Friday, August 18, 2017

Holding on to God in New Orleans

Christine Rhodes, New Orleans homeowner

Christine Rhodes' home is one of 700 that were damaged or destroyed when an EF-3 tornado hit New Orleans.

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers serve a homeowner in the Crescent City whose faith in Jesus keeps her moving forward.

As soon as I met Christine I knew this day would be special. Our volunteers had barely gotten out of their cars and hadn’t even made it all the way to the porch when she began praising God.

Christine and site team leader Bob Segari.

Christine and site team leader Bob Segari.

She thanked God for sparing her life when an EF3 tornado wreaked havoc across New Orleans East. She praised God for His love and faithfulness to her all the time. Christine also thanked God for sending Samaritan’s Purse volunteers to help tarp her roof and clean debris in her yard.

“I knew He was going to send help,” she said. “God said He would never leave us or forsake us.”

Being in Christine’s presence means feeling loved. She smiles, hugs, laughs, and encourages. She welcomes people into her home and is a compassionate neighbor. She’s a caring mother to three daughters and a proud grandmother of five.

No Matter What

I know there’s pain in her heart, though.

Christine shared with me that she had a panic attack after the tornado ripped through her neighborhood. She didn’t know what to do or where to begin. Debris had overtaken the house, glass was strewn everywhere from shattered windows, and water was coming into the house because a pipe attached to the hot water heater had burst.

“My house looked like a war zone,” she said. “It was very scary.”

Volunteers tarp Christine's roof.

Volunteers tarp Christine’s roof.

I know there’s pain still lingering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the deadly storm dumped seven feet of water into her home.

“Everything was gone and we had to gut the house,” Christine said. “I had to start all over.”

Everyone on Christine’s street had to start over. Every house, representing neighbors and friends who are like her family, succumbed to the hurricane’s destructive forces. Most, like Christine, had lived in the neighborhood more than 20 years.

I know there’s pain because Christine mourns her mother’s death, which came about two years after Katrina. While we do not grieve as those with no hope, we still grieve, and it still hurts.

Through it all, the praises of Jesus are never far from Christine’s lips. Although at times life seemed to be falling apart she refused to turn away from God.

“I’m still standing,” she said. “God said He will be with us until the end of the world. No matter what you’re going through, hold on to God. He is a restorer.”

“No matter what”—that’s the common thread uniting many of the homeowners I met in New Orleans. They’re choosing to trust God no matter what.

He’s All She Needs

Samaritan’s Purse helped many tornado survivors who also lived the horror of Hurricane Katrina. On top of those disasters, I heard story after story of personal tragedy and loss including sickness, deaths in the family, and divorce. Yet, Christine and these resilient believers pray God uses their lives for His glory and Kingdom purpose.

Volunteers pray with Christine before beginning work.

Volunteers pray with Christine before beginning work.

Though their hearts ache and the sorrow is tremendous, they do not give up. They know their strength comes from God and they never walk alone.

Christine encouraged and challenged my heart so much. She told our volunteers over and over that her joy is in Jesus and He is all she needs. In the midst of storms and tragedies, Christine reminded us that nothing can separate God’s children from His love.

The morning the twister hit Christine prayed this prayer, having no idea that in just a few hours her life would change: “I give this house to you. I give my children to you. I give my job to you. I give everything to you.”

One of Christine’s favorite verses is Romans 8:28. She holds fast to the promise that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

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