NEW ORLEANS – Faithfulness in difficult places often looks like, as one writer has said, a long obedience in the same direction. That phrase best sums up missionary Kay Bennett’s ministry to the marginalized in one of America’s most challenging cities.
“Baptist Friendship House is a ministry center to folks who are impoverished, to folks who are unhoused and to human trafficking survivors,” Bennett said. “The people we minister to come from all walks of life. Some grew up here in New Orleans, in Louisiana. Others come from different states, and some even come from different countries.”
Bennett, a missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has served through the Baptist Friendship House for more than 30 years. She works among those society routinely overlooks, believing that the gospel message can transform any person’s life.
Through their ministry, the Baptist Friendship House gives out food, clothing and hygiene kits in backpacks that help meet the needs for those in the community.
“As we minister to those basic needs that we all have, it opens the door to minister to the spiritual need, which is the greatest need of all, so that a life changing relationship can begin with Jesus Christ,” Bennett said.
Life on the street means—whether rain, shine, in oppressive New Orleans humidity or through the occasional cold spell—constantly enduring the elements outdoors. There are consistent threats of violence and opportunity to get bitten by insects or rodents.
The National Library of Medicine stated in 2017 that the average life span for a homeless person is 17.5 years shorter than the general population.
“You’re at risk every day of your life when you walk around on the streets,” said Bennett. “On Tuesdays when we have folks come in our yard at the Friendship House, one of the things that we often do is we have lots of first aid supplies, antibacterial ointments, creams and band-aids to give away for those who’ve been hurt.”
No one wants to live this way, but the hurdles they have to overcome to get a job and find a place to live can seem insurmountable. They lack identification, and they have either lost or never had the documentation to get an ID.
Many have endured trauma and abuse. They have run away or been cast out, grown up on the streets and become adults.
“We encourage them to come to Friendship House where we can offer them counseling and case management and try to resolve some of those past issues too,” Bennett said. “I’ve even had folks that can’t read and write. So, we’ll teach them to read and write, and then, build on that skill and help them get their GED. Then, we build on that with life skills and with job readiness skills.”
Bennett first met a young woman named Yvonne Schaad in 2006. She visited the Baptist Friendship House when they were handing out food. For ten years, Schaad would attend a Bible study while continuing to struggle with alcoholism and living on the streets of New Orleans before things began to change.
The overwhelming love Schaad experienced from Bennett and others at the Baptist Friendship House played a huge role in the transformation.
“You know, they loved me no matter what. And it took some time, but they showed me that there is a God, and He loves you,” recalled Schaad. “And that’s just amazing right there, everything that I’ve done and did, God forgives me. It took me a long time to forgive myself, but I think that I have now.”
Now, she has been sober for several years and regularly comes to the Friendship House to serve and minister to the homeless. With the help of Bennett and her staff, Schaad completed her GED and is successfully working.
“I’m grateful that I can come here on Tuesdays and help them,” said Schaad. “Most of the people that I used to run with have passed, but there’s some that I still see now and maybe they’ll see that there is another side.”
Schaad’s transformation is just one of many that Bennett and her fellow staff members have seen over the years.
“No matter what circumstance or situation we find ourselves in, Jesus Christ is truly the only person that can turn somebody’s life around,” said Bennett. “And I get to watch that over and over. I’ve always told people I get to watch God show up and show out. And it’s so true. It’s amazing to watch. He still works miracles.”
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the field. The offering is used for training, support and care for missionaries, like Kay Bennett, and for evangelism resources.
Published March 5, 2023