By Amanda (Kaskalavich ′06) Flinner
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina made history when she ravaged the Gulf Coast states, destroying homes, wrenching families apart, leaving the remnants of famed cities like New Orleans ripe for looting and violence. Volunteers and missionaries still travel to Louisiana and the surrounding states to help repair communities that were torn apart both physically and spiritually by the storm.
Babette (Balla ′85) Watterson is one of these volunteers. Babette and her husband, Kevin, left everything on the altar in 2007 and traveled through EFCA Crisis Relief to help mend the broken spirit of New Orleans. The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) strives to "glorify God by multiplying healthy churches among all people," and EFCA Crisis Relief uses that ministry to aid communities and churches that have been weakened by natural disasters.
Through a partnership with Trinity Church and Castle Rock Community Church, and an alliance with Urban Impact Ministries, Babette provides support for volunteers and helps plan missions for outreach in the local communities. Her mission in life seems clear now, but that wasn't always the case.
As a student at Geneva College, Babette had plans to become a secretary. She graduated with a degree in general business, but she left Geneva with much more than a diploma and a career path. Through classes, professors and friendships, the concepts of "seeing the world from God′s perspective" and "living out what you believe" deeply took root in her heart.
Later, as a wife and mother at home in Pennsylvania, Babette believed she was doing exactly what God had called her to do. She and Kevin were raising their two young children (Kendra, now 11, and Logan, now 9) running a heating and air conditioning business, and living as active witnesses in their community. She never dreamed that God would someday call her to a life on a different mission field.
"It wasn't even on my radar," she admits.
After Katrina, Kevin traveled to New Orleans on several short-term EFCA mission trips to help with the clean-up effort. He came home with a strong call to return permanently and bring his family with him.
"If he would have asked me if I wanted to go, I would have said no, but he asked me to pray," she says. And she did.
Soon, things were falling into place, and God′s plan for the Wattersons was becoming more and more evident. Their house secured a buyer before it even hit the market; their business also found a buyer, and her husband′s work contract was lifted so they were able to leave on time. Although Babette still did not want to leave her home for New Orleans, she felt a sense of peace and security knowing that this was a call from God.
"Nothing else felt right," she says.
By the time the Wattersons arrived in New Orleans in February 2007, work was in the reconstruction phase. Homeowners who had returned, or never left in the first place, were trying to rebuild their houses and their lives. By offering labor through the EFCA′s holistic approach to ministry, volunteers were able to show the love of Christ week after week. After a year of rebuilding and establishing connections in the community, the Wattersons felt an even stronger pull to stay in New Orleans as full-time missionaries.
Babette says that Hurricane Katrina may be history as far as news is concerned, but newer volunteers are still amazed to see the work that needs to be done. Despite careful clean-up of tourist areas, low-income areas still bear the marks of the storm. Short-term volunteers often wonder how a week of their help could even matter, and even full-time staffers become overwhelmed. But Babette likens the experience to eating an elephant.
"One bite at a time," she smiles.
Still focusing on her role as a wife and mom, Babette works behind the scenes at the ministry, establishing outreach opportunities and assisting volunteers. Kevin continues to travel to nearby areas that have been devastated by natural disasters. Even though they still miss the comforts of home in Pennsylvania, Babette is secure in the knowledge that God has a purpose for her and her family in Louisiana.
"I'd rather be in the center of His will than somewhere out of it," she says.