BILOXI, Miss (BP)–Rich Miller hadn’t been to Edgewater Mall in Biloxi in five months and wasn’t expecting anything special during his Sunday afternoon visit. But as soon as he entered the mall, he heard the voices of junior high choir students from Prestonwood Baptist Church and was drawn to listen for awhile.
“When I walked in the door, I felt like, ‘Wow, the Holy Spirit is in this place,’” said Miller, who is stationed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for two years while serving in the Air Force and, like others in region, has weathered the trauma of Hurricane Katrina.
Gulfport resident Keshia Hinton watched the performance intently, with a hint of tears in her eyes. She could identify with the spiritual message delivered by the Prestonwood choir from Texas.
“It feels like I’ve already been to church today, and I haven’t even been. It made my day,” she said.
The 100-plus choir members, leaders and sponsors were certainly there to minister that day, but their purpose extended much further. Prestonwood’s search to support a coastal congregation devastated by the hurricane led them to Grace Temple Baptist Church in Gulfport shortly after the disaster.
Ross Robinson, minister of missions and evangelism at Prestonwood, said his church always strives to be proactive in ministry in the church and community -– and beyond. Providing financial support and encouragement to Grace Temple is just one way the Dallas-area church is doing that.
Pastor Rossie Francis of Grace Temple said it has blessed his heart to see the way Prestonwood is committed to walking with his church.
“This has really brought a lot of encouragement to all our people,” Francis said. “My heart and hand and hat go off to Prestonwood.”
The junior high and high school students and 12 men from Prestonwood’s men’s ministry spent much of their time helping clear land for Grace Temple’s new building, in the first large-group effort in what the Prestonwood family hopes will be a lasting relationship with Grace Temple.
The two churches partnered for a Saturday afternoon “Rally of Hope,” complete with a cookout; demonstrations of strength by three members of Team Impact, a traveling team of men that uses creative evangelism to further God’s Kingdom; and a concert featuring voices from Prestonwood and Grace Temple.
Little did the choir know that the lyrics to one song, “Come in from the Outside,” would be so apropos. The rally originally was scheduled to take place outdoors at Milner Stadium but was forced inside neighboring Gulfport Central Middle School due to rain and cold temperatures.
The change of plans required some flexibility, including the tear-down and reassembly of a large stage set. But Rick Briscoe, associate minister of music and worship at Prestonwood, was thankful God opened up a new space for the concert and revealed a new plan.
“The Lord reminded me in the middle of the discouragement that He had a plan,” Briscoe said at the opening of the rally. “The challenge is that we have to submit to His plan.”
It was after Team Impact member Trey Talley shared the Gospel message that part of God’s plan for the day became evident. Eight people came forward to accept Christ. One of them, a 6-year-old boy, had been sick with the flu for a week. Had the rally been outside, his father said, the family would not have attended.
The weather may have discouraged some from attending, but the choir students visited a nearby FEMA trailer park prior to the rally, inviting anyone who opened a door.
Friends David Burnett and James McDonald responded to the invitation. The two met shortly after the hurricane and became closer when Burnett invited McDonald to live in his trailer and escape life in a tent that had become his home.
“It makes you see how precarious life is,” Burnett said of the devastation triggered by Katrina. “We went overnight from a great place to a third-world country.”
McDonald remembers that everything was negative after the storm and they were without food or water for two or three days. But, he said, it is amazing to witness people helping other people.
While many Gulfport residents were not personally affected by the storm, they still know of the great pain and tragedy that struck many lives.
Trudy Johnson, for one, believes that concerts and other forms of encouragement are critical along the Gulf Coast. The ministries lift spirits, she said, and are especially helpful for young people dealing with the trauma.
“The coast needs more,” she said. “Everybody’s depressed. Everybody’s down.”
Late Saturday night, students gave testimony of what the day had meant to them. Inspired by Matthew 5:14 and a message delivered by Pastor Francis that morning, eighth-grader Matthew Cassidy shared his heart and hope for the team.
“We are that city on a hill,” he said, “and we cannot be hidden from these people. This is devastation for them, and they need light.”
Julie Jones is a writer with Prestonwood Baptist Church.