It was our first day of ministry in New Orleans. We split into groups and prepared to go out into the neighborhood surrounding Broad Street Mission on a prayer walk, a Spirit-led prayer exercise in which we walk the streets and pray as the Lord leads, hoping to have conversations with people that will lead to ministry. And boy, did we ever find one.
I went along with a group that included Lizzy Rago, Lauren Politis, Ariel Araujo, Rebecca Halverson, Clara Farley, Vangy Celestre, and Gary Kerr.
We walked to the end of the block and stopped to pray for God’s leading in the direction we should go. Vangy felt strongly that we needed to backtrack and pray for a woman sitting on an old car seat that we had passed, and Lizzy felt strongly that we needed to walk through the gate of a hotel parking lot we had passed. So, we split into three groupings: Vangy, Clara, and Ariel would go talk to the lady, Gary K., Lizzy, and Lauren would go through the gate, and Rebecca and I decided to stay out on the street and lift up both groups in intercessory prayer.
So the groups went off on their tasks, but as soon as the gate group walked through the gate of the hotel, they were yelled at over a loudspeaker by the hotel owner to get out of her parking lot. Lizzy came out and joined Rebecca and me, while Gary and Lauren charged back in to apologize to the hotel owner, hoping that an apology might open some doors to conversation. As we prayed, Lizzy felt that someone inside the hotel was hurting, and we asked God to comfort that person.
When Gary and Lauren went inside the hotel, they found themselves in the midst of a heated argument. The hotel owner was arguing with a woman, yelling and screaming at each other. Gary and Lauren decided to pray silently for God’s peace to wash over them both. Ultimately, the owner kicked the woman out of the hotel, and she left. This gave Gary and Lauren an opportunity to speak with the owner.
So the woman left the hotel, walking right out the same gate that Lizzy had felt compelled to walk through earlier, and right into our group praying outside. Rebecca, Lizzy, and I looked up from our intercession to see her standing there, wearing a low-cut evening dress and high-heeled shoes, tear trails down each side of her face.
Lizzy was the first to speak. She bravely tried to strike up a conversation with the woman, though it didn’t seem she was very eager to talk. We found out her name was Coletta, and she had just been in one of the hourly rooms in the hotel. The man she had been with had paid for an additional three hours for her to stay, but when the man left, the hotel owner kicked Coletta out.
We also learned that her heart was filled with hatred because of all the pain she had experienced at the hands of people who had mistreated her throughout her life. She had been molested by her father as a child, gang raped as a teenager, and as a young woman, put out on the street by a husband to sell her body for dope money. Coletta’s mother and grandmother were both involved in ministry, and she told Lizzy that she sounded just like her mother.
As the conversation continued, the rest of our group joined in to listen. Lizzy continued asking questions and sharing about the goodness of God. At one point, Coletta pointed at us and told us that she hated each and every one of us for being in New Orleans and speaking with her about God. Then, she looked at Lizzy and demanded to hear her testimony, almost as a challenge, as if to say, “What do you know about life or pain or God? What could you have to say to me?”
Lizzy shared how she put her faith in Jesus at an early age, how God is her friend, how she’s never alone. She talked about feeling lonely, like no one cares about her, but then remembering that she’s loved by God. As she spoke, tears streamed down her face. Coletta couldn’t even look at her. She turned her back to Lizzy, and tears streamed down her face, too.
Because Coletta had been victimized by men her whole life, I backed off and let the girls and Vangy do the talking. I prayed silently and I wept. How can it be that life for this woman could be filled with so much hardship and pain, and life for our youth group girls could be so free of it? How could it be, O Lord?
The conversation continued, and we eventually ended up back at Broad Street Mission. Little by little, Coletta’s heart softened. Eventually, she broke down in open sobs, her body doubled over next to a chain-link fence. Vangy went to her and comforted her with a mother’s touch, as the girls gathered together in a circle and prayed. It was then that Coletta decided it was time to stop running from God. She wanted to get clean, to get her life straight, and she knew she needed help.
Vangy had Coletta speak with Erica, the woman who runs Broad Street Mission. Erica has extensive experience with people in Coletta situation, and she has contacts with multiple rehab programs in the city. With Erica, Coletta committed to a year in Mama Jan’s rehab program. Rebecca, Ariel, Lauren, Clara, Lizzy, Vangy, and Gary K. spent the next hour with Coletta, encouraging her and praying for her, as she waited to be picked up by Mama Jan. They gave her a Bible that they all signed and highlighted their favorite verses in.
Coletta asked that Ariel read her Psalm 51, a psalm her grandmother had made her read over and over again as a young girl. It is a psalm of confession and forgiveness, or brokenness and restoration. The perfect passage for this moment in Coletta’s life.
As she prepared to leave with Mama Jan, Coletta looked once again at the girls and called them her daughters, and her angels. She once again pointed at them as she had before, but this time she said, “I love each and every one of you.” Hate had given way to love.
There was much rejoicing that day, and I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending. Unfortunately, as is the case all too often in life, it does not. You see, within a few hours of being at Mama Jan’s, Coletta ran. She left without telling anyone and disappeared. We have no idea where she went, or where she is today.
And so, we pray for her, knowing that wherever she may be, God is there. We pray that she eventually stops running and finds rest in the arms of her Savior. And we’d appreciate it if you would join us in that prayer.