NEW ORLEANS (BP) – Hurricane Ida’s arrival on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brought many challenges. Its quick move across the Gulf of Mexico into Louisiana brought record-breaking electrical outages and widespread damage. Despite loss, the storm brought also opportunities for some in the NOBTS family to share the Gospel and live out their faith.
Here are three stories from the storm that show God was at work.
Matt Middlecamp, NOBTS alum and Baptist Campus Ministries director at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, stayed behind while his wife Jacque and two sons evacuated before the storm. With the forecast predicting heavy damage in Baton Rouge and along the I-12 corridor – home to many SLU students – Middlecamp stayed in order to mobilize his students into relief teams to help those who would feel the brunt of the storm.
“That’s the whole reason I stayed because most of my students live in Baton Rouge or Denham Springs,” Middlecamp said. “That [area] flooded in 2016 and I knew they would have a lot of work to do.”
But when the storm shifted eastward, Middlecamp found himself in the path of the hurricane’s eyewall. With terrifying winds howling outside, Middlecamp pulled a mattress from his young son’s bedroom and prepared to hunker down in the hallway. Before he could, a tree broke through the roof and into the hallway. In pitch blackness with the storm raging, Middlecamp ran to a neighbor’s house for cover.
In the light of day, Middlecamp realized that not one, but two trees had fallen on his house, crisscrossing each other above the hallway and his son’s bedroom.
Middlecamp had planned to lead his students to help others, but his students came to his aid instead. “It’s been humbling for me to see, but also very rewarding, to see that they have loved on us and helped us through this,” he said.
Opportunities to share the Gospel came as unbelieving neighbors watched Middlecamp deal with his situation and as other believers came to help. One neighbor approached Middlecamp for help in understanding the Bible. Another posted on social media amazement at the “army of students” serving the neighborhood simply because of their “faith in God.”
As Matt and Jacque Middlecamp face rebuilding, they do so with a willing heart.
“If we had to go through this in order for [our neighbors] to clearly hear the Gospel and see the Gospel lived out, then Jacque and I have come to the conclusion that we’re willing to go through this,” Middlecamp said. “We want to share the Gospel with them and we want them to have a relationship with God and if we have to go through this for that to happen, then it’s worth it.”
As NOBTS students in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, the couple knows that putting life back together is difficult. Still, Middlecamp sees it as a lesson that applies to all hard circumstances of life.
“It’s hard and it’s emotional, and it’s tiring and taxing,” Middlecamp said. “But ultimately we know it’s for our good and His glory.”
A newlywed of eight weeks and interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Norco, La., for less than three, Daniel Collins – an M.Div. student who looks forward to graduation in December – marks another “first” for 2021 as he walks with the Norco community through Hurricane Ida.
Sustained winds of up to 130 mph left the church building with minor damage, but the community as a whole faces a more serious task. Almost every structure in the area sustained damage of some sort, Collins said.
With the help of the New Orleans Baptist Association, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and several churches from Mississippi, First Baptist Norco is reaching out to a community in need.
“We’re trying to function as a hub for the community for disaster relief,” Collins said.
After the storm passed, Collins slept at the church without electricity in order to help distribute supplies of water, cleaning supplies, canned goods and paper goods to neighbors. As the city continues to wait for electricity to be restored, disaster relief teams are removing fallen trees, doing mud-out and gutting homes.
As volunteers work, doors are opening for the Gospel in the heavily Catholic community.
“Many grew up in the Catholic Church that told them it was a sin to step into a Baptist Church,” Collins said. “So just the ability to minister to some of our church members’ families who are deeply, culturally Catholic and to have those conversations and build those relationships, has been incredible.”
Norco, a community of fewer than 4,000, sits on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish, about 25 miles west of the NOBTS campus.
“I’ve gotten to have many gospel conversations,” Collins said. “It’s been a blessing to interact with people because they would never come to the Baptist church for anything else before.”
Electricity remained out on the NOBTS and Leavell College campus for eight days, but classes moved easily online, resuming Sept. 7. When Ken Taylor, professor of missions, met with his first online class, every student was present.
“We just shared,” Taylor said. “Where they were, what they had been through – it was a real special time.”
Taylor said the students’ resiliency and their stories of how others had helped them during evacuation was moving.
“The hospitality of so many different people in so many different states that opened up their homes and other places for students to stay – that was very encouraging,” Taylor said.
At his evacuation place in Alabama, a next-door neighbor whom Taylor didn’t know well approached him and gave Taylor a sizeable check to help others.
“It’s amazing to see how people are responding and reaching out because they know folks are hurting so badly,” Taylor said.
A pastor in New Orleans for more than 30 years, Taylor has often cared for those in difficult situations. He said he returns often to Psalm 46:1-3 as he comforts and cares for those in need.
“I’ve seen it personally that God is a refuge and strength,” Taylor said. “Even when it seems like the mountains are falling into the sea, He is there for us.”