FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Fred Luter Jr. no longer has a home or the church building where he has preached since 1986. The New Orleans pastor has no idea where most of his flock is, nor many of his friends and family.
But if you find this minister preaching, you will find him preaching a message of encouragement. Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in the heart of New Orleans, kept an appointment to preach at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 6, an appointment he made long before Hurricane Katrina blew through his city.
At Southwestern, he was uplifted and encouraged as he met with family, friends and even members of his church that he hadn’t seen since floodwaters invaded New Orleans.
Luter and his wife left Louisiana on a previously planned trip to Arkansas just as Katrina drew a bead on New Orleans. He said that “riding out the storm” was not an unusual pastime for him and his wife, so they only took along a few articles of clothing.
As for his church members, who number more than 7,000, Luter said he has only had contact with about 100 of them since the hurricane and flooding forced them to flee. “I miss them; I just don’t know where they are,” Luter said.
For a time, Luter said he felt fear as the levees broke and his city flooded. But then he said he sensed a rebuke and a challenge.
“[Jesus] looked at me and asked, ‘Fred, why are you fearful? How is it that you have no faith? You’ve been preaching faith all these years and teaching faith all these years and telling other people to have faith. Now it’s time to use some of your faith,” Luter recounted.
He was able to find some members of his congregation during a visit to Reunion Arena in Dallas. Then some of the members of his church showed up at the Fort Worth seminary’s chapel service.
“When I saw members here this morning, it just brought tears to my eyes, because first of all, I didn’t know where they were,” he said.
During the chapel service, Luter also saw his sister and her family for the first time since the hurricane and flood. The pastor also had learned that his brother, Keith, had been accounted for amid Katrina’s evacuees from New Orleans.
“I’m going to try between now and the end of the year to get all around and visit all of them that I can,” Luter said of finding the members of his congregation who are now scattered in cities such as Houston, Memphis and Atlanta.
“To think you could pastor a large church, have a wonderful family, wonderful home, wonderful congregation and in a matter of one day it could all be gone is just unbelievable,” Luter said. “We have no place to worship, no place to come and see our folk, no home to go to.”
But Luter was not in a self-pitying or questioning frame of mind when he spoke of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. Noting that the storms of life will come for everyone, Luter struck a triumphant and enthusiastic tone in declaring the presence and trustworthiness of God regardless of the circumstances.
“I’ve discovered that when trouble comes your way, that when the storms of life are raging, faith is the first area that the enemy works on,” Luter said. “I must admit that watching CNN and watching Fox News and watching my city and my town and my home and my church … under water, that my faith said, ‘Now watcha gonna do?’”
He said he began to lose sight of all that God has done in his life as “the enemy” clouded his mind with fear for the moment.
Fear, he said, is the opposite of faith. In Mark 4:35-41, the disciples displayed that fear when a storm came their way, Luter said. But Christians can learn from the actions of the disciples and from the response of Christ what to do when the storms of life come.
First, believers must remember the promises of Jesus, Luter said.
“Romans 8:38-39 says, ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor Hurricane Katrina shall be able to separate us from the love of God,’” Luter said.
Second, Luter said Christians should remember the presence of Jesus when the storms come. He emphasized that Jesus was in the ship with the disciples even as the storm was around them.
“Jesus didn’t say, ‘Guys, listen. We had a good crusade. You all pack up things. I’m going to walk on water and I’ll meet you all on the other side.’ He didn’t do that. He could have, but he didn’t. The Bible says He was in the ship,” Luter said.
Third, Luter said Christians must remember the power of Jesus when the storms come. When the disciples awoke Jesus during the storm, Jesus commanded the wind, “Quiet. Be still.”
Jesus then asked the disciples why they were so fearful.
“Always remember that when the storms show up, so does the Savior,” Luter said.
Luter was introduced in chapel by Southwestern President Paige Patterson. In what has become a tradition under Patterson’s leadership during times of crisis, eight seminarians took off their cowboy boots and passed them around the chapel to students, faculty and staff. Nearly $5,400 was received for the rebuilding and relief of Luter’s church in the “boot offering.”
“His people have lost everything they’ve got,” Patterson said.
Another boot offering is planned for Thursday’s chapel service; it will be earmarked for the students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.