NEW ORLEANS (BP)–With a mission strategy of getting plugged into the world, Northside Baptist Church of Greenwood, S.C., has members putting their faith into action in an Acts 1:8 focus that includes a partnership in New Orleans.
“Instead of looking for ways to get people involved in the church, we began a few years ago to look for ways we could get involved in the world as ministers and missionaries,” Jeff Lethco, Northside’s pastor, said.
Since September, five teams from Northside have worked with Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild, a joint initiative of the North American Mission Board and the Louisiana Baptist Convention that is mobilizing a volunteer workforce to rebuild homes and share the Gospel. Twenty-three members from Northside participated in a recent trip to New Orleans.
“Working with NOAH is a great opportunity, especially for first-time mission trip participants,” Lethco said. “A lot of people can participate, it’s safe and cost-effective, and you leave with a sense of accomplishment because the need here is so great.”
The church’s investment in Operation NOAH goes deeper than its commitment to sending teams on a regular basis.
Northside members Steve and Dianne Gahagan left their church, a newly-constructed dream home, family and secure jobs last year to take on administrative positions with Operation NOAH. As construction manager, Steve Gahagan leads the NOAH team toward a two-year goal of rebuilding 1,000 homes, or one percent of the estimated 100,000 New Orleans homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
“Every person led to Christ by a volunteer is a reminder of why we are here,” Gahagan said. “If we can rebuild one home or change one life, our time has been well-spent.”
Gahagan said God has used his 20 years of experience in private contracting, Habitat for Humanity and World Changers to prepare him for the work of coordinating thousands of NOAH volunteers. World Changers is NAMB’s construction and community project program for youth and college students and has five projects scheduled in New Orleans this year.
Dianne’s 16 years in accounting, management and service as a chief financial officer were preparation for her role as NOAH office manager. Her staff coordinates the details of volunteers’ assignments, linking homeowners to much-needed resources.
“Seeing the difference God is making in the lives of the volunteers and giving hope back to a discouraged homeowner makes this job very fulfilling,” Dianne said.
The Gahagans have always been open to going where God leads, Lethco said, and their willingness to give up a beautiful home on 30 acres of land to live in a mobile home exemplifies the missionary spirit and lifestyle evangelism Northside emphasizes.
Team members Jonathan Rutland and Stan Ligon said they have come to understand the importance of living out their faith through actions. Ligon said he came to faith in Christ four years ago as Christian friends walked with him through a life crisis. Now God has given him the opportunity to care for others in crisis and to remind them that nothing is impossible with God.
Rutland, a 20-year-old college student and a new Christian, said God uses unexpected events to give Christians opportunities to show His love. He told of a chance meeting on the street with a person in need and recounted how they shared a meal and he was able to plant the seed of the Gospel.
“We believe that a big part of winning people to Christ is winning their friendship,” Lethco said. “If in our short time here we can show people that Baptists care, then someone can come along behind us, build on that and lead them to the Lord.”
Marilyn Stewart is the New Orleans correspondent for the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s communications team. For information about volunteering in New Orleans with Operation NOAH, call 1-877-934-0808.