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FIRST-PERSON: Should have called the Baptists

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–An interesting letter to the editor appeared in the March 1 edition of The Times-Picayune, the daily newspaper for the New Orleans metro. The writer, apparently a Roman Catholic, expressed her frustration, “I was appalled to see that St. Mark Catholic Church in Chalmette had not been cleaned out yet. The Archdiocese of New Orleans should have called the Baptists. They would have cleaned it out, no questions asked, as they have been and still are doing at other locations in St. Bernard Parish.”

This woman’s thoughts about calling up the Baptists to get the job done are a common theme in the New Orleans/St. Bernard/Gentilly area. Southern Baptist volunteers from every state in the union and some foreign nations have targeted the mess and destruction in the Gulf Shore areas. They come with a passion for people and a willing hand to help rebuild. According to statistics from Operation Noah Rebuild, more than 6,000 volunteers on over 500 teams have given their time and energy and lives toward making a difference in the New Orleans area.

Her letter to the editor was in response to an article from earlier in the week. The facility referred to was in violation of city codes because of debris, high grass and the precipitous rat population. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the building was used for a church and school for the St. Bernard Parish. The facility was also damaged by hurricane-spawned spillage of toxic chemicals from the Murphy Oil Refinery. A class-action lawsuit is pending on the liabilities related to property loss.

Some people have a mistaken idea about the devastation that remains in the New Orleans area. Despite the fact the New Orleans Saints made the NFL playoffs in January and Mardi Gras was in full swing last month, New Orleans remains a broken city with a major portion of its population still dispersed across the continent. There are hundreds of homes still in need of cleaning and repair. There are thousands of lives still carrying a load of despair and hopelessness.

Southern Baptists know they are to demonstrate the love of Christ for people. Their presence is making a profound difference. Although one of Southern Baptists’ six seminaries is located in New Orleans, previously the community never gave Southern Baptists a second thought. But because of the acts of kindness demonstrated through Southern Baptist volunteers, we have gained the attention of the community as people who get things done, who genuinely care and who want to offer hope to anyone experiencing the backwaters of lost dreams and lost hope.

While the volunteers are rebuilding structures and sharing hope with individuals, they also are having an impact on the local churches. The Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans released information in January that 31 of its congregations have ceased to exist. The ones that remain are struggling to sustain ministries. Many are doing so because of relationships established through the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board’s Adopt-A-Church program. Adopt-A-Church linked Gulf Shore congregations with as many as six other congregations in North America for pastoral support, mission teams and grants.

Times remain tough in New Orleans and along the Gulf Shore. However, the Cajuns have learned that if you want to get something done, you should call the Baptists.

Thousands of volunteers are still needed. To volunteer, contact Project Noah Rebuild at [email protected] or call 1.877.934.0808 or 504.362.4604.
John L. Yeats is director of the communications team for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and is the recording secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • John L. Yeats