You are the Only You

By Kay Bennett, Director of Baptist Friendship House

As we move through our daily lives encountering different experiences do we realize that God is uniquely equipping us? Every person God created is different. You are the only one with your life experiences, the only one with your fingerprint, the only one who sees through your eyes, the only one with your voice, the only one who hears what you hear, and the only one with your touch.

God made you uniquely you and so His call in your life is just as unique.

A passion for ministry evangelism

As I look at God’s calling in my life, I realize everything I have experienced has led me to where I am right now. Each experience and encounter is like a piece of a puzzle. Each piece leads you on a journey. My journey and calling in life began with a desire to minister to the whole person (ministry evangelism).

We are all made of physical, emotional and spiritual parts, and even though the spiritual part is the most important, to leave one of the other parts out can leave person feeling helpless and hopeless. I feel that building relationships with people and investing in their lives is one of the greatest ways to build God’s Kingdom.

I don’t remember a time when I did not have a calling to help people, but while in college, I got another piece of the puzzle or more direction of where God was leading me.

My bachelor’s degree in counseling required an internship, which I did at a mental health center. While there, I was able to minister to people’s physical and emotional needs, but not to their spiritual needs – and that made me feel limited. I grew up in a Christian home and have always felt it is important to minister to the whole person.

Someone told me that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had a master’s degree program in counseling, so I went to the Seminary to check in out. I knew that was where God wanted me. Shortly after beginning seminary, God opened the door for me to minister at Brantley Baptist Center, a shelter for the homeless and a treatment program for people with addictions. My first day there was like everything I had ever wanted to do. I was able to minister to the whole person.

I often tell people I found a home with the homeless.

When I graduated from Seminary, God opened the door for me to stay at Brantley Center as a career missionary. Ten years later, in 1997, God moved me across the French Quarter to direct the ministry at our sister agency, Baptist Friendship House.

Friendship House is a transitional housing program for homeless women with children and a community ministry center. Over the past few years, the number of homeless women with children has increased. Today, families make up one third of the nation’s homeless population.

I love to watch God show up and show out. At Baptist Friendship House, I get to watch people’s lives change for the better. It is evident that only God can take someone who has nothing and take them to a place where they are self-sufficient. Only God can give that help and hope for a person to rise from their circumstances.

For example, not too long ago a homeless lady rang the doorbell at Friendship House and asked to use the restroom (finding a restroom is a real challenge for homeless that many people never think about).

The first thing I noticed about the lady was her t-shirt which had a nasty comment on it. I let her use the restroom, and then when she came out, I offered her a new t-shirt. She thought I wanted her t-shirt and she began looking down at her shirt. She looked back up at me and said, “What does it say?”

The lady could not read.

I was able to give her a new t-shirt from our clothes closet. I was also able to begin teaching her how to read and write. Allowing her to use the restroom gave me an opportunity to give her a t-shirt, which made it possible to teach her to read and write, and through building that relationship, opened the door for me to share Jesus with her. That is ministry evangelism! That is ministering to the whole person. That is my passion and my calling.

A day at Friendship House

There is no typical day at Friendship House. Everyday is different and it is never boring. Our days revolve around families in our transitional housing program and new families coming into our program. The ones in the program get up for breakfast and get their kids out to daycare or school. We then build mom’s skills and have Bible study. She either has a job or goes job hunting. She learns how to save her money. And we help transition her into her own housing.

The day also consists of people coming to our door for emergency food assistance, snack packs, hygiene kits, clothing, diapers, school supplies and other needs. We also teach computer skills, literacy skills, adult basic education and English as a second language to women in our city. We have community Bible study, health education and nutrition classes at the center as well.

People often show up at the door in crisis situations and need someone to counsel with them and pray with them.

We also have big events such as block parties, health fairs, pet fairs and fall festivals. During the summer, we have a preventative program for girls called Up 2 HOPE that encourages girls ages 8 and up to avoid destructive lifestyles and to stay in school.

We want to reach them while they are young, so they will not need us when they are older.

The bigger picture

As I look at my calling and our world today, I become more convinced that ministry evangelism is the greatest way to reach the world for Christ and to share His love. The statistics are staggering:

  • Statistics show that the United States ranks 3rd in the world with regard to lostness.
  • 500,000 American children under the age of 5 are homeless.
  • On any given night, there are 2 million homeless in the United States.
  • Every 9 seconds a woman is beaten in the United States.
  • One out of five adults in United States cannot read or write.
  • One third of our students in the U.S. ages 12 to 18 reports having been bullied in school.
  • 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
  • As many as 2.8 million children live on the streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
  • There is a trafficking victim brought to the U. S. every 10 minutes.
  • Today, at least 3,750 persons in the Gulf Coast Region have been identified as potential victims of human trafficking for the purposes of forced labor following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – 704 cases are in the New Orleans Metro Area alone.
  • Louisiana has the most homeless children in America per capita, but every state has homeless children.

This is but a glimpse into the reality of our world and community. But this brief glimpse demonstrates that one of the best ways to make a difference is to use the life that God has given you to invest in other people’s lives through building relationships that bring about positive change.

Let us not cut back on doing ministry evangelism in a time in which our world’s needs have increased, but let us be found faithful following Jesus example in Matthew 25. And may you take part in the way only you can.

You are the only you.

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For more information on Baptist Friendship House, go online to http://www.baptistfriendshiphouse.blogspot.com or follow Friendship House on Facebook and Twitter.

Where. When. Why.

By Gary D. Myers

Where, when and why. These are three of the most important concepts for the missional adventurer. Keeping on top of these concepts is a life-long process

Know where you are
By nature a photograph captures only a portion of the real scene. The photograph is stingy with space – capturing things as they really are within certain parameters. At times, the deepest communication in a photograph comes not from what is included, but from that which is missing. The photograph has captured truth – at least the portion visible in the viewfinder at a specific moment in time.

A painter has much more control over a scene. He or she can add or subtract things as necessary to offer a truer picture of reality. Sometimes a painter captures more truth by rejecting the frame by frame realism of the camera. Still in the confines of the canvas even the most talented artist captures only part of the scene – some emotion, some struggle, some essence is missed. The artist has the opportunity to capture truth in some degree, but the painting is colored by the artist’s biases.

People often settle for snapshots or biased portraits instead of full-orbed understanding. It is easier to settle for the stark blacks and whites and neglect the various shades of grey.

New Orleans often finds itself tagged with thoughtless caricatures and clichés. People come to the city for a convention and go away with the perception that all of New Orleans is like the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. Other common caricatures focus on the crime or drunkenness or even voodoo.

Seek the truth for yourself. Don’t settle for snapshots taken by other people or pictures painted by artists with an agenda. Get to know your city. Get to know the people who live here. Knowing where you are takes time and effort, but it is essential for effective ministry.

Know when you are
“When am I?” It was a great line uttered by John Locke, in ABC’s hit show “Lost.” In the show, an airliner carrying Locke and a group of travelers crashed on a mysterious and mystical island. Several seasons into the story, Locke and the other survivors began involuntarily traveling through time every few hours. First they time travel to the 1950s, forward again to present day, then back in time to the 1970s. Confused by all the leaps forward and backward in time, Locke utters that wonderful, essential line, “When am I?”

Oddly enough I think it is a question every missional Christian must ask … and keep asking over and over again.

You have to know your times. You have to know what is happening in your city. Read the newspaper. Watch the local news. Listen to talk radio. I recommend Garland Robinette and Tommy Tucker on WWL (870 AM, 105.3 FM or WWL.com). Keep track of local politics. This goes hand and hand with knowing where you are. And it is every bit as important.

However, I would caution against hyper-localism. The missional Christian should also keep track of world news and the political workings of other nations. Knowing when you are is an essential part of Great Commission living. After all, Christians were called to globalism long before the world of global politics and economics became front-page news.

Know why you are
Many people know where they are and when they are, but fail to act on what they know to make an eternal difference. They may do good things to make New Orleans, and the world, a better place, but they don’t color their actions with the purpose and passion of the Great Commission.

Knowing why you are is two-fold – general and specific.

If you are a Christ follower, you were made to live out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments – the “Go Therefore.” That is the general answer to “why” and includes the taking of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The specific deals with why you are here (wherever that is). In my case, it is the “Geaux Therefore.”

Hurricane Katrina helped me to focus on the where and when, and it forced me to take a fresh look at why I am and why I am here in New Orleans. As I continue to embrace New Orleans as home, these concepts push me outside my comfort zone and bring new opportunities to share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. When I put my when, where and why together, it leads me to how God would have me take action in my specific context.

Remembering ‘the least of these’

By Frank Michael McCormack

Southeast Louisiana never sleeps.

It’s march is heard in the gentle early morning stomp of the 610 near my house and the steady beat of pile drivers, smelled in the earthy scent of fresh roasted Folgers coffee near the Industrial Canal, felt in the rumble of drawbridges and the boom of music clubs, and seen in the silent, towering, starry cruise ship making its way downriver through the dark, South Plaquemines night.

Southeast Louisiana never sleeps.

My street never sleeps either. Late at night, while most other humans are asleep, I can sit on my stoop and see the real kings of the block on the prowl. The cats are everywhere. And in the morning, the only evidence of their activity is their paw prints on my car.

Southeast Louisiana never sleeps, but I certainly do. And the last few frigid nights, I’ve slept well under several lil’ ol’ lady blankets that, together with my heater, keep the cold at bay.

But while I forget the cold Southeast Louisiana night as soon as I crawl into bed, many in our community have no warm retreat in which to seek shelter. They are the thousands of men, women and children in the New Orleans area who spend their nights on the streets.

Homelessness on the rise

Unity of Greater New Orleans, an organization that seeks to provide housing and services for the homeless in the Crescent City, estimates that, on any given night, close to 19,000 people in the metropolitan area are homeless. Today’s homeless population is close to double what it was before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, even though overall population numbers have shrunk.

They sleep under bridges, on benches and stoops, on the river batture and in houses still gutted from Katrina’s floodwaters. In fact, this past week the New Orleans Fire Department fought a 3-alarm fire in a gutted house on Terpsichore Street thought to have been started by homeless people struggling to keep warm. And alarmingly, many of the area’s homeless are children. Louisiana ranks near the top with regard to child homelessness in the United States.

And homeless numbers continue to rise around the metro area in this difficult economic climate.

Regaining a heart for ‘the least of these’

But there’s another trend I’ve discovered of late that’s equally as alarming, if only on a personal level: Too often, my concern for the homeless and, in Jesus’ words, “the least of these” is closely tied to the thermometer. When the temperature drops, the city opens emergency shelters, fires in abandoned buildings make the news and I feel a “burden” for them. Whether that “burden” translates into specific action is another thing. But the rest of the year, “the least of these” become an afterthought to me. When people in need do approach me to ask for money, my knee-jerk response tends to be “Sorry, I don’t have any cash,” whether that’s the truth or not.

And that’s particularly disturbing to me because, at least for a brief moment of my life, I counted myself one of “the least of these.” Having grown up in the church, my experience was that, more often than not, those in need were outside and they needed what those inside had. But Katrina turned that upside down.

After Katrina inundated our apartment, Jennifer and I nomaded from place to place for a few weeks until we settled in Chattanooga. Without a home, without a job, without many clothes or friends nearby and sick with depression, Jennifer and I were met there with homes, jobs, clothes (OK, a few regrettable knitted sweaters), new friends and medicine for the soul.

In my stint as one of “the least of these,” I found some of the sweetest care from Nemo, a 70-year-old fellow “Katrina victim,” as he would say. Looking back, it’s apparent that we were Jesus to one another without really knowing it, to borrow from Matthew 25:40.

One would think that, having walked that road myself, I’d have more active compassion for others in similar situations. But too often, that’s not the case.

Up from inaction

There are some simple ways to make meeting the needs of “the least of these” a regular part of my day. I can:

Carry fast food gifts cards. Given the prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse among many homeless people, a reluctance to hand out cash is, many times, understandable. Now I don’t want to be so cynical that I never give someone money when they ask. But isn’t there a way for me to responsibly and spontaneously meet a hunger need? I think one possible solution is to carry a few $5 or $10 gift cards to common fast food restaurants like McDonald’s. If I encounter someone asking for food at an intersection, I may not have time to bring them to a restaurant myself but I can easily offer a gift card.

Carry snack bags. You can carry Zip-lock bags filled with non-perishable, pre-packaged food items such as canned tuna with a pull top, granola bars and beef jerky in your car. You can include a few toiletries – bars of soap, toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste, packages of wet wipes and combs – in the bags. People who are genuinely in need will gladly accept these items.

Turn grocery sacks into sleeping mats. Part of First Baptist New Orleans’ Care Effect ministry is to transform common plastic grocery sacks into soft, water proof, durable sleeping mats. The mats are woven together using “plarn,” yarn made out of plastic bags. For instructions, go to http://www.fbno.org/ministries/the-care-effect/caremats-for-the-homeless/.

Volunteer at Baptist Friendship House. As of January 1, 2011, Baptist Friendship House will be the lone Baptist mission center operating in New Orleans. Friendship House is on both Facebook and Twitter, so it’s easy to stay up to date with volunteer opportunities.

Make some friends. People don’t have to be living on the streets to be living in need. Whether financial, physical, emotional or spiritual, the people closest to me on a daily basis have needs that oftentimes I can meet, if only I pay attention.