A Samaritan's Purse rebuild project in Louisiana helps the Johnsons return… Home Again

The last day Linton Johnson, 84, walked through his old home on Adams St., he shone a heavy flashlight into every room and corner—it helped him to remember. He recalled the house's history in a distinct accent, one formed from many decades spent among the Cajun and Creole people of coastal Louisiana.

We had a lot of good times, and a lot of that started right here. In this kitchen. In this home. On this street.”Linton Johnson Jr.

I brought my wife home to this house the night of our wedding. We sat down right there. I have a picture somewhere,” he said, pointing to where a couch had been. “I still miss her every day.”

His son, also named Linton, joined him at the house that day in late spring of 2021. This would be their last chance to see it standing.

It's bittersweet,” Linton Junior said. This was where he'd grown up and where his father had grown up, too. His grandfather, a sharecropper, had built the home after selling the last 30 bales of cotton he would ever grow. “There's a lot of memories in this home. A lot of memories.”

Sadly, now, as they reminisced, they were walking through a home that had been empty and silent for the first time in seven decades. The two back-to-back storms, hurricanes Laura then Delta in the fall of 2020, made wreckage of their city. The storms forced the elder Linton to leave his home for good.

Father and son helped each other recall the details of so many years. For decades they'd had groves of pecan and pear and date trees ready to pick in the backyard.

Senior's father always kept a garden back there with row upon row of okra and other crops. Out front, Junior recounted, there'd been many summers of street football played barefoot between the light poles on the shale road.

Our shoes were for church and school,” he said. “That's why we played barefoot.”

He also recounted the nearby church steeple that was damaged in October 2020 by Hurricane Laura and recently taken down along with its bell. He said that as he was growing up an uncle would ring the bell anytime day or night when someone died.

It'd sometimes ring at two or three o'clock in the morning,” Junior recalled. “After that I wouldn't be able to sleep.”

And, of course, father and son, both accomplished cooks, remembered the food.

When they reached the kitchen they paused, as if waiting for something—maybe the warm house‐filling aroma of fresh-baked pies, or of chicken going into the large fryer, or maybe the savory smell of Linton Sr.'s special recipe of okra cooked slowly for hours with pork and a secret mix of spices.

This is where a lot of life happened. This kitchen,” said Junior. “So much good food. Mom and grandmom wouldn't sleep at Christmas, because they were up all night cooking a feast for us. All our cousins and friends would come to the house. We'd have 20 or 30 people coming in and out. During the holidays, a lot more. Family flew in from all over. We had a lot of good times, and a lot of that started right here. In this kitchen. In this home. On this street.”

The Hurricane

Hurricane Laura was the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856.

When the evacuation orders for Hurricane Laura came, the Johnsons secured their home and valuables as best they could. They even ate a final meal at the house before packing up the cars and leaving for Houston.

Then the hurricane roared ashore. For nearly two days in August 2020, the Category 4 storm ripped up neighborhoods and businesses. It lashed the downtown to pieces.

The city's tallest building, towering across the lake from the L'Auberge and Golden Nugget casinos, is a scraper-esque structure of mirrored glass that's still pixelated with plywood where Laura's wind and pressure ripped out hundreds of windows.

It had been the most powerful hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856.

When the Johnsons returned, their beloved city was in shambles. Seeing the rows of houses ripped through or gone entirely made their hearts sink.

Within hours after the storm passed, Samaritan's Purse U.S. Disaster Relief units began rolling in from our Southwest Ministry Center near Dallas, Texas. There seemed to be no place in the city where debris wasn't blocking roads as our convoy made its way to Sale Street Baptist Church.

From August 2020 to February 2021 our volunteer teams worked in the city, serving homeowners in Jesus' name. They patched damaged roofs, cut up fallen trees, cleared debris and removed water logged belongings from homes.

In the midst of our work, the city was hit again by the weaker Hurricane Delta, with slower windspeeds but heavier rain, flooding the weary city. A few weeks later, residents had to live through an ice storm.

The debris was piled so high, you couldn't see even one street over.” Linton Jr.

In the wake of the storms, Linton Johnson was one of the 950 homeowners we assisted during the relief phase of our double hurricane response.

The home had seen many hurricanes, starting with deadly Audrey in 1957. Then there was Rita in 2005—a month after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Rita stripped the trees bare and ended up killing them. The cyclone also ripped up the roof.

Hurricane Laura was the next big one. Linton thought he'd return home as he always had. Fix some walls. Replace some windows.

He didn't realize that he would need to say goodbye to the beloved home. It was still standing, but Laura had made it unlivable—churning and shifting the structure on its foundation. He had to move out of the house and move in with his son and his family.

That last walkthrough of the structure was the last they saw of it.

Even though I know it's a good thing, I don't want to see it torn down,” Junior said. He and his father would not be coming to the demolition. “It would just be too difficult for all of us.”

By midmorning the following day, most of the house had been removed. By that evening, there was only earth again where the home had stood for generations.

Rebuilding Hope

Within weeks after demolition, the sadness of losing the original house gave way to the hope of a new beginning.

With the foundation poured and the studs and framing in place during the summer of 2021, what was rising from the earth gave the family greater hope each time they drove by.

Even in the early stages, they could tell that the new home would share nearly the same footprint as the old, only this time with plenty of additional reinforcements against future hurricanes—such as 2-by-6 studs and all the framing anchored with steel to the concrete foundation.

Soon the skeleton of the house began to take shape with roof, subfloor, siding, plumbing, and heating and air all completed by specially-selected local contractors.

The family and their friends frequented Adams St. a little more.

The once-uncertain father and son began to think about what the new home would mean for their family.

Oh man! This is nice!” said Kenneth Hancheet, one of Senior's nephews. “That's the new hurricane-rated construction.”

Kenneth compared the blueprints to the framed-up rooms as he walked Linton Senior (whom he affectionately called by his family nickname ‘Uncle Peewee’) through the floor plan. He pointed out where the bedrooms would be, the dining room, and of course the kitchen.

It would be on the opposite side of the house from original, but at talk of a new kitchen ‘Uncle Peewee’ brightened.

Yeah boy. We can do some cooking in there,” Senior said. “I can cook up some okra. I can cook some okra, boy. Mmm mmm.”

His nephew nodded, rolling up the blueprints.

He's known for his okra,” the nephew said.

Over the following weeks, our teams of volunteers rolled in from all over the country. They installed appliances, hung drywall, cabinets and counters, placed molding, and painted walls.

That's what was amazing to me. How much they cared for us. They weren't just here to do a job. They were here to be God's representatives.” Linton Jr.

Most important though was the love the volunteers demonstrated in the midst of their hard work and when the family came around. The Johnsons are longtime members of a lively local church and were excited to see so many Christians from out of town willing to take time and serve in the still-struggling city of Lake Charles.

They wouldn't let us leave without encouraging us, praying for us, and giving us a hug,” said Linton Jr. “That's what was amazing to me. How much they cared for us. They weren't just here to do a job. They were here to be God's representatives.”

Paid in Full

Through the Samaritan's Purse rebuild project in Lake Charles, God began to write a new chapter for this close-knit family. Finally the new home was ready.

The day we presented Linton Sr. with the keys to his new home, dozens of friends and family showed up to celebrate alongside our staff and volunteers.

It was not just a ceremony to welcome this family into a newly-built house. It was the first day of rebuilding home again—for Linton Sr. and for future generations to carry the legacy of a sharecropper from Church Point, Louisiana, who moved his family to Lake Charles in 1957 in search of a better life.

The home dedication was also a chance to express once again why Samaritan's Purse rebuilds—to communicate the love of God through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jordan Tiff, one of our construction foremen, read off the list materials and items that went into building the new home. He showed Linton the receipt and the Paid in Full stamped in red across it.

There's some symbolism there. Jesus paid for our sins in full. He paid for our salvation. All we have to do is receive it,” Jordan said. “Now whenever someone asks you, ‘Hey, Linton. Tell me about how you got this house.’ You can show them this receipt and tell them the significance of those red letters.”

Linton Sr. told everyone how much it means to have the new house on the same land his father bought decades ago. The 84-year-old said he was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of hard work and genuine love from the volunteers.

I think this is a blessing, boy,” Linton said. “I've met so many people. California. Washington, D.C. I came here every day and every day I came here I met somebody different, boy. And every time I got up to leave somebody wanted to pray with me. It's been such a blessing.”

Justin Riddle, another of our foremen, presented Linton with the keys to his newly-built home.

I've learned a lot about you since we've been working here,” Justin said. “One thing I've learned is that undoubtedly you can stir up some of food. Everybody that I've talked to that lives on this street or once lived on this street tells me all about how Linton can cook.”

You are a generous person who likes to share what you have. As I hand you these keys, I pray you'll share Jesus with the people who step through this door. And just like there's only one key to this house, there's only one key to eternal life. And that's Jesus. Here's your keys.”

The group gathered around the house, prayed over the property, and with that, Linton stood tall, unlocked the door, and led the way into the home with the beginning of a favorite hymn. The family's pastor blessed the home, also expressing the hope that there'd soon be Linton's famous okra cooking on the stove and chicken frying in the yard.

Inside the home, Linton's pastor, Rev. Elmore Garner, Pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, provided some words of encouragement and a blessing.

I've heard of Samaritan's Purse, but now I've seen you in action and seen the generous work that you have done here,” he said. “Just looking around the property I can see the hard work and labor and I also see love.”

I know what Linton had here. I've eaten many meals here. I know all about his cooking. I've been eating meals here for 30 years. When I turned the corner today and saw this new house standing here I thought ‘Wow!’ It is a beautiful place and just to see him have this kind of blessing is a blessing to all of us.”

Hopefully he'll be cooking some okra in here soon! Linton is known for a lot of things around here, but one of the most important is his okra.”

The father and son must have taken that as an invitation. The next day the gumbo pots had been unpacked and the fryer was readied for the chicken.

This is how you cook okra,” Senior said, placing the slices of pork, peppers, and tomatoes into the pan. “This cooks for a few hours then it's so good you'll wanna slap somebody.”

As he said that, he gave out a gut laugh, the way one might imagine he did in the old place, with family all around and the aroma of everyone's favorite foods filling every room.

They were creating it again—for the first time. They'd called around and texted, inviting family, friends, church members. Senior and junior had decided there's no better way to spend that first night than to cook a feast for their important people.

The chicken would be ready soon from the fryer. The rice was nearly done. More than a dozen people were on their way.

And of course Linton's famous dish was nearing perfection—his famous okra that hadn't been cooked on the property in over a year.

Yeah boy,” he said, laughing again. “Make you wanna slap somebody.”