Texas church renovates heart and home of New Orleans resident

NEW ORLEANS?The day finally came, and members of Center Point Church in North Richland Hills were in New Orleans to celebrate it with Temple Richardson, a New Orleans homeowner whose home was adopted by the church.

Committed to seeing the rebuilding of his flood-damaged home completed, the church took seven volunteer trips involving 137 volunteers, 30,668 man-hours and $15,000 in donated furniture and material.

“We committed to seven trips and thought we were looking at a two- or three-year period,” Jay Bruner, senior pastor at Center Point said. “But after the first trip, I couldn’t stop them (the team). We finished the job in one year.”

Wearing T-shirts reading “NOAH 7: The Final Episode,” the team applied the finishing touches and filled the house with furniture. To celebrate the homecoming for Richardson, the team invited neighbors to worship with them the following day on Richardson’s front lawn.

“This is a house that Jesus built,” Dawn Johnson, Richardson’s care-provider and long-time friend, said. Adding that Center Point’s service knew no socio-economic, racial or geographical boundaries,
“This house is a symbol to this neighborhood.”

David Maxwell, NOAH project coordinator, said, “When I think of this church, the word ‘commitment’ comes to mind. They are to be commended for their steadfastness and faith in God. If Christian people had not reached out to Temple, he wouldn’t be moving back into his house right now.”

Richardson, who had often sat quietly and watched as team members worked, said, “I thank the good Lord for them. They did a great job and did more than I ever expected.”

Throughout the year, Richardson often commented to neighbors that “God’s people are rebuilding my home.” When team members inquired about his health, Richardson would answer, “I’m better now that you all are here.”

Richardson said that he had given his life to the Lord years ago and was eager to return home, live out his life, “trusting God and doing what I am supposed to do.”

Marc Byers, the team’s coordinator and a participant on each trip, said that team members were eager to return.

“It was amazing how many people wanted to come back,” Byers said. “As soon as we would get home, people would ask when we were going again.”

“A sense of urgency” to get Richardson back into his home helped motivate the team, Bobby Taliaferro said. He and his wife, Annmarie, have served on five Operation NOAH rebuild trips and flew in to be a part of the celebration.

Speaking from Ecclesiastes 3, Bruner told the group that while the time had come to rejoice, the house that had been rebuilt was only temporary and would someday be gone.

Bruner challenged the group that was gathered to consider that God had brought them together at that moment for the opportunity of choosing him and knowing “real meaning in life.”

“We can rebuild a house but only God can rebuild a life,” Bruner said. “Katrina washed away what man had built; God can rebuild what man has destroyed spiritually.”

After a prayer of blessing on Richardson and his home, the group celebrated with live music, food and magic and puppet shows.

Bruner said the NOAH trips have effected his congregation “in ways that can’t be quantified.”

“I think our kids see that you don’t have to be a Billy Graham, a supermodel or a superstar to change somebody’s life,” Bruner said. “Our kids are walking away from this saying, ‘If I just say yes to God, I can make a difference.'”

Twelve-year old McKenna Mason, who began attending Center Point at a friend’s invitation, came to faith in Christ on NOAH 5. The trips also encouraged her to read the Bible daily and not just on Sunday, Mason said.

“Stories like this demonstrate how our mighty God is working through his people,” John L. Yeats, Louisiana Baptist Convention communications director and SBC recording secretary, said. “The needs are great and our God is calling out churches to use our SBC network to touch the lives of people in Jesus’ name.”

Byers, who came to faith in Christ the year before Katrina, said the best part was seeing what it has done for his church.

“It’s more exciting than anything to see your kids want to come back,” Byers said.

Firefighter Mike Overton said his daughter has told him that his faith and commitment to the task in New Orleans has been an encouragement to her as she serves in an active?duty combat zone. “It has helped her to stay strong in her faith,” Overton said.

As a new member, Gayla Altman had not found her niche at church before the NOAH project but had been praying for a mission project she could embrace. A third-time team member, Altman said the trips have reassured her that God answers the prayers of his people.

“The prayers of a nation have brought us here,” Altman said. “We are here because people prayed for New Orleans.”

“The Southern Baptist witness in this town is so much greater since the storm,” Maxwell said. “Our volunteers are demonstrating that God takes the bad things in life, the ‘Katrinas’ in our lives, and makes good out of them.”

Operation NOAH Rebuild is a partnership between the LBC, sister state conventions and the North American Mission Board. To date some 15,000 volunteers have been mobilized to share the gospel and help rebuild homes of New Orleans residents.

All skill levels are welcome and needed, said Don Snipes, the SBTC’s NOAH zone coordinator in New Orleans. The SBTC now has an assigned zone where dozens of home projects need willing teams to bring a physical and spiritual gospel presence, Snipes said.

Snipes said Texas churches wishing to help in New Orleans may call him at 504-282-1428 or 984-817-0050, or e-mail him at don@bagnola.org.

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