Missouri Baptist short-term missionaries bless victims of Katrina
NEW ORLEANS—Missouri missionaries have brought something priceless to New Orleans.
“They’re bringing hope,” says David McMillen, construction coordinator of the Southern Baptist rebuilding effort.
The city, torn apart by the winds and floods of Hurricane Katrina nearly two years ago, is slowly being rebuilt. The work of Christians is obvious throughout.
“We’re putting houses and lives together,” McMillen said.
A group of 135 adults and youth from the St. Joseph Baptist Association worked in New Orleans June 10-15. From nine different churches in the region, the group worked on 15 houses, as well as numerous smaller projects.
“They saw their mission to get the job done so people could see the power of God,” said Eric Martin, pastor of First Baptist Church, Gower, and the coordinator of the mission trip.
During the week, team members recorded 25 decisions for Christ.
“I felt like if we could get in there and let the Holy Spirit lead us, we’d see the power of God,” Martin said. “I really felt like that was the case.”
Planning for the mission trip began nearly a year ago, and last fall associational leaders went to Louisiana to evaluate the needs.
The North American Mission Board has been coordinating rebuilding for about a year and a half, McMillen said. Through NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild, the Southern Baptist Convention is helping people who are still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers and temporary housing two years after Katrina.
“Christians have given money and then, they followed their money down here,” he said.
Volunteer missionaries from throughout the United States and Canada come every week – as many as 1,000 per week. They work on repairing houses and showing genuine compassion for people whose lives have been turned upside down.
About 90 percent of New Orleans’ population is Catholic, McMillen said, by birth if not by practice.
“They don’t have any idea there’s a relationship to be had,” he said. But then they meet the missionaries. “They start seeing people who have a relationship with Jesus. It makes a difference.”
Hundreds of people have come to Christ through the NOAH program, McMillen said. The St. Joseph team was organized in groups of about 15 that included construction workers and two individuals designated as liaisons to talk to neighbors and share the gospel. Martin said the structure enabled the teams to be more efficient in all their goals.
“You guys have made the most tremendous impact,” McMillen said as he visited one site. “You have done more than we’ve been able to accomplish in the past.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention has a partnership with the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards and St. Bernard’s Parish, where most of the teams from St. Joseph worked. Houses there were covered with flood waters four to nine feet deep.
Homeowners are frustrated and depressed as they struggle to decide what to do with their homes and their lives.
“Before we went down there, I wondered why we were rebuilding. But now I know that’s their home,” said Nathan LaFave, a volunteer missionary from Green Valley Baptist Church in St. Joseph.
McMillen described how he met with one homeowner several weeks previously who could barely keep from crying as she stood in her gutted home. In four days, Missouri missionaries put on a new roof and rewired the house. The change in her life was visible on her face.
“We’re getting to see so much hope,” he said. “I’m grateful so many Christians, so many Baptists, have come down here to do the work.”
The teams were assigned to work on one particular house, but the mission quickly expanded to reach the neighborhood. J.D. Baker, a 15-year-old student who runs his own lawn service, went throughout the neighborhood mowing and trimming lawns.
“It’s cool to help someone who’s not expecting it. You just see that they need help and you go do it,” Baker said.
A youth team helped mow the yard of a young woman who had finished rebuilding her home and was waiting for her furniture to arrive. While they were there, the truck pulled up and the youth helped unload the furniture and get her settled in her home.
“She about started crying because we wanted to do that for her,” Baker said.
Rick Whitaker, a member of First Baptist Gower, said his team gutted, wired and power washed a home. A 70-year-old man living next door seemed to resent that his neighbor received free help while he was struggling to fix his place by himself. The Missouri team took it upon themselves to reach out to him and put a roof on his house. By the end of the week, the man accepted Christ.
“He was in such need, we were able to have a witness with the opportunity to go help him,” Whitaker said.
Laboring in humid, record high heat in Louisiana, roofing teams comprised mainly of youth put on five roofs in five days.
Witnessing never stopped, Martin said. The youth went to the mall one afternoon and shared the Gospel with more than 50 people, seven of whom accepted Christ.
“The cool thing was the spirit of cooperation and compassion we saw in our people to go the extra mile and care for their neighbors,” Martin said.
New Orleans is a clarion call for the church, McMillen said, to put their words in action. He’s been encouraged by the response.
“You can see Baptists really love the Lord,” he said. “It restores your hope and encourages you about the future of the church.”