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God’s call to N. Orleans awaits, new & returning seminarians told

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Welcome to the inside of a miracle,” Chuck Kelley told new and returning New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary students at the first chapel service of the semester. “You are now going to be a part of the story of what God does both in this city while you’re here and in the world after you leave. We’re glad you’re here.”

Citing the story of Moses’ call in the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, the NOBTS president reflected on each student’s call to ministry and to New Orleans. God’s plan for Moses, Kelley noted, was both personal -– “I will send you” -– and specific -– “to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).

In the same way, Kelley said, students with whom he had talked told him of their personal and specific call to New Orleans.

“You came here because you knew that God wanted you here this fall to prepare for ministry and be a part of the witness of the church in these post-Katrina days in the city of New Orleans,” he said.

However, Kelley warned that God’s calling on a person’s life inevitably will be challenged.

“That call will be challenged because it’s not safe,” he said. “… That call will be challenged because it’s not reasonable. And that challenge will come from everywhere.

“I bet everyone in this room was advised by at least somebody not to come to New Orleans,” Kelly said at the Aug. 16 chapel service in Leavell Chapel on the New Orleans campus that continues to rebound from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

Whatever challenges confront a person in his or her calling, Kelley said, there is only one proper response: obedience. Despite Pharaoh ignoring all the plagues and in spite of the enmity the Israelites felt toward Moses when their circumstances worsened, Moses continued to be obedient to God’s calling.

In obeying God, a person’s sense of calling will be continually clarified, Kelley said, citing an example from his own life.

While a seminary student in New Orleans, Kelley got a job coordinating and doing street evangelism in the French Quarter. “I liked the organizing stuff, but I wasn’t very excited about doing evangelism on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter,” he said. “That was just not my world.”

Despite his initial fears of doing street evangelism, Kelley gradually became more comfortable. His obedience to God’s call eventually led to the seminary asking him to train students for street evangelism. It set him on the path toward teaching evangelism and later becoming NOBTS president. For Kelley, it began by simply trusting God.

“You get to a point in your life when you know you don’t have it in you to be or do what God wants you to be,” he said. “You cast yourself completely on the mercy of God, seeking His forgiveness, His restoration, His work and not yours.”

For the entire seminary family, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina laid bare the full meaning of casting oneself completely on the mercy of God. Ten days after the storm, Kelley recounted, the seminary faculty gathered to see for the first time together pictures of the flooding at the seminary campus and across New Orleans.

“They saw that many of them lost everything they had,” Kelley said. “The room was filled with a lot of tears and heartache. We saw how bad everything was, and the faculty made a decision: It is bad and the road will be hard, but we are going to keep teaching our students.

“The Kingdom of God,” Kelley said, “is worth the continuing focus of our efforts.”

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  • Michael McCormack