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Religious Organizations Step In to Provide Food and Faith

Times of great crisis are also a call to action for religious organizations. In the U.S. state of Louisiana, where Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much, churches, mosques and synagogues are giving their time, their food and even their homes to help the victims of this natural disaster. VOA's Brian Padden reports on how people of faith are turning beliefs into deeds.

One flood victim exclaims, "God is not broken!" Some flood victims evoke the name of God to miraculously save them.

Church members pray for everyone touched by the hurricane. One member says, "We continue to pray for those who have lost life, for the families who have lost husbands and wives and children and aunts and cousins and the list go on and on."

Many others are both sustained and motivated by their faith, to help their neighbors in need. With only a small congregation of 30 people, the New Covenant Christian Center in Baton Rouge, just 130 kilometers North of New Orleans, has been feeding over 650 left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

Pastor Jerry Dixon says they are literally following the example of Jesus Christ. "When you look at what Jesus did, he fed over 5,000 with two little fish and five loaves of bread. That's what we're trying to do with the two little fish and the loaves of bread. We are trying to feed whomever. We are not closing our doors to nobody as far as feeding. A young man came up and asked, 'How much for the food?' and we said, 'We're not selling it but you are hungry you can go inside and get something to eat.' We're trying to do our part."

Similar scenes are being played out in the region by virtually every religious organization. Muslim families who evacuated New Orleans have found a temporary home at the Baton Rouge Islamic Center.

Ahmad Ali, who lost his home and everything he owned in New Orleans, says all must submit to God's will. "Thank God (for) everything,” he says, "Yes, the good and the bad."

While the loss is staggering, the Islamic Center's president, Moazzam Jihad, says the good is that the relief efforts here are bringing out the best in people.

"Definitely this crisis has brought us even closer to each other and made us understand that we all are humans, the sons and children of Adam and Eve."

One of the best examples of how the crisis is bringing people together is across town at the B'nai Israel Synagogue. There Rabbi Barry Weinstein says he is literally living on faith, "It is faith that is allowing me to stay awake right now."

Rabbi Weinstein has turned the synagogue into a temporary shelter for flood victims; few if any are Jewish.

Kim Parker was one of the first evacuees to come to the synagogue. She and her family were sitting on the side of the road nearby when they encountered the rabbi.

"The rabbi just appeared walking his dog. And he asked us if we had a place to stay, and he told us to give him a minute and he'd come back and give us an answer. And he came back and said he had a place to stay for us. That's how we ran into him and found this place here. Amazing. God sent. God Sent. We probably would have still been sitting on the side of the road somewhere."

Believing great things can be done with little, Rabbi Weinstein says, "We are not the American Red Cross. We are not an official shelter. We are not the Salvation Army. We're just a handful, a couple hundred families in a small synagogue in the deep south coming together to help, and in Hebrew that is 'tikkun olam' -- 'repairing the world' -- making the world a better place, one little step at a time."

One step at a time, one child at a time, one meal at a time, people of faith are turning their religious convictions into acts of generosity and support.