Terry Kendrick Sr. was sitting in the Astrodome in Houston wondering whether he would ever see his family reunited when he crossed paths with a "soldier" from the Soul Factory church in Forestville.
Kendrick, 40, who lost his home and saw his family divided after Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans on Aug. 29, had spent days ushering his 9-year-old son, Terry Jr., two nieces and a nephew on a desperate quest for survival. His wife, Alisha, and their oldest children, Raphael, 14, and Santana, 10, had been separated from him the day before the storm during the evacuation.
After spending a night on a bridge and two in the New Orleans convention center, Kendrick and his charges made it to the Astrodome, only to find that Alisha and their older children had gone to Maryland to be with a relative.
He went to an area of the Astrodome where Soul Factory volunteers were looking for families in need of assistance.
The Rev. Deron Cloud had mobilized his 4,000-member church to help evacuees. They donated enough food and water to fill a tractor-trailer, which church officials drove to Houston. Cloud and his wife, Jill, set up operations in the Astrodome, offering clothing, cash assistance and transportation to dozens of displaced families.
"If it weren't for them, I'd still probably be sitting in the Astrodome trying to figure out how to get to my family," Kendrick said. "This whole thing has been so horrible. I don't know that we'll ever get over it. If it hadn't been for the church and Reverend Cloud, I don't know what we would have done."
While federal, state and local agencies and nonprofit groups are working to meet the needs of the families displaced in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, many evacuees and officials are praising black churches for the assistance they have offered.
President Bush has reached out to black church officials and other leaders as he formulates plans for the renewal of New Orleans.
Long a primary source of help for African Americans, black churches from Los Angeles to the District have mobilized their congregations to raise tens of millions of dollars and to provide food, water, clothing and sundries. Black churches have relocated families, found missing loved ones and helped evacuees obtain jobs and housing in their new communities.
Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington raised $100,000 last week and is assisting students whose colleges were closed after the storm. First Baptist Church of Glenarden has provided financial assistance to several efforts for storm evacuees and is working to find missing relatives of church members.
The Soul Factory's effort was envisioned by Cloud, 38, who said he was moved by pictures on television and in newspapers of people without food and water.
"I realized help wasn't coming for some of those people and that I needed to get there," Cloud said in a telephone interview from Atlanta, where he was preparing to drive through the Gulf Coast area to identify communities needing help.
Cloud said he was appalled by what he saw at the Astrodome.
"It's disbelief," he said. "The first thing you think is, 'This can't be happening.' It's hard for your mind to compute -- people in every hallway, in every corridor, everywhere, with nothing. They don't have suitcases, they have plastic bags."
Guards were posted at showers, and police were patrolling, he said.
Cloud said he and his staff worked to identify families needing help. That's how they encountered Kendrick.
"He was trying to reach his family in Waldorf," Cloud said. "A relative had purchased plane tickets for Alisha and their two oldest kids, but he didn't have any way to reach them. We put him and his son on a plane to reunite his family."
The Kendricks moved out of the Waldorf home of relative Gary Ashton, who has taken in several other relatives as well, and into a hotel room paid for by the church. On Saturday, Soul Factory officials surprised the family with the keys to a burgundy 2000 Mercury Sable sedan. Southern Volkswagen in Waldorf, where the car was purchased, offered a job to Alisha, a receptionist, Cloud said.
The church is also arranging for an apartment for the Kendrick family, and several church members have offered jobs to Kendrick. The family was welcomed to the Soul Factory during services Sunday. Kendrick said they plan to join the church and stay in Waldorf.
"It has just been amazing," Kendrick said. "This whole thing has been like a nightmare. Our home is gone. My job is gone. My wife's job is gone. We have to find a new place to live, new jobs, get our kids in a new school. All the while we are trying to deal with our lives being destroyed. I don't know what I or my family would have done without the church's help."