A few years ago while strolling through the mall, I met a family of refugees from Hurricane Katrina. They had just arrived in our state and were housed with other survivors in an old army barracks. The family consisted of the mother, Antoinette, and her two daughters and two grandchildren. I invited the family to lunch, and they described their harrowing rescue and survival.
Before storm waters poured into their home on August 29, 2005, Antoinette knew her family was a grave danger. She prayed earnestly, asking God what she should do and was inspired to pack formula, diapers, and blankets for the babies, all of their birth certificates and medical records, food for her children, and a change of clothes. She quickly gathered these items and moved her family to the top rooms of her home. When water flooded the lower rooms of their home, she prayed for a speedy rescue.
Rescuers arrived and left them on an interstate highway, where they stayed until they were transported to the Louisiana Superdome. Antoinette kept her little family alive with the food and formula she had packed, since it took several days before supplies arrived. She prayed that her family would be protected from harm as they watched people around them collapsing from dehydration and exhaustion and others being molested. She also prayed that her family would be taken to a safe place.
Eventually, help arrived. Antoinette and her family were escorted to a plane, but they did not know their destination. When they were landing, the pilot announced that they were in Utah. When Antoinette and her children entered Camp Williams and saw the thousands of volunteers waiting for them with food, clothing, bedding, and kindness, she knew her prayers had been answered.
My family decided to "adopt" Antoinette and her family. We found two apartments for them in a safe neighborhood, bought suitcases for them, and helped them get settled. Although church and community groups provided some furniture and kitchen supplies for them, they needed transportation to grocery and department stores to stock up on food, housewares, and bedding. Our friends joined with us to provide them with additional furniture and kitchen supplies that the refugees needed.
Antoinette and her children--who had lost everything but that which really matters--thanked God for their safe arrival in a desert place that offered them safety and shelter. As I helped the girls enroll in school and navigate the bus system, I was impressed by their their courage, family values, and faith. They told me harrowing accounts of gang violence in their neighborhood in New Orleans and described police corruption which made living in their beloved city so difficult. Although they miss their beautiful southern home, they decided to start a new life in the west.
Antoinette taught me that even in our darkest moments, prayers are heard and answered. Through God's amazing grace, she and her family survived one of the worst storms in American history and started a new life in a place that they now call home.
© Carol Brown