News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: ‘Welcome Home,’ 4 months later

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Sunday morning, two of our churches in the devastated area of New Orleans held worship services for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

At 9 a.m., I worshiped with 25 members of Elysian Fields Avenue Baptist Church, meeting in the home of Bob and Linda Jackson, a block behind the church. The area still has no electricity and the Jacksons’ home had been gutted down to the bare floor and wall studs.

With the temperature outside in the high 40s, everyone bundled up and warmed one another. The Jacksons, now teaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, are former missionaries to Africa. “We’re used to this,” Linda laughed. “No building, no heat. This is how we did it for years.”

Pastor Ken Taylor, also an NOBTS faculty member, welcomed everyone, and with tears in his eyes brought everyone up to date on the church’s situation.

“It appears that our church buildings will be a total loss,” he told the members. “We had no flood insurance, and we do not know what kind of settlement we’ll get.

“We’re hoping to be able to build a smaller church, one more suitable to our needs,” he said. With the large sanctuary and a small congregation, they had gone to worshiping in the fellowship hall in recent months.

Interspersed between the spirited worship choruses, members gave testimonies. Paula Stringer told of entering her devastated home and finding paper scattered everywhere. “One page that stood out from the rest,” she said, “contained Psalm 77.” She read some of the Psalm, particularly the final verses, as everyone marveled at their relevance to our situation. “The clouds poured out water, the skies gave forth a sound … the sound of thy thunder was in the whirlwind, the lightnings lit up the world, the earth trembled and shook.”

“No one saw your footprints, but you were there,” Paula finished, “You led your people like a flock.”

Pastor Ken invited me to say a few words, after which I left to make the 10 a.m. service at Suburban Baptist Church, some three or four miles to the east.

Pastor Jeff Box and the Suburban folks were meeting with Village de l’Est Baptist Church and pastor Thomas Walters for the first post-Katrina service for either. There must have been a hundred or more in attendance.

To my surprise, they had electricity. No gas, so the church’s heaters weren’t working, but one little space heater — and the crowd — warmed up the fellowship hall. The projector flashed an image of a dove in flight on the wall in front with the words “Welcome Home.” People were hugging and laughing; it was a grand occasion.

Jeff introduced guests — volunteers here to help restore the church — from Oregon, Washington and New York. Several came from Manhattan and a number from Long Island. Gary Frost, executive director of the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, greeted everyone and expressed appreciation for those from our area who came to Manhattan after 9/11. “It’s our turn to minister to you,” he said, as he handed a check to Pastor Jeff.

Pastor Walters from Village de l’Est Church added his welcome to everyone and led us in some hymns. His people added a high level of joy and enthusiasm to the service. Pastor Jeff preached on Joshua 1:1-9. “During the evacuation,” he said, “I was hearing all these terrible things about what was happening in New Orleans and was worrying about what we would do and what could I do. God led me to this Scripture and I saw it wasn’t what we were going to do; it was what He was about to do.”

“Moving into the Future” was the title of Jeff’s sermon. “You understand that I haven’t preached to you in a long time,” he said. “Usually my sermons have three points, but today it has five”: that we move into the future with God’s promises, God’s power, God’s providence, God’s provision and God’s presence.

During the evacuation, Jeff recounted, he was invited to preach in a church in a neighboring state. Just before the service, the town’s mayor said to him, “Katrina was the judgment of God on New Orleans. It was his judgment on a filthy city, on filthy people, who do filthy things…. Furthermore, God sent Rita to rinse away what He had washed with Katrina.”

Jeff thought to himself, “The mayor is a great argument for the separation of religion and politics!” and next thought, “Lord, give me strength.”

Jeff’s message that day, by the way, was drawn from Luke 13:1-5 where Jesus mentions some well-known disasters and says, “Do you think those people were worse sinners than you for such a fate to befall them? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Adapted from a weblog by Joe McKeever (at www.joemckeever.com), director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever