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Church returns to building, post-Katrina

POYDRAS, La. (BP)–Poydras Baptist Church this summer became the first Southern Baptist church in St. Bernard Parish to return to its worship center since Hurricane Katrina devastated the area two years ago.

That the church did so is testament to the effectiveness of the Cooperative Program, Pastor John Galey says. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptist’s way of combining the efforts and resources of local churches to make a difference in the lives of people across the nation and around the world.

Galey opened an Aug. 11 dedication of the renovated worship center by reading a list of 50 churches and associations that had a part in the rebuilding.

“We experienced the reality of the Cooperative Program,” Galey told Baptist Press. “We give 10 percent — we consider it a tithe. We know the good the Cooperative Program does here in Louisiana and around the world. But there’s a difference between knowing something and experiencing it.

“We’ve had hundreds of people working on our church. I’d say maybe even close to a thousand,” Galey said. “Churches large and small, working together to do something that without the joint effort would have been overwhelming. That’s what the Cooperative Program does.”

A DVD produced by the SBC Executive Committee called “The Difference, Vol. 2” features 30 video stories of how Southern Baptists worked together in the aftermath of Katrina. Galey is featured in at least two segments. On the DVD, Galey recalls a prayer to God upon his return to St. Bernard Parish a month after the storm. By that time most of the dead had been found, and all the rest had been evacuated. There was no electricity and no fresh water. Police, military and other first-responders were there, plus Galey and the gunk.

“OK, Lord, what am I called to do?” he asked. “I’m called to tell people about Jesus,” he reminded himself.

“So I ordered a bunch of tracts, kept on with my quiet time, and studied and prepared like I was preparing for Sunday morning, and I grabbed those tracts and went out in the community where I lived and told people about Jesus.”

Only a few residents returned to St. Bernard Parish before December 2005. Missouri Baptists were there a month before that. They found a mud-caked, stench-ridden, broken-down shell of a community with trash everywhere, and houses still straddling the highway. Missouri Baptists, Galey said, “adopted” St. Bernard Parish.

“First Baptist Arabi needed to [be torn] down, St. Bernard Baptist had water up to the roof and had oil all in the church,” Galey said of two other local churches. “… I was the first one back into the area and out of all the churches, I was told that we were the only one structurally sound. Missouri [Baptists] began using their resources to help us, and for two months basically I was like a go-fer for them…. There was always something to be done.

“Being on the receiving end of the Cooperative Program, it’s a time for me to sit back and actually be ministered to, and I’m humbled by that, and grateful and thankful for it,” Galey said on the DVD.

He says the same thing today.

“What we’ve gone through has made the Cooperative Program more real to me,” Galey told Baptist Press. “Knowing something and experiencing it are two different things. With Katrina, I experienced the reality of the Cooperative Program…. It’s basically churches cooperating together and pooling resources.”

That experience confirmed Poydras Baptist’s commitment to give 10 percent of the offerings it receives to the Cooperative Program.

“I’ve made a commitment that every church I pastor is going to give 10 percent or more to the Cooperative Program,” Galey said. “One, I just feel comfortable doing it. That money goes to support missionaries. To me, it’s like the tithe of the church. I have pastor buddies who disagree with me, but I can tell you -– we, as a church, we give to the overall work of the Kingdom. It’s a great way to be involved in missions. It’s just the right thing to do.

“And two, it goes to so many places,” he added. “Here in Louisiana you’re helping Louisiana College, the children’s home, all six [SBC] seminaries, all international missionaries –- it goes so many places. It supports so many things. Because of it … we have a part in the salvation of souls, and that’s what it’s all about -– God’s redemptive work all over the world.”

God’s Cooperative Program-based redemptive work in St. Bernard Parish after Katrina started with the Disaster Relief ministry of Missouri Baptists, Galey said.

Katrina’s floodwaters had reached above the four-and-a-half foot mark in Poydras Baptist’s three buildings -– the worship center, fellowship hall and educational building. The roofs of the fellowship hall and educational building also were damaged.

“It totally destroyed everything,” Galey said. “Everything had to go.”

Missouri Baptists started by sawing pews into sections that could be carried out to the curb for trash pickup. They gutted the building to its studs, strung new electrical conduit, and worked their way to completion of a building that now looks brand new.

Locals began trickling back in mid-December 2005 to St. Bernard Parish — which is a few miles southeast of New Orleans — living in FEMA trailers while they worked on their homes. The trickle grew a bit stronger after January 2006, and by five months after the storm Galey knew it was time to restart services.

The first one was in February 2006, in the partially-restored fellowship hall of Poydras Baptist. About 60 people -– 35 from St. Bernard, in addition to volunteers and dignitaries -– participated in that first service. Galey preached from Matthew 16, where Jesus said He’ll build His church. And afterward, six people from Walker, La., served the congregation jambalaya they had cooked in the church parking lot.

About 100 people attended Poydras Baptist before Katrina; about 70 attend now.

“We’re doing well,” Galey said. “Our tithes and offerings are about what they were pre-Katrina. There’s a great unity, a great peace in the church.”

All construction is done. Gray carpet has been laid and dark blue pew chairs brought in. There’s a cross in the baptistery and a clear acrylic pulpit. The music comes from an Integrity Worship DVD, fronted by a five-person praise ensemble.

“All our energy and focus was on rebuilding,” Galey said. “Now we’re restructuring and reorganizing the church. I’m ministering in the community, and we’re having a lot of children and youth activities -– kids camps, baseball camps, Vacation Bible School -– things to get the community involved.”

Poydras Baptist members meet in homes one evening a week for Bible study. Sunday School is scheduled to start this month.

“God has really revealed His goodness to me, the realness of who He is,” Galey said. “I don’t want to say my behavior has always been great, but despite my failure and my attitude –- I remember saying [after Katrina] ‘Why did this happen on my watch? It’s not as if ministry wasn’t hard enough before’ -– God has displayed His faithfulness and His goodness to me.

“Katrina has changed the way we do church,” he continued. “Since the storm God has removed the negativity from within the church…. Katrina really changed me in that I have extremely low tolerance for foolishness in the church. Patience, yes, patience with those who don’t know better and those who are young or weak in their faith. But since Katrina and going through all I went through, I’m not putting up with the foolishness of those who should know better. I’m not putting up with that.”

Since Katrina, since being on the receiving end of the Cooperative Program, Galey said, he’s become more missions-focused, more missions-driven.

“Now I’ve internalized it,” he said. “Now I get it. Hey, this is what we’re to be about.”
“The Difference — Volume 2” features more than 30 video features (most under three minutes in length) plus PowerPoint presentations, sermons, Sunday School lessons and graphics. It’s available for $15 online at www.cpmissions.net. Click on “resources.”