A word from Curt
We’re posting chapters from Hearts across the Water, our 2005 book about the heroes of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and the Asian Tsunami.
Thanks to all of you who’ve commented on these stories.
Today’s hero is my friend Jack Hunter.
The Ninth Ward
Long before it became the poster area for everything that went wrong on hurricane Katrina, Jack Hunter knew all about the area of New Orleans called the Ninth Ward. Jack loves the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
To be more exact, he loves the people of that area. He loves them with much more than just words.
He showed them that love with actions … consistent actions …persistent actions.
Two months after Katrina as Jack drove us through the desolate streets of this recently flooded area, it was evident the people of this neighborhood, now spread all across North America, were still in his heart.
Before you know more about Jack Hunter and why he so deeply loves the young people of the Ninth Ward, you need to know about this area of New Orleans.
The Ninth Ward refers to a voting district that sits less than two miles northeast of the French Quarter. It is composed of two parts separated by the Industrial Canal that provides access to Lake Ponchartrain from the Mississippi River. The area west of the Canal is called “Bywater” or simply “The Ninth Ward.” The area across the Canal to the east is called “the Lower Ninth Ward.” This term refers primarily to its location as well as partially due to the fact that its elevation is lower than its cousin area across the Canal. When you near the two drawbridges along the Industrial Canal, you are in the Ninth Ward.
This area of the Ninth Ward was once cypress swampland. As New Orleans grew in the 19th century, it was cleared and settled by European immigrants, mainly Irish and German. Many freed slaves later made the Ninth Ward their home. Any study of the history of this neighborhood reveals that it has always been susceptible to flooding.
Jack Hunter drove my wife and me through the Ninth Ward area west of the Industrial Canal. The other area, the Lower Ninth Ward, was still off limits to residents due to it being re-flooded by Hurricane Rita.
Jack’s area of work is the Florida Housing Projects and the nearby Desire Street Academy. As he steers through the still-blocked streets covered with debris, he comments on the teenaged young men and women he has worked with here over the years.
Jack Hunter is a New Orleans attorney. He and his wife Jane live in nearby Metairie. Jack, through his church, First Baptist New Orleans, has chosen to invest his time, effort, and resources in helping the young people of the Florida Projects. Jack’s commitment is not the “get in and get out” feel-good type of ministry often found after a disaster. He is dedicated and passionate about helping as many teens break the cycles of poverty, grief, and heartache. This was his heart before Katrina and will continue to be his calling.
I like to joke with him as to what his business card must say. Is he an attorney who works with young people or a youth director who happens to moonlight as an attorney? Jack is a good example of a person who blends their calling and vocation to serve God.
One’s vocation is your job. It is how you make your living. Your calling is a mandate from God, and it is how you live your life.
In the weeks after Katrina, Jack Hunter had taken leave from his law firm, now temporarily based in Baton Rouge, to help his city rebuild. Family by family, person by person, he is helping coordinate the gutting of houses, repairs, and food distribution. To be around him is to sense a deep passion burning in his heart for “his city.”
As we drive and he points out the homes, businesses, and sights of the Ninth Ward, it is obvious he misses the reason he comes here weekly: the teenagers of the Ward. Just like everyone else here, they are scattered all over America. Just finding out where they are, even two months after Katrina, has been a daunting task.
Jack Hunter has no magic formula for knowing what is best for the future of the Ninth Ward. He is the first to admit that. Tough, well-planned, long-range decisions are called for. He just knows this: Whatever the rebuilding of New Orleans becomes, he will be a part of it. While listening to Jack share, I feel that the Jack Hunters of the New Orleans area—those volunteer-driven, talented, and compassionate souls—can find that here is Jack’s heart from a recent e-mail:
“I’ve seen God’s hand applying the needed stroke of paint in just the right color, at just the right moment, and in just the right amount many times since Katrina punched us in the mouth. As the days go by, things are surprisingly less clear and the future is less predictable. The damage is extensive and its consequences are more far-reaching than any of us can measure.
“But I am absolutely confident that God is working out His manifold purposes in the lives of hundreds of thousands and even in me. Curt, I heard you this summer, as you showed your Tsunami video to a bunch of kids, that if you want to find Jesus then go where people are hurting. The advice was prophetic. And true. It has been joy to comfort the elderly of our church as I have pried my way into their homes, waded through the muck, and chopped through the debris to salvage bits and pieces of their lives from the rubble.
“I’ve been energized as I’ve made numerous trips helping Desire Street Ministry relocate their school (now a boarding school), and begin the redevelopment of the 9th Ward in New Orleans. My heart’s been enlarged with sorrow over friends who’ve moved on, and gladdened by being able to help them through the aftermath. My prayer is that I’ll have the courage to continue following Jesus as He opens new directions in the destruction. When the road is strewn with naked and bleeding bodies, it doesn’t require special insight to know the will of God.”
As we drove by the now-destroyed Florida Projects, Jack showed me the home of Torrey Amacker. We first met Torrey last summer at Dry Creek. Jack brought a dozen Florida Project teens to camp, including Torrey. It was fun to watch these young men, who’d never been off the streets of the city, learning about the fun of country living. Their excitement as we put over twenty canoes into the Ouiska Chitto River was such a joy to watch.
Torrey had a great week. In fact he had such a great time, he returned later for another week of summer camp in the woods.
During the craziness surrounding the evacuation of New Orleans, Torrey became separated from his family. He ended up, along with several other teens, with Jack and Jane Hunter as they left the City headed north.
A few days later, Jack contacted our Camp. He needed help in placing Torrey until he could find, and be reunited, with his mother and grandmother.
Staff member Todd Burnaman’s instant response to Jack’s call for help was, “Come on down. We’ll find a place for him.” You see when one is in the thick of the storm and sees the hurt and confusion from its aftermath, the only appropriate words to a request for help are, “Come on down. We can help.”
Jack brought Torrey to the Camp. Todd began the work of placing Torrey in a home. Although our shelter was running at full speed and we had room, Torrey needed to be in a home.
That’s when Todd approached Dwayne and Allison Quebedeaux. His request for them to pray about keeping Torrey was met with this reply, “Come on over. We can help.”
Once again, this Jesus-like love was being exhibited in the lives of the Quebedeaux family, one of Dry Creek’s most compassionate families. Torrey stayed with Dwayne and Allison and enrolled in school, attended our church, and made himself at home.
Torrey’s family was finally located in Austin, Texas. He left Dry Creek to be reunited with his mom and others.
Looking at the ruined apartments where Torrey and his family once lived, I feel anguish at what should be done. Most of all I pray…
I pray that Torrey and his family will find the right and best place to live. I pray that they will know whether to stay in Austin or return to New Orleans. I pray that if they return, God will guide as to where they should live.
Most of all I pray that there will be “Jack Hunters” wherever Torrey may be. Men and women who will reach out—across racial, geographic, and cultural lines—to invest their lives, talents, and time in young people.
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