NEW ORLEANS, LA (BP) – Brenda Lomax-Brown received a surprise visit from television personality Mike Rowe, who showed up with a film crew to give her a $20,000 check and a new playground for the local ministry she directs in the Hollygrove-Dixon neighborhood of New Orleans.
During the Aug. 5 Facebook-based episode of "Returning the favor: A forgotten neighborhood fights back," Rowe, former host of the popular TV show "Dirty Jobs," accompanied Lomax-Brown for a tour of her neighborhood, while a team -- without her knowledge -- built a $30,000 playground in fewer than four hours near the Life Transformation Center. The center is a ministry of Celebration Church, a Southern Baptist church with campuses in the New Orleans area, Baton Rouge and the Northshore.
Rowe then brought Lomax-Brown back for a surprise unveiling.
"All day, driving around with you, was an absolute blast," Rowe said in the episode. "And the more I got to know you, the more I thought, 'this really is a woman who will go to city hall and get out the hammer and start making all kinds of trouble.' But we really don't want you to have to do that. We really want to do something for the community, and we really want to thank you for everything you've done so far."
Nearly speechless, the retired Air Force officer gave credit to Christ for the unexpected blessing.
"Oh, Jesus, thank you," she said moments after seeing the new playground. "Lord, have mercy."
She finally managed to say, "Keep believing in your dreams because they can become a reality."
Since Celebration Church opened the Life Transformation Community Center in 2017, the ministry center has helped improve a community marked by poverty and violence.
Volunteers from Celebration Church and other local charities have provided tutoring and mentoring for children and teenagers, and job and life skills training for adults. The congregation also has spruced up yards, performed home renovations, cleaned up abandoned lots and helped dismantle abandoned homes.
"The residents will tell you Celebration Church has made quite a difference," pastor Dennis Watson told the Baptist Message. "We came in to serve and help. People see children, teens and adults being helped on a regular basis by Celebration members -- at the Life Transformation Center and throughout the community. The community has become a safer place and a community that people are now willing to move into. We've been able to help children and teens become better students; and, then we have had adults who have said, 'I have hope for my family because of Celebration Church's efforts in this community.'"
Watson said the Life Transformation Community Center has helped give his church members a renewed passion for service.
"They have an outlet in helping the inner city community they never would have had before," Watson said. "We are seeing people's lives touched and transformed in the community. And we are seeing the lives of our people changed as they go down to Hollygrove/Dixon to serve."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Blackwell writes for the Baptist Message (baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.