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At New Orleans main campus, 200 seminarians back in class

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Calling it a great day of triumph and victory, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley welcomed students back to the main campus Jan. 23.

After five long months away, about 200 students participated in a “welcome back” lunch on the first day of classes. Also among those in attendance were 17 new NOBTS students.

The return of classes to New Orleans marked the most significant milestone to date in the seminary’s efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The storm and subsequent levee failures inundated much of the campus with water in late August, forcing a complete evacuation.

“It’s good to have you back,” Kelley told the commuter students at a special red beans and rice lunch. “Welcome to ‘Camp New Orleans’ -– lots of uncertainty, lots of limitations -– but God is here.

“People literally all over the world know your challenges and they are praying for you,” he said.

Kelley recounted the sadness of driving through the campus following the move-out and salvage days in October. The campus was empty and desolate. That emptiness has given way to life and activity, Kelley said with joy.

“We are thankful for your passion for Jesus that has kept you preparing for ministry in the midst of this incredible circumstance called Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “It is your passion for Jesus that has led you here and we want to do everything we can to feed that passion.”

Kelley called the seminary family a “living illustration” of what Jesus does with human lives and human history. No matter what difficult circumstances believers face, he said Christians “overwhelmingly conquer” in Jesus Christ.

Most of the returning students continued their studies during the fall semester through Internet-assisted courses or workshops. Many of then, like master of divinity student Kimberly Moynahan, expressed joy in returning to the classroom setting.

“I’m very excited, beyond excited,” she said. “I’ve been waiting and taking classes online. I’m a big ‘classroom participation’ person, so coming back today was overwhelmingly exciting.”

Moynahan, who returned to the New Orleans area with her husband shortly after the storm, said she missed the interaction with students and professors during the fall. The Dayton, Ohio, native said she has developed a love for the city of New Orleans and called her seminary experience a “gift from God.”

Like many of the students in attendance, Moynahan has been busy ministering in the city during the months following Hurricane Katrina. Through her work with Louisiana Baptist disaster relief, she is doing her part to offer the hope of Jesus to hurting people.

Moynahan said the disaster relief efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention and local SBC churches has been a great witness. This love and kindness is making an impact on the way New Orleanians view Baptists.

In an interview following the lunch, Kelley echoed her thoughts, believing that the seminary can help make New Orleans a city of hope rather than a city of despair -– hope that comes only from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Having students return is the first step in offering that hope, he noted.

The return to campus is an illustration of God’s grace and His redemptive power that provides confidence and security to face the future, Kelley said.

Spring classes on the main campus will be held Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Many students will be able to carry a fulltime course load by commuting to campus only one or two days a week. The seminary also has offered a full schedule of Internet-assisted courses for students who are unable to commute to campus.

The first signs of normalcy returned to the main campus earlier in January when a number of seminary offices reopened. The president’s office, library, dean of students/campus life office and clinic were among the offices reopening Jan. 11 in New Orleans.

The remaining offices, temporarily housed at the seminary’s Atlanta-area campus, are expected to return to New Orleans later this spring when telephone and Internet services are more stable.

Normal campus operations and classes will resume on the main campus in August. However, seminary officials remain optimistic that student housing will be ready for the start of summer workshop classes in May.