[Next Generation] Caring in a city that care forgot

This article was written by Corley Shumaker. She is the assistant campus minister at Arkansas State University BCM. Shumaker lives with her husband, Kevin, and daughter Ellie Joy in Jonesboro. They love taking road trips, visiting National Parks and attending ASU football games.  

“What would happen if God’s people remembered to care in the city that care forgot?”  

This was the question posed to us on the first day of our mission trip to New Orleans. While we were in the city, six college women from the Arkansas State University (ASU) Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) and I were able to see how God’s people in New Orleans are answering that question.  

Christi Gibson, Minister of Education at First Baptist Church in New Orleans, asked us this question. She leads a ministry called “Inward,” which is an outreach to the women who work in the clubs on Bourbon Street. Gibson and others walk up and down Bourbon Street, praying and handing out gifts—chocolate, lip gloss, and other little treats—to the dancers and hostesses. She said they have come to be known as the “church ladies.” The Inward ladies have found favor among the clubs on Bourbon Street and are welcomed in to distribute the gifts, which sometimes include Bibles, to the women. They have had the opportunity to pray with the women, to minister to them, and even in some cases, to help them leave behind the life they no longer want. 

Inward is primarily a prayer ministry, as Bourbon Street (and all its associated activities) is a spiritually dark place. The Inward team never prayer walks Bourbon Street or spends time in the clubs without praying beforehand. Any time they are actually on Bourbon Street, there are women who stay behind, covering them in prayer while they’re gone. It’s an incredible ministry that has been wholly led by the Holy Spirit, as the women involved have continually asked God for guidance about how He would have them reach these vulnerable women. When I asked our BCM women what they learned after spending time with Inward, graduate student Mary Beth White said, “I saw how God pulled ‘church ladies’ into Bourbon Street to reach women in the sex trade. They are literally under captivity and God is using these Christ-followers to reach the lost in hard-to-reach places.” 

Another ministry we worked with while in New Orleans was the Baptist Friendship House (BFH), a ministry of Southern Baptists that has been in the city for 75 years. Dr. Kay Bennett, the director of BFH, leads this ministry to the often-overlooked or forgotten-about people of New Orleans: the homeless, the substance-addicted, and the abused. At BFH, those in need can receive food, clothing, shelter, and counseling. They can attend GED preparation classes or ESL tutoring. Most importantly, their spiritual needs are met by Dr. Bennett and staff, who regularly share the love of Jesus with the people who walk through their doors. Our team had the chance to lead a women’s Bible study and visit with some of the ladies about how BFH has impacted their lives.  

Riley Sisson, a rising junior from Bald Knob, said “I really enjoyed working with the women at Baptist Friendship House. These women taught me so much about how to be open to everyone and helping no matter what the need is. BFH serves the community so well.” Jill Hodge, a recent ASU graduate from Bartlett, Tennessee, said, “It was really special for the ladies that run BFH to tell us how God placed them in New Orleans, even if it wasn’t their first choice. Along with that, it was great to hear how they fell in love with the people and have been able to reach people in that community. I am grateful that we were able to have even a small part in their ministry!” 

Our time in New Orleans was short, but the impact will be felt for a long time. God’s people are remembering and caring for the people of New Orleans, and in many cases the charge is being led by Southern Baptist women. The marginalized, the forgotten, the addicted, and the abused are all being cared for in the city that care forgot. With women like Christi Gibson and Kay Bennett fighting for them, these women are in good and capable hands. 

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