NEW ORLEANS?In early December the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention sent a crew of volunteers to move operations of a mobile kitchen from the First Baptist Church of New Orleans to the Salvation Army headquarters in the city?a move to provide new opportunities for feeding people in the heavily affected areas of the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere.
Led by John Hooser, pastor of Robertson Baptist Church in Copperas Cove, Texas, the team started its first morning looking for a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was to mark the reopening of the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the poorest and worst-flooded areas of New Orleans and the last area to remain off-limits to residents.
When the ceremony didn’t occur, Hooser immediately called for his team and said, “Let’s get to our site so we can start feeding people. That’s why we are here anyway.”
Disaster relief work is done in a very fluid environment, Hooser said. “The genius of what we do is the flexibility.”
The comment was timely; a few moments later upon arriving at First Baptist, the team learned they would need to go to the Salvation Army headquarters, another five miles away, to check-in and be orientated before starting. With no complaints, they loaded up and made their way to the third site of the morning.
After their orientation with Ed Langdon, the South Louisiana Recovery Commander for Salvation Army, the team went back to First Baptist to begin its workday after an approximately 40-mile morning adventure.
But the rewards of their hard work came quickly.
Paul Robertson’s assignment was to walk the streets and pray for people returning to their Ninth Ward homes.
“The devastation is just beyond description,” Robertson said. “You can’t take pictures, you can’t describe it. It’s just everywhere.” Recounting his day, he said, “I saw several men who felt they were prepared for what they were going to see, but once they saw it, they weren’t. There were a lot of tears. … Nobody we saw was bitter. Everyone we saw had such a good spirit. That’s a strong faith community over there.”
One person who affected Robertson during his walk was a young man who returned to find his home destroyed.
“He just wanted to salvage something from his house, so he salvaged a light bulb, just to have something, because nothing was there,” Robertson said.
Rick Wilson met Tina, who came to First Baptist to ask for help moving some antiques. She was crying because of reports of looting in her area. Taking a break from moving the furniture to eat lunch outside of the flooded home, Tina began to pour out her heart to Wilson.
At length, Tina told Wilson of her personal problems and the horrors of what she had gone through.