The Best-Kept Secrets in New Orleans

All day Tuesday, a group of 15 or 20 of us who comprise the board of New Orleans Baptist Missions met at the Baptist Friendship House at 813 Elysian Fields Avenue for our semi-annual get-together. It’s hard to tell who’s a board member and who a missionary of the North American Mission Board; we’re all on the same team. Dr. Wanda Lee was present. She’s a veteran missionary of the International Mission Board and the executive-director of Southern Baptists’ Woman’s Missionary Union, based in Birmingham. Dr. Richard Leach and Dr. Jean White of NAMB (Alpharetta, Georgia) were present. From our state convention, Mike Canady.

Local missionaries Larry Miguez, Linda Middlebrooks, Kay Bennett, Karina America, Jennifer Fannin, Skider Chatham, Dr. Tobey Pitman, David Maxwell, and Freddie Arnold were on hand. That leaves president of the NOBM board Dr. David Crosby, Loretta Rivers, Dr. Guy Williams, Gwen “Miss Chocolate” Williams, Mel Jones, and me. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out.

We heard reports about the ongoing ministries of the Rachel Sims Baptist Center and the Carver Center, both located in the uptown area of New Orleans and ministering to inner city children. Larry Miguez is over both centers, with Linda Middlebrooks assisting him at Rachel Sims and Jennifer Fannin at Carver. They are incredible servants of God, pouring out their lives for Christ in some difficult situations.

Lots of positive things to report. Rachel Sims and Carver are providing ESL (English as a Second Language) classes for some 22 participants at the moment. They have programs to prepare people to take their GED exams. Puppet ministries, after school homework clubs, and discipleship classes. They host volunteers in their buildings–i.e., church teams from outside our area–who come to minister in the inner city. Director Larry Miguez reports that the centers are almost totally booked for the summer of 2008. With Pastor Kelly O’Connor, they’ve started a mission church at Carver.

At the same time, these neighborhoods are experiencing an unprecedented level of violence. “Why such an increase in violence?” Larry Miguez was asked.

The neighborhoods around Carver and Rachel Sims are experiencing shootings, killings, and delinquencies. Because of the unsettled conditions in the area and the teenagers roaming loose at night–the police lock the parks at dark and there are not enough sports programs for the kids–the conditions are right for trouble. Larry said, “Since Katrina’s upheaval, half the people in our neighborhoods are new. They don’t know who we are and what we do, so if we try to stop a fight, they don’t see us as a proper authority.”

The school system in this part of New Orleans is in turmoil, Larry reported. Last year, fully a third of the teens were not in school at all, due to a lack of teachers and space. This year, the schools are opened, but some are not ready for the kids. “Some of the schools are disfunctional. The kids go to school, then sit in the auditorium. They don’t have their textbooks yet.” The kids in these neighborhoods attend 5 different kinds of schools, if they go at all–charter schools, the New Orleans public schools, schools under the Recovery School District run by the state, private schools, and Catholic schools. It’s a jumble.

Larry is putting out a call for churches to adopt one of these schools.

The church should be located in the community near the adopted school. They might feed breakfast to the faculty and staff, and get to know them. Build a relationship with the principal. Do landscaping, beautify the place, instill some pride in the teens. In a sense, Larry said, they could build a “Baptist center” at that school, referring to the activities conducted at Rachel Sims and Carver–homework clubs, intramural sports program, Bible clubs, etc.

Larry said, “Only the churches can get God back into the schools. These kids live in a different world from us.”

He added, “These schools need help. Usually, their response is to expel trouble-making students.”

Wanda Lee asked, “What about a busines adopting a school?” Larry likes the idea, but said he’d prefer to see a Christian businessman or woman from a church step up and volunteer, then get both their church and business involved. The company might allow employees to volunteer at the school while still on the payroll.

David Crosby asked, “Do we have any active partnerships right now?” “No. This is a new idea.”

We hope to put this idea before our churches in the New Orleans area. Many of our congregations are still in a crisis mode themselves, with smaller memberships and lower offerings, but in almost every church there are members who are under-utilizing the gifts God has given them.

A prayer request, Larry? Volunteers for next summer (these would be college students from around the nation, and paid a stipend), and a new bus or van for transporting workers and children. (Their address: Rachel Sims Baptist Center, 729 Second Street, New Orleans 70130.)

The Baptist Friendship House on Elysian Fields, just behind the French Quarter and a couple of blocks from the river, is a refuge for troubled women and children. Kay Bennett has directed it as long as I’ve known anything about it, and what a champion she is. Karina America–isn’t that the greatest name–is her associate director. Their website is

Every time I’ve been by the Friendship House, I’ve seen women and children living there temporarily, part-time staffers from the seminary cooking meals or leading classes, and people working at all kinds of jobs. No mission center anywhere receives the attention, the love, the prayers, and the gifts such as the Baptist Friendship House. Last year, owner George Shinn brought the New Orleans Hornets over and they spent the week painting and sprucing up the entire building. It still glows.

Each year the BFH gives out backpacks to children in the community as they start back to school. This fall, they gave out an incredible 1,335 packs of school supplies and bookbags. They went to two schools and gave supplies to every student.

Recently, Karina had the idea of having a pet fair at the BFH. “People walk by the center all the time with their pets on leashes, but they never stop, so we decided to invite them in.” They registered 50 people who brought their pets by for a photo with themselves and their dog. (Kay said, “Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church in the French Quarter has Puppy Church.” Asked what that meant, she said, “They encourage people to bring their dogs into the services.” Wonder if that will catch on! Probably not.)

Wednesday, December 12, Kay’s workers will be giving out gifts to the students and faculty at nearby A.P. Tureaud Elementary School. Last year, they distributed 300 gifts. A teacher said for some children it was the only thing they received that Christmas. Kay suggests anyone wishing to donate to this event should purchase a Wal-Mart gift card and specify that it’s for the Christmas Giveaway. (Her address is Baptist Friendship House, 813 Elysian Fields Avenue, New Orleans 70117.)

Prayer request? “Pray that our families can find affordable housing in a city where rent has escalated and affordable housing is rare.” “Pray for the girls of Up2HOPE and the ministry we are providing them.” “Pray for the events planned at the center, and our continual relationships with the community.” “And pray for the staff.”

Readers who are from New Orleans or have lived here previously know about Rachel Sims, Carver, and Baptist Friendship House. But we thought others would find it fascinating to learn of the life-changing ministries conducted in the inner city of New Orleans.

There! It’s not a secret any more!

1 thought on “The Best-Kept Secrets in New Orleans

  1. Joe,

    What a great article!

    Here in our small community in upstate New York our small church has done a couple things like this. A couple years ago we discovered that the local special ed kids were “left out” of a trip to the Bronx Zoo. So we raised some grant money and took them along with their teachers and staff.

    We also give out pencil boxes with basic school startup materials and a “Gift from the Stamford Baptist Church” label inside on the bottom of the box. These are distributed through the guidance office to students who do not have supplies.

    This has had a positive effect on our church-school relations.

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