News Articles

‘Disaster pastor’ helps lead recovery effort in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The New Orleans city map in Travis Scruggs’ office at First Baptist Church in New Orleans tells a story of love, hope and hard work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Hundreds of brightly colored push pins cover the map. When First Baptist started its home recovery ministry in November 2005, Scruggs, affectionately known as the “disaster pastor,” would place a pin on the map each time volunteers finished gutting a home. As the months passed he had to stop as neighborhoods on the map literally filled up with pins.

With the help of 13,000 volunteers pouring into the area from 48 states and Canada, the church has gutted 1,007 homes. This labor of love saves homeowners thousands of dollars and in the process, the volunteers provide a living illustration and verbal witness of the Gospel.

While not all relief workers fully understand the pain of losing their home, Scruggs does. A master’s degree student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he and his family lost everything when their seminary apartment flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

Scruggs was uneasy about returning to the city when David Crosby, senior pastor at FBC New Orleans, asked him to lead the church’s recovery ministry. Scruggs couldn’t turn his back on the city’s hurting residents, and he agreed to return.

“I’m doing this simply because God opened a door for me to come back and share His love with these people,” Scruggs said. “It’s a lot of work, but it is so worth it.”

Since Nov. 1, 2005, Scruggs, a married father of seven, has spent long days gutting homes, assisting volunteers and comforting hurting people. And while he is excited about the 1,007 homes volunteers have gutted, he would rather talk about changed lives. Volunteers have not only been hard workers. They have been committed evangelists.

“We’ve seen over 100 people saved so far,” Scruggs said. Specifically, 135 people have accepted the Gospel through the relief efforts. This number includes 14 professions of faith following the recent tornado in New Orleans.

Scruggs often finds himself in a pastoral role, providing a listening ear and a shoulder on which to cry. He recently spent four hours with a grieving home owner, just listening. Encounters like this are not rare.


Gutting a home is simple enough, but it is not easy task. The work is dirty, smelly and physically challenging. Scruggs said that on average it takes a team of 12 two full days to clear and gut a home.

First, volunteers must remove all the contents of the home. Moldy furniture, ruined appliances and treasured family memories are removed and stacked on the curb. The pile can reach six to seven feet high and stretch the length of the lot. Then, the team removes the flooring, trim, wall covering and sheetrock, leaving an empty shell.

Along the way volunteers encounter dust, mold, roaches, mice and rats. They emerge from the home sore and exhausted.

The volunteer labor can save a homeowner as much as $4,000 -– money needed for reconstruction. In the early days after the storm when private contractors were charging as much as $10 per square foot to clear and gut a home, the savings were double.

The needs in the city are staggering. Eighteen months after the storm, city officials estimate that only 50 percent of initial gutting work is complete. Approximately 50,000 homes still need to be cleared and gutted.


After working throughout the region for 18 months, First Baptist is trying to focus its efforts on a 75-block area in the Upper Ninth Ward. The neighborhood is home to the Baptist Crossroads/Habitat for Humanity project launched by First Baptist last summer. The Baptist Crossroads Foundation will build an additional 70 Habitat homes in the neighborhood this year.

“We really want to make a conscientious effort to get that part of the city back up and going,” Scruggs said.

FBC volunteers have already gutted 200 homes in the neighborhood. Now Scruggs plans to send teams to approximately 1,500 homes offering help with both gutting and reconstruction.

The recovery ministry has already started rebuilding homes. Seven homes are in various stages of reconstruction. Finding skilled volunteers is not a problem for Scruggs, although government “red tape” is hampering their work.

“The biggest problem is getting money into the [homeowner’s] hands so they can rebuild,” Scruggs said. “Five of those seven houses are on hold because the homeowners have run out of money waiting on the [recovery] money to come in.”

The Louisiana Recovery Authority’s Road Home program provides homeowners with funding for reconstruction. But the complicated, time-consuming process is slowing the area’s recovery.

By mid-February, out of 107,739 applicants, only 632 homeowners had received Road Home funds. At that point the process began speeding up. Over 2,000 grants were processed by the last day of February.

Regardless of how slow or fast the government response is, the church will continue to live out the Gospel in word and deed in this broken city.
For information about First Baptist Church’s home relief and recovery ministry, contact Scruggs by phone at (50) 4482-5775, ext. 129 or email at [email protected].