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Katrina two years later
Operation NOAH Rebuild restores homes, lives and souls
By Adam Miller
About a year after Katrina passed over New Orleans, Thyra and Larry Ferguson
came back to their home on Mandolin Street, four blocks from the levee that had
held back Lake Pontchartrain. Thyra, a New Orleans native, had grown up one
block from the levee and remembers when her friends from high school would swim
in the London Avenue Canal. That is one area where Pontchartrain breached and
poured into the city.
When the Fergusons came home, their house “looked like Batman and The Joker
had a fight in there,” said Thyra. The water had turned the beige carpet black.
Their deep freezer thawed and the smell of shrimp and fish filled the place.
Furniture had simply crumbled. Their collection of baby, family and even high
school graduation pictures was ruined.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Thyra said.
The list of repairs and replacements lengthened, and of the $50,000 the
Fergusons would need to bring life back to normal, they’d received $10,000 in
FEMA relief and $3,000 from insurance, which didn’t cover flood damage. This is
when Operation NOAH Rebuild stepped on the scene. With the money the Fergusons
received they bought windows, a few appliances and some wiring. Southern
Baptist man-hours and dollars supplied the rest: roof, new cabinets, dry wall,
insulation and paint for the exterior. The wiring will be finished this
“NOAH started working on my house in November [last year] and they’re still
working on my house,” says Thyra, whose air conditioning was being installed
the day she spoke with Baptist Press. “They’re working on my neighbor’s house,
The story of Thyra and Larry represents the countless lives in Louisiana and
Mississippi thrown off balance by the catastrophe of hurricane season
In Mississippi, where the eye of Katrina landed, 15,000 FEMA trailers still
house families along the state’s coastal region. While Mississippi is not
receiving aid from NOAH teams, the state has felt the impact of volunteer
“We hardly have a day that we don’t have teams down there,” says Jim Futral,
executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. “But if it had not
been for Southern Baptists coming and loving and caring and working and feeding
and giving, the disaster would have been 10 times worse than it was. It has
been without question the most incredible thing to see the church response.
They have come and worked and stayed and they are still there and doing
incredible things day after day after for which we are so grateful.”
Stories of the selfless efforts of Southern Baptists and other believers
abound in the areas where tragedy seemed to rule two years ago. This year
dozens of families will move out of FEMA trailers into their restored
“On each visit I see more evidence of a region coming back to life,” says
Jim Burton, senior director of Partnership Mobilization, NAMB. “We are finding
that the needs of each homeowner are very different. Some just need us to
install a faucet; others have needed us to participate in a complete rebuild of
their home. Our goal is to meet as many homeowner needs as possible while
staying within budget.”
About 16,000 volunteers among 900 teams—including World Changers, Baptist
Builders and church groups–have assisted with Operation NOAH Rebuild in New
Orleans, and thanks to the generosity of Southern Baptists, more than $26
million has gone toward Katrina recovery efforts.
Volunteers have helped completely restore homes, churches and lives, and the
NOAH office has reported 260 baptisms as a result of the efforts of volunteer
Housing for volunteers has recently moved from the World Trade Center in New
Orleans into Hopeview Baptist Church. The NOAH offices are housed now in
Calvary Baptist Church in the Algiers area of the city.
Through it all, Operation NOAH Rebuild has been a shining example of
Southern Baptist partnership at its best as NAMB has partnered in national
volunteer recruitment and funding to assist the Louisiana Baptist Convention
and its churches in providing on-site services and manpower alongside
volunteers from churches throughout the US and Canada. But the work is far from
“We are so thankful for the way Southern Baptists have volunteered down
here, but we don’t need to think that it’s all over,” said David Hankins,
executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “I think the mindset
has become for some ‘oh I thought everything was okay.’ We are very thankful
for all the help but not everything is fixed. Things are not back to normal. As
one person here said two years ago ‘you’ll have to keep your hearts warm toward
New Orleans for a long time.’”
Hankins expressed immediate concern over work during the fall and winter,
asking volunteers to come from September through December, a time when there’s
a real threat of operations coming to a standstill for lack of volunteers.
NOAH needs volunteer evangelism teams for activities such as door-to-door
visitation, prayer walking, community assessment and block parties as well as
volunteers for construction. The projects are being coordinated through the
NOAH office in partnership with the association directors of missions and the
state evangelism office. For more information, contact your state evangelism
director or the NOAH web site: www.namb.net/noah.
“There’s a great open door. More people are willing to talk whereas in the
past it was sometimes a little bit difficult to engage people in New Orleans in
conversation about Jesus,” said Richard Leach, director of ministry and servant
evangelism at NAMB. Add to that openness, the presence of many more volunteers
who are sharing the gospel and you see the magnitude of what God is doing”,
“The residents in New Orleans have been helped so much that it’s
overwhelming to a lot of people to see that we really do care,” Leach
As for Katrina survivors like the Fergusons, God has used the efforts of
Southern Baptists to give them their life back.
“I’ve been a Catholic for 52 years,” said Thyra. “But since Katrina I’ve
been going to the Baptist church. I like that they teach the Bible.”
And Thyra says she loves the 52 volunteers “God sent to work on my house.
Now I want to get in the position where I can go on a mission and help someone
Thyra and Larry have found jobs in New Orleans. Their youngest son will
graduate from Eleanor McCain high school. Their oldest son’s high school, John
F. Kennedy, will never open again, because of the flooding. But Thyra was able
to save the face from his graduation day photo.
“I’m going to get it digitized or something,” she says. “At least we have
To get involved in Operation NOAH Rebuild and other recovery efforts along
the Gulf Coast region, contact your local state convention office or visit
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North
American Mission Board.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®© Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC