NEW ORLEANS (BP)–When a group from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary arrived at a Habitat for Humanity project in the Upper Ninth Ward on Aug. 29, they expected a hard day’s work. What they didn’t expect was to meet the president of the United States.
However, the team of 40 NOBTS students, professors and staff members got a rare treat of meeting and praying with George W. Bush as they worked on Habitat for Humanity’s Baptist Crossroads site.
They started the day early, meeting at the site at 7 a.m. The Baptist Crossroads project, which has become a symbol of hope in the city’s Upper Ninth Ward, was initiated by First Baptist Church in New Orleans to provide more than 30 new homes for working families.
The NOBTS group worked on six homes at the site, spending most of the day installing windows and siding. It was tedious, slow-paced work on a hot August day one year after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, but the group was rewarded with the surprise visit from the president.
For all the volunteers, early on it was apparent that something was different at the Baptist Crossroads site. Police and Secret Service agents began arriving around 9 a.m. to prepare for Bush’s visit. At 9:30, Habitat staff members asked the seminary group to gather across the street.
As Secret Service agents and bomb-sniffing dogs inspected the site, Habitat staffers informed the group that Bush would be visiting there. They collected cell phones and cameras from the seminary group.
After the site inspection, the seminary volunteers passed through a metal-detector checkpoint and went back to work. Additional agents and police officers sealed off the site to incoming and outgoing traffic. The students continued installing siding until the president asked to meet them around 2 p.m.
Bush took time to greet each NOBTS student, faculty and staff member at the site. He shook every hand and spoke to each volunteer. Then he acknowledged the work of the group, saying, “Thanks for the example you are setting -– loving your neighbor as yourself. God bless you.”
Several members of the group told the president they were praying for him and he expressed his thanks. Bush said he enjoys hearing that complete strangers are praying for him. At that, one student asked if the group could pray with him, and he agreed.
About 20 members of the NOBTS family, sweaty from long hours in the sun, huddled closely and laid hands on the president. Scott Drumm, associate dean of the seminary’s Leavell College, voiced their prayer.
“While not as important as the tangible forms of ministry we engaged in, we were able to meet President Bush,” Drumm recounted. “He expressed appreciation of our prayers and we were able to pray for our president -– which he seemed to genuinely appreciate.”
Students also had the opportunity to greet and encourage members of the Secret Service and the New Orleans Police Department S.W.A.T. team assigned to the site.
Another special moment came early in the day when new homeowner Belinda Harrison stopped by to check the progress on her new home, finding NOBTS students Patrick Sexton, Israel Brooks and Jason Gibson at work. Without hesitation, Harrison threw her arms around each of the students, thanking them for their work.
Meeting Harrison encouraged the seminarians to work even harder on the house.
Jason Allen, who spent the day nailing siding on a new Habitat home, was mindful of the Katrina anniversary. He said the anniversary was a reminder of the horrible events that happened a year ago. Still, Allen is encouraged by the response of the church -– both rebuilding and sharing the Gospel.
“We come out here with the message that Jesus Christ loves New Orleans,” he said. “We want the city to know Christ.”