Sometimes a life is changed by a moment. It’s not changed in the days, weeks, or months, but the minutes. Or, even the seconds.
The moment often comes without invitation, when least expected, and with no warning— as it did February 7 for residents in New Orleans East. The strongest tornado to ever hit the city damaged or destroyed nearly 700 homes.
Some residents saw the terrifying funnel cloud swirling in the sky, but it was too late. Those at home raced to take cover in closets, hallways, and bathtubs. Families were scattered across the city with parents at work and children at school. Some family members were out and about taking care of routine errands. They desperately tried to call and text one another to be sure everyone was safe.
The daily, normal routine had been interrupted, and some wondered if normal and routine could ever be restored.
After the tornado stormed a destructive path, Samaritan’s Purse immediately deployed to New Orleans. Our volunteers cleared debris, covered roofs with tarps, and cut up fallen trees and limbs.
Volunteers heard testimony after testimony-miracle after miracle-from homeowners who narrowly escaped death’s grip in the tornado. God was present and at work in New Orleans as not one person died in the storm.
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers encouraged homeowners with the love of Jesus Christ. They brought the hope of the Gospel into a dark, devastating moment, and shined His light into homes desperate for some relief from the storms.
Our volunteers also received encouragement as they met so many homeowners who are persevering through tragedy. These New Orleans residents refuse to give up, and choose to praise Jesus and remain confidently anchored to His Word despite trying situations.
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”
The tornado hit a number of homeowners still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, including Van Thanh. Her family worked hard to repair their home after it flooded, but eventually decided to move to another neighborhood. Van, her husband, and two daughters had only lived in their New Orleans East home about two years.
Van said she usually stays home on her day off, but the day of the tornado she decided to go to the grocery store. That errand may have saved her life. She'd hardly been gone 10 minutes when the storm made its way to her home.
Van returned home to find glass everywhere, as many items had broken, and part of the roof had collapsed. Samaritan’s Purse volunteers worked hard clearing piles and piles of debris in her yard.
“I prayed, God, take us in your hands. As soon as I finished talking to God, I called my kids.”
Gloria Treaudo hid in a closet until the tornado passed, and the fear she endured that day was unlike anything she'd ever felt before.
“My ears started popping and all of a sudden, windows started popping out. The house was just shaking. It was like something was going to suck us up.”
Gloria and her family have lived in their New Orleans home more than 15 years. They had to completely gut the house after it flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It would be two years after Katrina before they could move back.
Volunteers cut up fallen trees and limbs in Gloria’s yard. They also tarped her roof and cleared debris.
“I prayed, ‘God, take us in your hands.’”
It’s a question Jena Jones and her husband, Glyn, have been asked and one they even asked themselves. Were they making a huge mistake quitting their jobs, selling nearly all their possessions, and moving into an RV with their teenage daughter?
By the world’s standards, perhaps it was foolish. But Jena and Glynn live with a perspective that is more eternal than temporal, more Kingdom-focused than earthly-minded.
“We all felt a calling that God wanted us to do more with our lives. We love traveling and we love helping people,” Jena said.
The Jones family prayed two years before making the big move. They’ve been on the road nearly a year and New Orleans is their third Samaritan’s Purse deployment.
“We wanted to teach our daughter about having a servant’s heart,” Jena said. “It’s about people and serving, and being the hands and feet of Jesus.”
Several members of Household of Faith, our host church for this deployment, came out to volunteer. One Sunday afternoon they worked on Keisha Westbrook’s home. The entire roof on one side of her house collapsed, leaving Keisha to stay at a local shelter until she can move back in.
A number of New Orleans residents came out to help such as Ethel Landry. Ethel and her husband, Sam, volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse for the first time last year during the Lafayette flood response.
A group of first-time volunteers from Vineyard Church of Lafayette came with hearts eager to serve and willing to learn. They didn't hesitate about working all day on hot roofs in order to secure tarps. They loved on homeowners and were sensitive to how the Holy Spirit wanted to use them to minister to hurting people.
Kris Griffin and her husband are senior pastors of Vineyard. Their house was one of more than 100,000 that were affected across 20 parishes during the historic August 2016 floods. They're still working to get back into their home, which had to gutted.
Kris served in New Orleans as a Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplain. “There’s something about when people are in crisis-there’s an openness to the Gospel,” she said. “Stuff is stripped away.”
Lesley Keelin, who also serves on the Vineyard church staff, worked alongside her 15-year-old son.
“Our hearts are to teach our kids to serve,” she said. “We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and show people what love looks like.”
“We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus and show people what love looks like.”
Wayne Justin’s wife died of cancer several years after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of their home. The couple had worked hard to gut everything and replace personal belongings in order to move back into the house they’d called home for many years.
Now, Wayne is looking at again replacing belongings and also replacing the roof, which was completely destroyed.
Wayne is finding a way to smile through the pain because of his faith in Jesus. “We got our life, and that’s what matters. Every day I live for Him.”
Ebony Lockett is no stranger to life’s trials and storms. She’s been raising her niece and nephew for 10 years and also helps take care of her mom, who lives with her. Ebony’s uncle, with whom she was very close, died just a few days before the tornado.
The tornado ruined almost everything in Ebony’s house, including clothes, the carpet, and floors.
Like Wayne, Ebony is also walking by faith. “I love the Lord. I believe I can make it through,” she said.
In the grim, desperate moments when life spins out of control, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers are a burst of light and hope.
They serve in love, and in Jesus’ Name, in order to point hurting people to the Savior whose love is steadfast, unchanging, and infinite.