FBI honors Baptist Friendship House for human-trafficking work

Kay Bennett, right, accepted the 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award on May 3, 2019, from FBI Director Christopher Wray, left. Bennett is a Send Relief missionary with the North American Mission Board who operates the Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans. There, she focuses on fighting poverty and human trafficking by meeting needs and changing lives. The ministry serves the underprivileged in the city through a variety of methods: Bible study classes, providing life skills training and donating items to those in need. FBI photo.

By Tobin Perry

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this month Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray presented the Baptist Friendship House of New Orleans with its distinguished 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award for its work in fighting human trafficking.

Kay Bennett, a Send Relief missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), accepted the award on behalf of the Baptist Friendship House at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. Baptist Friendship House is a ministry of NAMB and the New Orleans Baptist Association.

“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” said Bennett, who has served as the director of the Baptist Friendship House since 1997. “That was my first feeling … to be recognized with such a great group from all the states and the different FBI field offices. It was a beautiful picture of how it takes all of us working together to make our world a better place. It’s encouraging to know that people believe in what you’re doing.”

The FBI’s 56 field offices, including the office in New Orleans, chose communities and community organizations that supported their efforts to protect Americans against crime and extremism.

“For many years, the FBI New Orleans Field Office and the Baptist Friendship House have worked together to combat human trafficking in the city of New Orleans,” said Eric J. Rommal, FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge. “Their staff continues to serve the shelter with compassion, dedication, and professionalism. Whether rescuing victims from human trafficking situations, providing victim services to those in need, or supporting community outreach efforts across the metropolitan area, the Baptist Friendship House is just a phone call away and is always willing to answer the call for service.”

Bennett says an interaction with one of the homeless families staying at the Baptist Friendship House a few years ago opened her eyes to human trafficking. A mother and daughter were playing in a park across the street when a stranger offered to buy the daughter. NAMB featured their story in a 2013 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® video.

“I’ve done homeless ministry for almost 30 years in our city,” Bennett said. “If you do homeless ministry, it’s a natural fit. Homeless folks are very vulnerable to being trafficked. Once someone is rescued from a trafficking situation, they’re often homeless. Also, in doing homeless ministry, down the road after people have been sold over and over again, sometimes induced with drugs and their bodies have worn out, they often get thrown away like a piece of trash on the street. They walk through our doors then for showers and clothing.”

In preparation for New Orleans hosting Super Bowl XLVII in February of 2013, Bennett also participated in a human trafficking task force in the city to prepare for the expected increase of trafficking surrounding the event.

Today, Bennett and the Baptist Friendship House participate in a number of activities to bring awareness to the issue, advocate for victims and provide tangible assistance to those impacted.

The Baptist Friendship House can either provide housing for women and children impacted by trafficking or get them into safe houses. They also can help victims get into long-term treatment plans in New Orleans or provide them with transportation to other locations closer to where they are from.

“Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, and it is all around us here in the United States,” Bennett said. “I think it’s very important that we, as Southern Baptists, look around us, assess needs, see what’s going on and reach out to help people.”

The Baptist Friendship House also uses Send Relief backpacks, provided by Southern Baptists, to aid victims. Bennett believes these backpacks are some of the most effective tools they have to fight human trafficking. Last year they packed 5,000 backpacks, and they plan to pack 6,000 this year.

Bennett says that when she gets a call from the Human Trafficking Hotline to go and pick up someone who has been impacted by trafficking, she takes a backpack full of supplies with her.

“When everything has been taken away from them and you have something to give them, it says. ‘I care about you,’” Bennett said.

Bennett and the Baptist Friendship House have also been active in training Southern Baptists nationwide to fight human trafficking in their community.

For more information about how you or your church can get involved in the fight against human trafficking, visit sendrelief.org.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published May 21, 2019