BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–The venerable R.G. Lee preached, “The roses will bloom again,” from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, during the early 1920s.
Today, as the city of New Orleans rebuilds in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina, these prophetic words, uttered over three-quarters of a century ago, continue to offer hope.
Lee, born in a log cabin on Nov. 11, 1886, became one of the most renowned preachers in the modern Christian world. He served in a number of pastorates, including Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., but he had strong ties to the Crescent City. As pastor of FBC New Orleans, he witnessed over 1,000 new members come to his church, mostly by baptism. He also strongly supported the Baptist Bible Institute, which later became the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 1948, messengers elected Lee to the first of three consecutive terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and by the end of his life, millions of people revered him as one of the greatest Baptist preachers since Charles Spurgeon.
R.G. Lee was not immune to violent and uncertain times. During his lifetime, the United States saw five gruesome wars. Against this backdrop of darkness, Lee championed the light of God. During his ministry in New Orleans, he preached “The Roses Will Bloom Again,” a sermon that still offers encouragement in the face of the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina tore through the city of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. When the storm subsided, broken levees resulted in flooding most of New Orleans. In the end, the catastrophe was enormous: Lives were lost and families displaced; property damages tallied in multiple billions. It looked like the roses would never bloom again.
Lee’s former church was among the first congregations to provide relief efforts after Katrina struck.
Working in cooperation with the Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, church members brought hot meals into the flood zone, gutted flooded homes and cut trees away from damaged buildings. Prayers, volunteers, and financial gifts are welcome as First Baptist Church continues to be the hands of Christ for the city of New Orleans.
“It excites me greatly that God’s people have been so engaged since the storm occurred,” said David Crosby, current pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans.
Crosby and his church started the Baptist Crossroads project, the first building blitz in the New Orleans flood zone. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, FBC New Orleans has raised more than $3 million and recruited more than 3,000 volunteers to build 40 new homes in the Upper Ninth Ward of the city, an area heavily affected by the storm.
“Our evangelism in the past has been mighty in words,” Crosby said, “but this is a chance to be mighty in deeds. There are great doors of opportunity here for the Gospel, and we need to live the Gospel and do the Gospel.”
“I am excited to see God’s people everywhere responding to the call,” Crosby said, “and I am certainly hoping that they will not forget New Orleans.”
R.G. Lee once said, “The disciples thought the roses would never bloom again when they knew that Jesus was in the grave. But the roses did bloom! And after the stress, after the stress and storm, the roses bloomed. After the storm, the sun shone. And after the night, the dawn. And after the trial, the glory … the roses bloom again!”
“Our only real hope is in Christ,” Crosby said. “All our building efforts are futile unless we build in Him. I want this city to be rebuilt by God’s people so that He will receive the glory for what happens here, and so that there will be a new spiritual foundation undergirding the new city of New Orleans.”
R.G. Lee died in 1978, but his words still remind us that hope hangs on the horizon. Thorns are not without their roses, and pain is not without its purpose. The winter is gone, the spring is here, and the Crescent City will smile once more. Indeed, the roses will bloom again.
Christian George is a preacher and writer, pursuing an M.Div. at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama.