We Love You, New Orleans 2/20/06
WE LOVE YOU, NEW ORLEANS!
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“I’m living in my house, with all the mold and no heat and freezing to death. All my family has scattered. I’m just trying to survive.” Michael lives in Chalmette LA, a community in St. Bernard Parrish, one of the areas hardest hit by the flood when the levee broke after Hurricane Katrina. While waiting for FEMA to provide a trailer, the only hope Michael has found is in the local church.
On Sunday, February 13, Michael heard about a special Valentine’s Celebration called “We Love New Orleans,” a weekend of worship services, banquets, and school supplies distribution coordinated by Operation Blessing in cooperation with Somebody Cares and other ministry partners working in the area. Michael attended the service and banquet hosted by Adullam Fellowship and Pastor Randy Millet under a tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot where the church meets on Sundays and holds its food distribution during the week. Adullam Fellowship is a ministry partner of Somebody Cares. “I came here for the first time on Sunday,” Michael said. “I came in crying, but I left encouraged.” He was back on Monday for groceries. “At least I’m not starving, and I’m thankful for that.”
Valentine’s banquets were held at three locations throughout the area—Adullam Fellowship, the Good News Camp at New Orleans’ City Park, and Victory Fellowship in Metairie—with a luxury buffet served at beautifully decorated tables, dozens of rose bouquet centerpieces, live music, and bounce houses for the kids. Somebody Cares acquired two trailer trucks of school supplies from World Blessing Foundation and several hundred backpacks from Harris County Department of Education. A team who traveled from the SCA headquarters in Houston helped sort, stuff, and hand out backpacks to the children, along with serving in other areas for the weekend event and ministering to the adults and children who attended. Mark Roye and Robert Reyes from Blood N Fire/Somebody Cares San Antonio brought their grill to City Park and provided burgers and hot dogs for the kids during the afternoon before the banquet. Pat Robertson, founder of Operation Blessing and the Christian Broadcast Network, spoke at two of the banquets, giving a message of encouragement, hope, and commitment.
“We are so grateful for Somebody Cares and my good friend Doug Stringer, especially for helping us this weekend get the school supplies and the backpacks,” said Jerry Davis from Christian World Embassy, which operates the Good News Camp. On Monday, February 13, OBI dedicated a ballfield at Chalmette High School, which now accommodates students off all grades in the area. The dedication ceremony was held after the children enjoyed a “field day,” playing on giant slides, bounce houses, obstacle courses, and other games.
Jody Harrington from Operation Blessing said the idea was to do something extra special for the people of the New Orleans area. “We wanted to have a beautiful banquet instead of a normal meal,” she said. “And we wanted to do something special for the kids because they have been through so much. On the surface, it might not look like anything special. But for many of these kids, it’s the most fun they’ve had in a long time. It’s great to see them smile. “We are so thankful for Doug Stringer and our Somebody Care partnership,” she added.
Mary is 72 years old and served as a missionary in Mexico for 22 years. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she went immediately to New Orleans, where she now lives at the Good News Camp in City Park. Every day, even in sub-freezing temperatures, she faithfully mans her post at the table where Bibles and literature are distributed, praying with people, encouraging them, and leading many to Jesus.
Mike rode his bicycle all the way from Oregon (yes, you read correctly: ALL THE WAY FROM OREGON! ) and serves at the Good News Camp as well. He runs the employment tent, helping residents find work by connecting them with potential employers. Even though his bike was stolen after he arrived, Mike marvels at the way God has orchestrated this time in his life. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” he says.
Cecil was born and raised in Chalmette. When the levee began to leak, people of the community began evacuating to the high school, but the floodwaters came before many made it out of their homes. Making sure his wife Debbie and their younger son were secure at the school—where they stayed to help with first aid and caring for the elderly—Cecil and his 20-year-old son went out in their boat to rescue people. Tying a rope around his son’s waist to make sure he was safe from the current, they rescued people and brought them by boat to the school for safety.
“As we brought people back, some of them wanted to help, too. We took some out with us so they could find boats and go help more people. Every boat we found except for two had gas and had the keys in the ignition. You know that had to be God.” Before the evening was over, 80-90 boats had been deployed in this impromptu civilian coast guard, and 1500 lives had been rescued! We thank God for these unsung heroes who went the extra mile. They are living example of the theme verse of Somebody Cares, “A true witness rescues lives.” (Proverbs 14:25).
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“Only 15-20% of our congregation is back, yet our tithes have tripled!” said Andrew Benson from City Cathedral, our ministry partner facilitating Somebody Cares New Orleans East. “God is restoring our church, but it’s almost supernatural.” One day a Jewish businessman stopped by as he was driving past and offered to donate his company’s services to help with sanctuary repair and mold removal. Another company donated new countertops for the dining hall, and they weren’t just formica—they are top of the line granite!
“Our distribution center is serving 700 individuals each week,” he said. He anticipates that number to grow as people are slowly returning to the area. Some of the people who have been served have started coming to help others, and many have started attending church services. At one point, they had to turn down truckloads of supplies because they had no forklift to use for unloading. But this past week, Somebody Cares was able to provide half the cost of the forklift and connect the church with Operation Blessing for a matching grant to pay for the other half.
Andrew can tell story after story of God’s faithfulness through the storm. One of those stories came during the holidays. At Christmas, we were planning to cancel our regular outreach to the community because we knew the people had needs greater than toys. Then we got a call from Bronwen Niles with Youth With A Mission New Orleans. She said they had 200 wrapped Christmas toys and asked if we could use them.” With the help of YWAM—another ministry supported by Somebody Cares—City Cathedral was able to go door to door in the local Vietnamese community and give the children brand new toys.
Somebody Cares directly supplied backpacks and school supplies for 32 of the 150 students who have returned the church’s school, the only school open in New Olreans East. “I can’t tell you how much we appreciate our partnership with Somebody Cares,” Andrew said. “Sometimes you meet people and you know immediately they have the same heart. We knew that the minute we connected with Doug Stringer and Somebody Cares. We couldn’t do what we are doing without you.”
Bishop Owen McManus, founder of the church as well as 11 other churches in the city, praised Somebody Cares during the Sunday service after SCA reps Michelle Bailey Hamilton and Belinda Thacker were invited to address the congregation. “What I love is what they share is not from their heads, but from their hearts.”
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Pastor Ralph LeBlanc from Kingdom Precepts has learned over the years the importance of obedience. It was because of his commitment to obey God that he is now a partner in ministry with Somebody Cares. “When Jerry Davis called me and said Doug Stringer was in town and told me I should come meet him, I was tired and did not feel like driving to the other side of town,” he recalls. “But God told me I needed to do it, so I obeyed. Because of that, I am now honored to be in relationship with the man of God, and also with the ministry of Somebody Cares.”
Unbeknownst to Pastor LeBlanc and his wife Gloria, God had orchestrated the meeting to bless them with a time of refreshment as well. Doug called the office in Houston the day after their meeting and told his staff to add the LeBlancs to a list of front-line pastors and leaders who were invited to a special holiday retreat and Christmas banquet hosted by Somebody Cares America at the Hilton Houston Post Oak. “At the time we received the invitation,” says Gloria, “we were absolutely exhausted, not just from the hurricane but from the challenges of every day ministry as well. It was exactly what we needed, and it could not have come at a better time.”
Pastor LeBlanc’s ministry throughout the hurricane relief efforts has been helping New Orleans residents find jobs upon their return to the city. He has connected hundreds of individuals with employers. He also has a heart for the pastors, especially those of the inner city. “Many of our city’s pastors have lost their churches and their congregations, thus their means of income,” he explains. “Many of them, including myself, have gratefully accepted jobs picking up trash and debris.” Many are behind in their home mortgages, he says, as well as their church mortgages.
Pastor LeBlanc would like to see these pastors “adopted” by other churches around the country so they can continue in their ministries. To learn more about adopting a pastor or a church, please contact Somebody Cares at 713-621-1498 or email [email protected].
“I’m going to get a backpack,” said Kimberly’s daughter. It was a reminder to Kimberly. “That’s right. We’re homeless, too. It’s really strange.” Kimberly loves New Orleans, and she loves the Lord. After losing her home in Hurricane Katrina, she had “nothing left but hope.
“I used to own a home in uptown,” she told the gathering at City Park on February 11. “If I had stayed there, I would not have lost everything. I’ve asked God, Why did you have me move? But I know it’s because I can relate to all of you who have also lost everything and I can share with you the hope I have in God. My joy has remained, and I can look at you and encourage you with that same hope. The same God who gave me that home is going to continue to take care of me, and He will also take care of you.”
Kimberly is committed to seeing her city rebuilt on a righteous foundation and has started an organization called Resurrecting Hope. “I love this city and I am committed to seeing it rebuilt in whatever capacity or position God would choose to place me.” Kimberly is thankful for the help Somebody Cares is providing toward the relief, recovery, and rebuilding of New Orleans. Thank you again for your offer to help me, God’s people and my city,” she said. “You are a Godsend – continue to do ‘a great work’ for the Lord! I look forward to working with you!”
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There are still hundreds, even thousands of New Orleans residents who still cannot live in their homes and haven’t received dental care.
They need our help more than ever. Operation Blessing desperately needs dentists and dental hygienists to volunteer a week or two of their time from now through the end of December. Accommodations and meals will be provided. For more details, please email [email protected].
LONG-TERM REBUILDING CONTINUES
While media reports from New Orleans and surrounding areas are focusing on the “blame game,” you can see from this report there is still much work to be done and there are still many people with great need. Please continue to pray for our on-ground partners, and all the other organizations and workers who are committed to long-term rebuilding and restoration of lives.
Your gift supports the ongoing work of Somebody Cares locally and globally. Please make checks payable to Somebody Cares and send them to PO Box 570007, Houston TX 77257.
For credit card donations, please call our office, 713-621-1498, or visit our website, www.somebodycares.org. Somebody Cares reserves the right to apply funds toward the greatest need. Your donation is tax-deductible.
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