hankins said.
"Project NOAH is a very good example of the cooperative network of Southern Baptists — all levels of our work coordinating together from the local church, association, state conventions, and the North American Mission Board," Hankins continued. "We think this will have a synergistic effect of people donating more time and materials when they see what's being done by Southern Baptist volunteers."
Over the predicted two-year life of Project NOAH, an estimated fifty-two thousand construction volunteers from throughout the United States and Canada will be needed, said Jim Burton, NAMB's director of volunteer mobilization.
Burton said Project NOAH's leadership will work closely with pastors and leaders of churches in the affected New Orleans area to obtain their input and advice on area priorities and ministry options to ensure that the project is focused, effective, and efficient. He said the project would include new church starts.
The $5 million earmarked from NAMB will cover about 60 percent of Project NOAH's costs, with the remainder coming from volunteer fees of $15 per day, which will help defray the costs of lodging, meals, and other volunteer support expenses.
While Project NOAH only includes the greater New Orleans area, Southern Baptists in Mississippi and Florida are conducting their own similar rebuilding programs, Burton said.
The White House — in a recent 228-page report — commended Southern Baptists for their "quick and coordinated work to aid storm victims in the Gulf States."
"More than nine thousand Southern Baptist North American Mission Board volunteers from forty-one states ran mobile kitchens and recovery sites, providing food and shelter to many evacuees, and helped them find temporary and permanent housing," the White House report stated.
As a result of NAMB and the forty-one Southern Baptist state conventions which mobilized disaster relief last fall, more than 14.4 million meals were prepared and served to hurricane victims and workers. Nearly seventeen thousand cleanup and recovery jobs were completed by Southern Baptist volunteers along the Gulf Coast.
Baptist disaster relief volunteers already have contributed nearly 165,000 "volunteer days" in Katrina's aftermath. Using a pay rate of $17 an hour for an eight-hour day, the labor value of Baptist volunteer relief work already exceeds $22 million, Burton said. He estimates the value of the in-kind contributions of volunteer labor needed for Project NOAH at more than $36 million.
Unlike disaster relief volunteers, who need to be specially trained to deal safely with food, chainsaws, and mud, construction volunteers can be taught on the job how to use a hammer efficiently.
"Now's the time for all those people who wanted to help after the storm to come to New Orleans," Burton said. "This is a disaster that won't end."
Southern Baptist churches interested in obtaining more information about sending Project NOAH teams may call 1-800-462-8657, ext. 6134, or (770) 410-6134, or go to www.TheBridge.NAMB.net.
Karen Willoughby of The Baptist Message contributed to this report.