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God shows up at Friendship House in New Orleans

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters seemed unrelenting, but they stopped a block away from Baptist Friendship House, reports Baptist Press.

Kay Bennett was glad, but not surprised. She'd prayed for such a miracle.

Miracles are the norm for Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans, said Bennett, Friendship House's director and a missionary with the North American Mission Board.

"God shows up and shows out here all the time," Bennett said.

Women who attended Beth Moore's "Breaking Free" video taping Nov. 11-15 at nearby Franklin Avenue Baptist Church had the opportunity to spend a morning at Friendship House in hands-on ministry.

They packed bags with snacks and hygiene items. They created handmade cards with handwritten notes to include in the bags. They "prayer rode" (because bad weather ruled out a prayerwalk) in the Friendship House neighborhood just a few blocks from the French Quarter and the Ninth Ward where much Katrina damage remains evident.

LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention sponsored the Breaking Free taping and organized the ministry activity at Baptist Friendship House.

BREAKING FREE

Michelle Hicks, a LifeWay contract worker who coordinated the taping and outreach said Baptist Friendship House "fits so well into the meaning of Breaking Free. The women who are recipients of the Friendship House ministry are, in their own way, breaking free from so many things -- poverty, abuse, fear and addictions."

The primary ministry of Friendship House is providing transitional housing for homeless women and children.

The organization's mission statement says, "In recognizing the worth and dignity of homeless women and children, Baptist Friendship House seeks to minister to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs, with love through action and truth as revealed in God's Word in Matthew 25."

"The greatest growth in our homeless population is this demographic," Bennett noted. "Since Katrina, the housing costs are prohibitive for so many people. A two-bedroom apartment is $1,500 a month. Daycare for two kids is $1,000. That's $2,500 a month and that doesn't include food, utilities or anything else. Most people here could never afford that."

HOME FOR NOW

Currently, four families of women and children reside at Friendship House. Each family has its own quarters. All the residents and staff eat together family style, each contributing to the planning, cooking and cleaning.

"We have tables set up so each family unit can have its own eating area," Bennett said. "But most of the time we just pull all the tables together and eat as one big family."

Some of the children have never had any space or anything to call their own. To give them a sense of ownership of their toys, school supplies and other items, volunteers built storage chests for each room so the children can have a space of their own. Bennett said that seemed to give a boost to the children's self-esteem.

"It took us eight years to get the permit to shelter families," Bennett said. "That was a miracle, because most people told us that would never happen. But we prayed long and hard for that.

"Our prayer now is to be able to buy the building and lot next door where we can offer entire families -- moms, dads and children -- a safe place of shelter," she said. "We could do so much more."

Never mind that the property is not for sale. God could work that out, Bennett said with a grin.

MEETING NEEDS

Friendship House's ministry to the basic needs of the people -– including classes in sewing, English as a Second Language, literacy and work skills -- is what allows Bennett and her staff the opportunity to meet their spiritual needs.

"Ninety percent of homeless women have been in abusive domestic situations at some point in their lives," Bennett said. "Every day in the U.S., women are killed by domestic violence. We know that most incidents are never reported."

Girls in the fourth grade and up are the focus of a Friendship House ministry named Up to Hope. "You might could call it Breaking Free teenage-style," Bennett said. "We work with these young girls on self-respect and their dignity through Christ. This is an investment to keep them from ever getting into unhealthy and dangerous situations. We let them know that through Christ there is hope for their futures."

For homeless people in "homeless villages" around town, Friendship House volunteers and staff distribute snack packs -- self-sealing bags with canned meat, crackers, cheese and other items -– along with hygiene kits containing soap, shampoo and toothpaste.

One of Bennett's favorite ministries is the "bathroom ministry."

"There aren't a lot of public restrooms around here," she said. "When a woman comes in and needs to use the restroom, I tell her she is welcome. It's amazing that when she comes out, she is willing to listen to anything I have to say!"

Bennett recounted a story about a woman who came in wearing a T-shirt with a vulgar saying on it. Bennett told her she would give her two clean T-shirts in exchange for the one she was wearing. The woman agreed. Then she asked Bennett what her T-shirt said. "When I told her what her shirt said, she was really embarrassed. She couldn't read and didn't know what it said."

A WORD FROM GOD

Pat Allen, a New Orleans resident and member at Franklin Avenue, attended the Breaking Free taping and helped put together food packs and made handmade cards to go in the bags.

"I believe when people see that someone made them a card and reads the message that says God loves them and cares about them, it will stay with them," Allen said. "People need a word from God and these packs will be a good reminder."

Bennett said, "We do a lot of ministry here and we talk about Jesus all the time, but we also do a lot of lifestyle evangelism. People down here don't trust in much, but if they see it, they believe it."

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Christian Telegraph

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