By RITA LEBLEU, American Press
LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — The Rev. Leona Benoit has found purpose in ministering to people on the streets, and to those who now have a place to call home, thanks to her efforts.
When her mother died, Benoit was 10.
“We were sharecroppers. Daddy had to work in the fields everyday, and I had 11 siblings,” Benoit said. “I was next to the oldest. My 15-year-old sister and I took care of all the younger ones. The youngest was 18 months. I’ve been caring for others in one way or another ever since.”
Benoit is the founder of two local homeless shelters, The Potter’s House, established in 1989, is for women and children. The Lord’s Place, established in 1992, is for men. Both were damaged by the hurricanes and repairs are in progress.
“The Potter’s House is home to 16 women and four children now,” Benoit said. “After repairs are completed on our annex, which are estimated to cost $45,000, we’ll be able to house more and, of course, we house more than the norm when the weather is cold. The Lord’s House houses 28 men. Damages weren’t as extensive at that property.”
When she started grade school, Leona remembers telling her mother she was going to grow up and move to California, build her mother a large house with a picket fence around it and visit her every day so she could care for her and various classmates she thought needed care.
“I didn’t realize we were just as poor as they were,” Benoit said. “I just knew I didn’t want to work in the fields for the rest of my life.”
Benoit did go to California in 1967. While she was there, she started a prison and skid row ministry. Thirty-five years ago Benoit moved back to Lake Charles and quickly realized Lake Charles didn’t have the homeless housing options here that Los Angeles did. There were, however, plenty of nightclubs.
“God told me to go out to the boulevard (Enterprise) on Friday and Saturday, and in two years He would close every night club,” she said.
She and a group of ladies handed out Christian tracts, up to 200 sandwiches at times and juice.
“Within two years, every nightclub was closed except for the American Legion Hall,” she said. “Police came to us and said they had been trying to close those nightclubs for years.”
She said she saw many horrific sights during those two years, but one in particular stands out.
“We found a man laying in a field. We found out later he had been beaten almost to death with a two-by-four. We started praying, binding Satan and the Lord spoke to me, saying if we would pour seven drops of oil on his head, the Lord would resurrect him. We did and He did.”
Benoit helped feed the hungry when she didn’t know where the money would come from for the food and she took another leap of faith when she decided to give up the financial help provided by certain nonprofits and government and state agencies for the homeless shelters. Accepting those dollars meant she could not make the men, women and children living in the shelters go to church.
“God told me to relinquish the funds and not one note was missed,” she said. “Everything that we get is by faith.”
Benoit said growing up the way she did was a help because she knew how to stretch a dollar. “When people ask me how I started these shelters, I tell them, ‘On my living room couch,'” she said. When I came into contact with people who had nowhere to go, I asked my husband if they could stay and sleep on the couch for a couple of weeks.”
Benoit explained what she means when she “hears from God.”
“First you have to have a relationship,” she said. “Then you must know how to recognize His voice. In John 10:27, it says my sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. When you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit, He will lead you and guide you into all truth (John 16:3). And finally, if what you hear from God isn’t good, isn’t righteous, it’s not from God.”
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