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Mark Bennett Opinion

May 15, 2010

MARK BENNETT: Faith groups helping to revive, change the Big Easy

NEW ORLEANS — Joan Bundy still believes in her hometown.

Talk about a glass half-full. This lifelong New Orleans resident thinks that Louisiana city can overcome its desperate reputation and the stubborn hopelessness caused by the Hurricane Katrina flooding.

“I personally believe God is going to work a revival in this city,” Bundy said with a confident smile, standing on the sidewalk in front of her home on Tonti Street in the 8th Ward. She was talking with members of Maryland Community Church in Terre Haute. The church group came to New Orleans in late April as volunteers for Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian disaster relief organization rebuilding homes still damaged by the 2005 hurricane.

The determination of faith groups to help revive New Orleans is significant in Bundy’s view.

The Mississippi River town’s rich, diverse culture of food, music and architecture drew tourists worldwide for decades. Its wild, seamier side, though, attracted plenty of attention (and visitors), too, often overshadowing its other attributes. The world would go there to party in the French Quarter, rarely getting a glimpse of the life and neighborhoods of the people who serve the jambalaya, drive the cabs and work the desk at the hotels.

Katrina put all of that in peril and gave much of America a first look at real, everyday life in one of the nation’s most historic places.

The city is still rebuilding in places. Some blocks remain abandoned. In others, recovery has begun. The Lower 9th Ward, hardest hit by the levee breaks, now features unusual, eye-catching new homes commonly known as “Brad Pitt houses.” The actor helped organize a group of housing firms and experts to create low-cost, environmentally sound homes in a community nearly wiped out by the disaster.

Its reputation is still in the reconstruction phase, too.

The presence and success of long-term, faith-based rebuilding efforts by Samaritan’s Purse, the Mennonites, the Southern Baptists, Habitat for Humanity and others could leave a lasting impression, said Bundy, whose home was renovated by Samaritan’s Purse after her contractor left town before finishing the job. A new reputation for New Orleans is possible.

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