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FIRST-PERSON: If you come to the Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Several times a day I’m getting e-mails from people informing me their church is ready and willing to come to New Orleans to help a church rebuild.

Currently, we’re not even home yet. But as soon as we’re open for business, we’ll be ready to welcome volunteer teams so long as they understand a few things.

Understand that New Orleans is going to be different. No tours this time to exotic locales. No dining out in your favorite restaurants. It’s all work this time.

Understand that this is going to be hard and dirty and you will be uncomfortable. I was told of two chain saw crews that arrived from another state to help but turned around and went home when they discovered we had no air-conditioned accommodations for them to stay in.

Understand that adopting a church in the New Orleans area is actually a commitment, a covenant, between your church and the local congregation. The North American Mission Board is recommending that the time period be at least one full year and perhaps two. “All manner of help will be needed,” their literature says, including “mission trips, rebuilding trips, care packages, appropriate financial support, and encouragement for the staff who have been through numerous challenges.”

Understand that in bringing a team to help us rebuild, you will first need to send a scouting party in to look over the situation and talk to local leaders to see what your group will be doing. Then you go back and select the workers you decide would be right and assemble the materials and tools you need. The Florida Baptist Convention is asking their people who come to plan to be completely self-sufficient. Know what that means? It means, at least at first, you need to be able to prepare your own meals and everything.

Understand if you sponsor a church in New Orleans, you’ll not have it all to yourself. That’s good, of course, because the needs of every church are so huge as to be beyond the capability of most other churches to meet. So, you’ll have plenty of partners. My dream is for each of our churches to be adopted by as many as a dozen churches around the country.

Understand that if your church decides to adopt one of our churches, you will not be able to come in and put in some program you found to your liking back at home. This is a local church with members and deacons and pastors, and we ask visiting teams to respect that. They will establish their own directions as the Lord shows them, and sponsors will want to come in and help them fulfill it.

Understand that your accommodations at first will probably be on the floor of some church’s fellowship hall in sleeping bags you brought with you. Showers may be the wash basin in the bathroom on the hall. That’s going to be uncomfortable for some; we surely understand. It’s a serious situation down in New Orleans, and all along the Gulf Coast, to be sure. Anyone coming in to help us needs to understand this is in the nature of a sacrifice.

Understand that you may be working from can to can’t, from dark in the morning until dark in the evening. I still recall a group from a church I served in Mississippi going to New Jersey and working for two weeks to build a complete church, and one of the men remarking to another, “I don’t work this hard for money.” That’s the point. Do it for Jesus.
Joe McKeever, on the Web at www.joemckeever.com, is director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Adapted from his daily post-Katrina reflections.

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  • Joe McKeever