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FIRST-PERSON: Who will return to New Orleans?

BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (BP)–I may be wearing my welcome out with my friends. Tonight (Sept. 12), I’m staying with Charles and Shirley Martin in Brookhaven, Miss., former members of First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., before they retired and moved to the country. They belong to Brookhaven’s Easthaven Baptist Church, a congregation that basically has turned their facilities over to evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

“We’re not able to have Sunday School right now,” Charles said, “because they’re everywhere. We’re having a great time, though. Yesterday, our choir was packed and the guests really seemed to enjoy the worship service.

“There’s an old trailer park outside of town that we’ve taken over,” Charles continued. “Another church and we are buying a dozen or more trailers and we’re setting up there for some of the families.

“We have three requirements,” Charles noted. “It must be a real family, not just some people living together. They must agree to go to church. And third, they have to get a job. We’re helping them find jobs.”

I said, “Things will clear up some once the authorities invite all of us to return home to Orleans and Jefferson parishes. A lot of them will be going back.”

“No, that’s not what we hear,” Charles said. “Joe, some of these folks have never even been out of New Orleans. They get out here and see the green fields and the rolling hills and smell the pure air, and see how nice the people are, and they just fall in love with Mississippi. They’re not coming back.”

Maybe so. Bill Warren, pastor of Diamondhead Baptist Church on the Mississippi coast and a faculty member at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, says he expects that one-fourth of his members will not return. I’ve not taken a poll, but I guarantee you that the pastors of New Orleans would be thrilled if their churches lost only one-fourth their members. Some will not have churches to return to at all.

A young pastor of a church in east New Orleans that was fairly well destroyed asked me, “What will we ever do? I don’t know what to do now.” I wrote back in my e-mail, “My friend, you are about to see something you will be talking about the rest of your life. God is about to do a work that will change your ministry forever, and you will always be grateful you were there to see it happen.

“God has directed the attention of the world to New Orleans, and the attention of all of Southern Baptists to the churches of New Orleans. … If your church has to be bulldozed and rebuilt from scratch, you’ll have lots of friends to help.”

I’m excited about the Adopt-a-Church program our North American Mission Board is encouraging (see www.namb.net). Imagine how a pastor is going to feel when he stares at his damaged building, his scattered flock and his dwindling bank reserves, then looks up to see six or eight of the churches that have adopted his congregation arrive to help. Suddenly, he’s not alone anymore.

It may be the closest thing to the New Testament plan any of us will ever see in our lifetime, the strong helping the weak, encouraging those who want to do the Lord’s work but have no clue where to begin. Giving and working and blessing.

I can’t wait to get back into our city and start the process.
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