LAPLACE, La. (BP) — In the span of a few days, Celebration Church’s River Parishes Campus in LaPlace, La., changed from a dark, damaged, isolated church in the middle of a flood-created lake to a shining city on a hill — the site of ministry to hundreds of Hurricane Isaac victims.
Isaac’s four- to six-foot storm surge inundated much of LaPlace, a city of about 36,000 people 22 miles west of New Orleans.
Ironically, LaPlace was not directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but many of its current residents migrated there from New Orleans years ago to start new lives after losing everything they owned during Katrina.
They didn’t expect lightning to strike twice.
Checkerz Williams, 39-year-old pastor of Celebration Church’s River Parishes campus, knows firsthand the stress and pain LaPlace is feeling. The church on New Highway 51 — part of the Celebration Church network based in Metairie, La. — suddenly became an island surrounded by several feet of water after Isaac’s 48 hours of torrential rain.
“There are no levees around LaPlace,” Williams explains. “Lake Pontchartrain rose quickly and the combination of surging lake water and swamp water spilled over into LaPlace. We had six feet of water in the streets downtown.”
LaPlace pastor for only 15 months, Williams had two to three inches of water in the home he shares with wife Nicole, a son and two daughters. After Isaac moved through, it took a few days, by boat, to reach his home and the church.
“The church had four-to-six feet of water outside and two to three inches in the sanctuary,” Williams said. “A team from our sister Celebration Church in Metairie sent people in to help us rip out the carpet, gut part of the building and start drying out. Water also got in below our platform in the sanctuary, so it had to be ripped up.”
Despite the damage, 100 of the church’s usual 200 attendees showed up Sept. 2 for Sunday worship.
“On the 2nd, we put down industrial paper on the floor, put chairs out, used mechanical lights and had our usual 10:45 a.m. service. We felt it was important to get our people back together, unite them and let them know everyone’s OK.” Williams preached on “believing through adversity.”
The next Sunday (Sept. 9) 100 people again showed up for worship at Celebration, according to Williams. This time, the church had electricity and air conditioning.
“Half of our church members lost everything,” said Williams. “We still have families in shelters up in Shreveport and Alexandria, who still haven’t seen the damage to their homes. We hope to bring them home to a shelter in LaPlace so they can start the recovery process.”
The LaPlace campus has been a designated Texas Baptist Men feeding site for the area, where 2,000 meals a day have been served to area victims and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers each day. Initially, Williams said the church went through hundreds of pallets of ice, water and MRE’s (meals ready to eat) before the TBM arrived.
Because half of its members lost everything, Williams said the church is requesting Walmart Gift Cards “so our people can go and get food, clothes, cleaning supplies, etc.” The Walmart cards may be mailed to Celebration Church, 3400 New Highway 51, LaPlace, LA 70068.
As of Sept. 10, SBDR volunteers — responding to Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana and Mississippi — have prepared almost 153,000 meals, completed 150 chainsaw and mud-out jobs, attached plastic roof sheeting on at least 125 homes, provided more than 3,800 showers and laundry loads, made more than 2,500 Gospel presentations and ministry contacts, and recorded five professions of faith.
The volunteers represent state conventions and DR teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas (TBM and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention).
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., the North American Mission Board coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters in partnership with the SBC’s 42 state conventions, most of which also have individual state disaster relief programs.
SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund
online, by phone at 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or at NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.