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FIRST-PERSON: Evacuation brings blessing

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–As I prepared to evacuate from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus ahead of Hurricane Gustav, I would not have guessed that I would later describe the experience as an unexpected blessing.

When the prospect of an evacuation began to look probable Aug. 27, one question came to mind: What about the international students at the University of New Orleans?

My wife, Kimberly, began serving as the international student coordinator for Baptist Collegiate Ministries at UNO last year. The Hurricane Gustav evacuation would be our first since Hurricane Katrina and our first since she began working with the Baptist Collegiate Ministries. We had a new concern that we didn’t have during that last evacuation.

Kimberly found that UNO did have a plan to evacuate a limited number of students. They faced a long bus ride and unknown conditions at the evacuation site. Kimberly decided to offer another option for a few students.

Kimberly called her uncle, Troy Brand Jr., in Hickory, Miss., and arranged to stay at his vacation cabin just outside. He was excited at the opportunity to be a blessing to international students. Next she contacted several students and offered to help them evacuate. Before long seven students were planning to evacuate with us — four from China, two from Burkina Faso and one from Bulgaria. Four of these students attend church with us at First Baptist Church in New Orleans every week. We knew these four well. Another has often attended BCM events. The remaining two are new to UNO.

So instead of trying to carry all our possessions, we filled our cars with precious people from around the world. We tried to follow Jesus’ command to show love to our neighbors (Luke 10:36-37). We take to heart the Great Commandments of Jesus: love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-39).

Often when Kimberly and I have attempted to minister in Jesus’ name, we have received an even greater blessing than those to whom we have ministered. This time was no different. What we meant as blessing to these seven students has turned into an unexpected blessing for our family.

The Brand family, which includes my wife’s mother, Mary Oglesbee, went above and beyond Christian duty to show us love and hospitality. Their church, Hickory Baptist Church, showered us with food and attention. On Wednesday, the Baptist Student Union at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., invited us to share in their noonday meal. These fine Christians in Newton County, Miss., represented their Savior Jesus Christ well in our time of need.

Our biggest blessing has been the opportunity to spend time with these students. We anxiously watched Hurricane Gustav coverage together and cheered together when the worst of the storm missed New Orleans. We’ve played card games, board games and the Wii games together. We’ve had many meals together. We even found time to go fishing.

As we experienced “life on hold” together for nearly a week, there has been much laughter. We have become closer friends. This forced retreat from our busy schedules has been a good experience. Jonathan, my 7-year-old son, has had the time of his life. We found that life shouldn’t be put on hold during an evacuation.

Kimberly and I have had several hurricane evacuations during our seven years of coastal living. It has never been anything but stressful — until now. This is the first time our evacuation has been marked by joy.

Since Katrina, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) has become one of my favorite passages in Scripture. Jesus challenges us to go out of our way to help others. And when we do it in His name, He often showers us with unexpected blessing.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.