NEW ORLEANS (BP) — When the New Orleans evacuees were stationed in the Superdome in 2005, I watched the news coverage as a woman cried out, “Why won’t someone come and help us?” I felt like she was talking directly to me, reminding me of Paul’s Macedonian call in Acts 16:9.
I first came to the Delta as a disaster relief worker just five days after Hurricane Katrina breached the levees and much of the city was flooded. In Baton Rouge, we made 10,000 sandwiches a day for starving and stranded residents of the Big Easy.
Nearly seven years later, I felt a call to come again to New Orleans for Crossover.
During Crossover weekend, my wife Melissa and I connected with Crossroads Community Church in Kenner, La., and interim pastor Dan Panter. We invited neighbors of the church to a block party, where there would be hot dogs, snow cones and bounce houses. More than 20 college students and adults had come from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Hawaii to participate at the church, just one of dozens of outreach efforts through Crossover New Orleans.
I partnered with Jhen Garcia, 26, a recently saved Crossroads Community Church member, and a 20-year-old Louisiana college student named Sarah. Neither had ever shared their faith.
Jhen suggested we concentrate on quality rather than quantity, so we engaged neighbors directly in evangelistic conversations. After inviting them to the block party, we said, “It’s important to go to church, but it is more important to go to heaven. Would you like to know what the Bible says about getting to heaven?”
That question opened several doors. Surprisingly few said, “No,” and most politely listened but made no response. Two opened their hearts to receive Christ.
Anese lives only a few blocks from the church. “Oh, I pray all the time for my family,” she said.
“Those are temporary prayers,” I replied, “Have you ever prayed an eternal prayer?”
I explained there are countless temporary prayers, but they only have temporary answers. However, there is one prayer that lasts for eternity: the prayer to God for eternal life. That day, she prayed an eternal prayer, receiving Christ as her Savior.
But it was the last house we visited I’ll never forget. As we walked up, I told Sarah that this house was hers, as Jhen had already shared the Gospel a few times. Sarah was just two months old in the faith herself, yet she hesitantly agreed to share.
Jessica and her neighbor, “Miss Jean,” were sitting on the front porch. Miss Jean said, “I’ve been praying for someone to come and help me share with her about the Bible. She has never heard anything from the Bible.” Another Macedonian cry for help.
Sarah told her the plan of salvation was as simple as A, B, C — all have sinned, we need to believe in Christ and call on the name of the Lord for salvation. Jhen shared Romans 3:23, John 3:16 and Romans 10:13. Jessica said she wanted to receive Christ as her Savior.
Sarah asked Jessica to hold her hand, and I held Sarah’s. Miss Jean took Jessica’s hand and Jhen took mine. Sarah began, “Dear God,” Jessica echoed, “Dear God,” and then Sarah stopped, looked to me (I had not closed my eyes for this prayer). She squeezed my hand, signaling me that I had not quite prepared her for this moment.
“I admit I am a sinner,” I whispered to Sarah, and she repeated, and then Jessica repeated, and then followed by Miss Jean. Again Sarah squeezed my hand, and I whispered, “But I believe Jesus died on the cross.” Again the prayer echoed three more times. “And rose from the dead to take away my sins,” and again, the prayer echoed around the circle.
The beautiful prayer of salvation continued that way until the end.
After the prayer, Miss Jean asked where she could get a Bible for her new sister in Christ. Sarah smiled and gave Jessica her Bible. Miss Jean, Jessica and her six children and several other neighbors all came to the block party that night.
Looking back on my experiences following Katrina, God did amazing miracles in the midst of that disaster: salvations, healings, answers to prayers and outpourings of love and help from Christians. But none was more beautiful than the four-fold prayer of salvation prayed by Jessica, Sarah, Miss Jean and me in response to a neighbor’s Macedonian call for help, seven years after the disaster.
Tim McKeown serves as the minister of education and administration at First Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas.