Curtis and Nikki Banks stared at the red brick house in front of them, on Loveland Drive in Lincoln, Neb.
The house had five bedrooms, a basement, a yard, beds instead of cots–and solitude. Curtis, Nikki and their four children had moved from shelter to shelter since Hurricane Katrina, and before that had lived in a two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, they felt a sense of hope and renewal.
“This is like a castle compared to what we are used to,” Nikki said. Now the kids have their own bedrooms. Their son, Curtis III, no longer has to sleep in the same room with his three sisters.
“We are grateful,” the elder Curtis said, relieved to have a home for his family. They had spent the first three days after the hurricane at the hospital where he was a housekeeper, and from there had watched the water swallow houses across the street. “People were breaking their windows, crawling up on the roof and flagging down helicopters for rescue,” he said.
The Banks family is one of hundreds adopted by churches, individuals and organizations across the nation after losing their homes to Hurricane Katrina. As images of the hurricane’s damage flashed across television screens, Christians responded immediately. The American Red Cross set up emergency shelters. Samaritan’s Purse brought supplies. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team sent chaplains. And churches responded to a challenge by Franklin Graham to adopt displaced families.
“We are to be the heart of God,” said Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier, La., which adopted 10 familes. “God wants to put His heart in us, so that … we care for broken people and broken lives like He does, and we become His hands and feet. We have seen that actually happen. The Church became the first responders.”
The Church would be missing its entire reason for existing if it passed up an opportunity to help in this time of crisis, said John Kunze, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, which adopted the Banks family.
Messiah is one of 130 churches that answered the call of People City Mission, a homeless shelter in Lincoln, to help families left homeless by the storm. The churches, in conjunction with the mission, agreed to provide 40 units of housing, rent-free, for one year. “This is an excellent opportunity for the people of God to demonstrate what Jesus said about servanthood,” Kunze said. “Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, and what He was indicating was that we should serve each other.”
Darryl and Kryssy Nicholas of New Orleans, one of the families First Baptist adopted, had just moved into a new home when the hurricane struck. Kryssy had been a stay-at-home mom for seven years. The future now seems uncertain, but they are trying not to look back.
“It’s a brand new start for us,” Darryl said. “We’re going to look at it like that, and we’re just going to move on. … I really doubt if we ever will go back to New Orleans. It’s just not our home anymore.”
In Concord, N.C., Mark Farria, Myletta Bogent and their three children are getting settled in their new apartment. The family traveled to North Carolina with Bryant Redmond and his cousin, Mickey Cooke, who felt led of God to raise money and help a family after a member at Redmond’s church took in a family of 10. Redmond and Cooke drove to Slidell, La., and delivered a 15-passenger van full of supplies, then went in search of a family.
Mark, a carpenter, and Myletta, a certified nursing assistant, had been at an emergency shelter in Slidell, across the bridge from New Orleans, for a week before Redmond and Cooke arrived. Their house was destroyed from 17-foot water surges, and they were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and their SUV, which they had driven to Baton Rouge during the mandatory evacuation the day before the storm. It was becoming clear that they would have to leave the shelter. Eve, their 2-year-old, was covered with mosquito bites. Jaimeal, 7, and Jade, 8 months, were becoming restless. But where would they go? Myletta’s mom’s house was still standing, but it had extensive water damage, and a tree had fallen through Mark’s brother’s house.
On the Wednesday after Labor Day, Mark and Myletta were returning to the shelter from a visit with Myletta’s mom. They pulled their vehicle back into the shelter parking lot, near Cooke and Redmond’s van. The two men noticed the family’s despair. Cooke signaled Mark to roll down his window.
“Do you all want some peace?” Cooke asked.
“Well, yeah,” Mark stammered. Within an hour, Mark, Myletta and the three children were on their way to North Carolina. Myletta and the children rode in the van. Mark followed behind until he was too tired to drive, then Cooke drove the SUV.
On the way, Mark and Myletta told their story, from the seven-hour trip to Baton Rouge the day before the storm, to them helping cut their way through downed trees and power lines to get back into Slidell the next day.
“There were tractors pulling trees off the road,” Mark said. “Some trees the tractors couldn’t pull, so one man had a chainsaw, and everyone else got out and started helping him. We were cutting out areas just big enough to fit our cars through.”
Finally, they made it to Slidell, spent the night in the SUV, and found the emergency shelter the next day.
The family’s weariness touched Redmond and Cooke and confirmed that this was the family God wanted them to help.
“God has been around every corner of this trip,” Redmond said. “When we started out, we said, if God doesn’t want this to happen, He will close the doors. But He never closed one. He continued to open one right after another.”
When Redmond requested the day off work, his boss said yes, and the company gave him a $1,000 donation. A church donated $100. A local business gave them a $500 gas card. A grocery store gave 70 crates of food and supplies. By 6 p.m., they had received $3,000 in cash and enough supplies to fill the van.
And along the way, God poured out His blessings. About six hours into the trip, they met a man named John who needed a ride to Slidell. When they stopped to let him out, he prayed to receive Christ.
A woman at a stoplight in Baton Rouge knocked on Redmond’s window and put her hand in his.
“I just want to give you this,” she said. “It’s not much, but it’s all I have.” Redmond opened his hand and counted $1.53. He watched the woman through his rear-view mirror as she made her way back to her car.
“I can’t tell you how many times I cried on this trip,” Redmond said. “How many people would get out of their car and walk four cars up, at a stoplight with traffic, to donate $1.53?”
When Mark and Myletta arrived in Concord, the community embraced them. They moved immediately into a hotel suite filled with every necessity they could imagine. Redmond’s church, Pitts Baptist, and Cooke’s church, Kingsway Baptist, fed the family, invited them to worship and assured them they would have long-term housing within days.
“God is good,” Myletta said, over and over. “He’s been in total control. I can’t say it any other way.”