NEW ORLEANS — Almost four years after Hurricane Katrina brought New Orleans to its knees on Aug. 29, 2005, Southern Baptists continue to spend a week or so in the Big Easy, volunteering their time and skills to rebuild or refurbish homes devastated by the deadly storm.
But the number of Baptists who are volunteering is no longer enough.
Since May 1, 2006, under “Operation NOAH Rebuild” — a cooperative ministry of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans and the SBC’s North American Mission Board — more than 25,000 Southern Baptist volunteers have assisted in rebuilding 1,801 flood-damaged homes. These volunteers represent some 1,530 SBC churches from every state convention in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. Operation NOAH also has assisted in the recovery of 32 churches and 15 other ministry centers or schools damaged by Katrina.
And as a direct result of Operation NOAH, more than 400 professions of faith have been recorded, according to the latest available statistics.
While an agreement has been reached to transition the day-to-day management of Operation NOAH to the Baptist association, the North American Mission Board has committed to extend its support of the ministry until year’s end, said Mickey Caison, NAMB’s team leader for adult volunteer mobilization.
“We will continue to work with [the association] to support and implement their ‘2020 Vision’ strategic plan,” Caison said. “Part of that plan is to address post-Katrina needs of the New Orleans community, and housing is still one of the critical needs there.”
Caison said 70 more homes remain in the Operation NOAH pipeline for reconstruction or renovation, and “we want to complete every one of them.”
“Some of the folks we still want to help have not received any assistance at all from their insurance companies or the federal government, and are the folks who’ve fallen through the cracks,” Caison said, noting that only 60 percent of the residents displaced by Katrina have moved back home.
But as NAMB’s time for involvement ticks down, Operation NOAH is not seeing the number of skilled volunteers the program needs to finish work on the 70 remaining homes, Caison said.
“We desperately need Southern Baptists who are skilled as drywall workers, plumbers, electricians, framing carpenters and finishing carpenters to volunteer to help us,” he said. “We can house up to 145 volunteers a week but we’re not averaging 145 a week. We only had 66 volunteers during May.” Caison said volunteers are housed in a volunteer “village” at Hopeview Baptist Church in nearby St. Bernard Parish.
David Maxwell, a pastor serving as coordinator for Operation NOAH Rebuild, echoed Caison, adding that “we want to do quality work for these last 70 houses — the same quality anyone would want for their own home. You just can’t do that with unskilled labor.”
As to the volunteer shortage, Maxwell attributes it to the fact that almost four years have elapsed since Katrina. Other disasters — like Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, floods in the Midwest and fires in California — have siphoned off some of the volunteer force needed in New Orleans.
“The bad economy and higher gas prices have also had something to do with the smaller number of people who volunteer. People are just staying closer to home,” he said.
“Operation NOAH Rebuild has given people hope where there was no hope,” Maxwell noted, “just like Jesus Christ does for all of us. There are literally thousands of homes and people in New Orleans who still need help. Contrary to what local politicians may say, it’s not over. We’ve just scratched the surface.”
For volunteer opportunities with Operation NOAH Rebuild, e-mail [email protected] or call (877) 934-0808 (toll-free) or (504) 362-4604.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)