AVONDALE, La. (BP)–A small church in the New Orleans area has seen two middle-aged women realize their need for a personal relationship with Jesus through the turmoil of Hurricane Katrina and the ministry that came along afterward. Both have reported obvious differences in their outlook on life now that they know the peace only God can provide.
Marc Daniels, pastor of First Baptist Church in Avondale, La., relayed to Baptist Press the story of Raquel, a woman with a Roman Catholic background who wandered into the church six weeks ago on the first Sunday the congregation met after the storm.
“We didn’t have power, but we had about 40 people come and Raquel was one of them. She’s a friend of one of our church members,” Daniels said, adding that he had not known Raquel previously.
The pastor preferred not to give Raquel’s last name but explained that she lived in nearby Metairie and had about two feet of water in her house following Katrina. Church members during that first service made a point to ask who needed help with cleanup and who could provide the labor, he said, and Raquel asked for assistance with her home. She owns a duplex and lived on one side while renting out the other, but both sides were rendered uninhabitable by the post-Katrina flooding.
For several weeks, First Baptist sent teams of two or three and even seven people to Raquel’s house in an attempt to rid the residence of the mold that had climbed several feet up the walls.
“So in the process of helping her out, gutting her house and things like that I just talked to her about a relationship with the Lord and she would tell me that she knew the Lord,” Daniels said. “So I encouraged her to read her Bible, and I prayed with her.”
Several Sundays ago, Raquel came out to the church services “and something just happened,” Daniels said. “During the invitation she jumped up and almost ran down the aisle in tears, totally broken. I said, ‘This is the time, right?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You’re ready to surrender to Jesus?’ and she said, ‘Yes.'”
Raquel prayed to receive Christ right then, and Daniels followed up by visiting her as she continued cleaning her home.
“I talked to her about the decision she made, and she just started crying again and talked to me about how everything has changed in the way she sees things and just the peace that she’s found in Christ for the first time in her life. I think she’s 43,” Daniels said, adding that he is looking forward to baptizing her as well.
The second life changed at First Baptist Avondale, a church of about 80 people, was that of a woman named Lisa, who showed up for a recent Sunday evening service.
“We usually have about 20 people on Sunday night. It’s a pretty small church and it’s usually just the seniors,” Daniels said. “But Lisa came, and she’s 42. I had never met her before, so at the end of the sermon — which was really a sermon for the saved about being a servant in the order of Paul and ready to suffer to serve — I went to talk to her and introduce myself to her and find out a little bit about her, and she asked me, ‘Can I talk to you?’
“And I said, ‘Sure. Do you want to talk here or do you need to go to my office?’ She said she needed to go to my office, so I got the Kleenex out because she was crying, and she said, ‘I need to know something,’ and I said, ‘Well, what is it?’ She said, ‘I need to know, Did God tell you to say that message today?’ I said, ‘I felt like God put that on my heart.’
“And she said, ‘You were speaking to me.’ She told me a little bit about how even before the storm God had been drawing her to Him and ever since the storm she has been absorbed with seeking Him out. She had attended a couple of services since the storm at different churches, and in every case it was like the preacher knew that she was coming and preached a sermon straight to her,” Daniels said.
Obviously, the Holy Spirit was speaking to her, and Daniels told her God had a message for her, that she needed to surrender her life to Him. So Lisa prayed to accept Christ right then and planned on being baptized the next Sunday.
“I wrote down her name and phone number and address, put it on top of my desk and couldn’t find it for the rest of the week,” Daniels said. “So all week I was agonizing, praying, ‘Lord, please let her get in touch with me. I don’t know what has happened. My desk is a tornado zone and I can’t find anything on it anyway.'”
Then Lisa called Daniels Oct. 22, just after he had been at Raquel’s house helping her clean.
“She said, ‘Pastor, am I still getting baptized tomorrow?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my plan,’ and she said, ‘Good!'” Daniels recounted.
He apologized for not having called her to follow up about baptism and explained that he had misplaced her contact information. She was fine with that and said she was just calling because she was planning on being baptized Sunday and could not wait.
“She was taking off work. She usually works on Sundays, but she told them she couldn’t work because she had to go get baptized,” Daniels said. “Sunday morning she was ready to go and excited and really, really pumped up. She came to Bible study and it’s been very, very exciting to see.”
Also at First Baptist Avondale, church members are planning to host a celebration in honor of the first responders — people like medical personnel, the National Guard, police and firefighters — who worked so hard in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
“We’re talking to a couple of venues, we’re lining up some musicians, we have a jazz quintet that might play…. We’re probably going to do jambalaya,” Daniels, who is also a professor at the William Carey School of Nursing on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus, said.
“I spoke to someone yesterday that’s been feeding a lot of these first responders and he was a first responder himself and has a DVD evidently from when a church came in and filmed them while they were rescuing people from rooftops and out of the water for the first five days. We’ll probably show that. We need gifts. We want to make sure that everybody that comes walks away with so many gifts that they know that we care,” he said.