NEW ORLEANS (BP)–For Chuck Register, pastor of First Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss., Hurricane Katrina’s story isn’t one of destruction and loss, though his church and community were shattered by the storm.
“Ultimately, the story of Katrina is the story of people responding to love,” Register wrote in the latest edition of a journal published by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “It is the story of volunteers, thousands volunteers, responding to the love of Jesus — a love so powerful it has transformed their lives to the point of sacrifice.”
The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry is the first issue published by the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Seminary since the devastating hurricane struck. Edited by Steve Lemke, the seminary’s provost, the journal focuses on God’s goodness in the face of tragedy and on the Baptist response to the crisis.
A chapel message delivered by Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Seminary, is included in the journal. It’s called “Lessons Learned from Katrina.”
“My precious students, do not ever lose hold of the goodness of God,” Kelley said. “Know that whatever you are facing — whether rough or hard or dangerous — understand that God is always good and that there’s never a moment when things are out of His control.”
In his message, Kelley gave a definition of faith.
“Faith isn’t what we hope or wish will happen. Faith is what we know God is going to do. And we have learned, in the service of Jesus you may not always be safe. Your service of Christ may lead you into harm’s way,” Kelley said. “You may be at your most devout, but bad things, heart-wrenching things, can happen. Yet still you are never out of His grip. And in His grip, though trials may come and difficulties may pile up, so will the redeeming power of God. At the end of the day, we will always be singing, ‘It is well with my soul.'”
Scott Drumm, associate professor of church history at Leavell College, echoed that theme in an article featuring the Katrina accounts of three seminary faculty members, Jeannine Bozeman, Preston Nix and Kristyn Caver. Drumm is writing a book chronicling the impact of the storm on members of the seminary faculty. His article is entitled, “Hearing God in the Midst of the Storm.”
“While few who lived through Katrina would be able to describe the events as joyful or joyous, we would all agree that Katrina was an intense testing of our faith,” Drumm wrote. “We not only endured, but through the painful process have been made more complete — more complete in our trust in God, more complete in our connection to each other, and more complete in our ministry. It was an extremely difficult lesson — one which we would not choose to ever endure again — yet, one through which God certainly taught us more than any seminary class ever did.”
Lemke explored a fundamental Katrina-related question in another chapel sermon, “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” Lemke argued that the storm was not God’s specific punishment for the city of New Orleans or the Gulf Coast, as some have claimed. He pointed to the severe damage of churches and the seminary while the city’s French Quarter remained relatively unscathed, as a repudiation of the argument.
“If this God they speak of were trying to knock sin out of New Orleans, He missed and hit a lot of His own instead. This picture of God as an impotent, bumbling fool is an insult to the sovereignty of God, I find that conclusion absolutely unacceptable,” Lemke wrote. “God is sovereign, and He is still on His throne. He never misses.
“[God] created the laws governing those atmospheric conditions. He knew the hurt and damage the hurricane would cause, but He allowed these natural laws to produce their normal effects,” Lemke continued. “He could have intervened had it been His will, but He chose not to change the course of the storm. However, He prepared thousands of Baptists and other Christians to come provide relief and help in the name of Christ to the praise of His glory.
“None of this was a surprise to God, and He has woven it into His plan for the redemption of many souls before time began.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his article, “God in the Storm: The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil,” wrote that Katrina was the result of the sin, not of New Orleans, but all of humanity.
“The great story of the Bible — creation, fall, and redemption — speaks directly to what we saw along the Gulf Coast two years ago, and it also speaks directly to our powerlessness to have done anything to prevent it,” Mohler wrote. “In the final analysis, we must point to the fact that Hurricane Katrina, like every other natural disaster, is due to sin — not the sin of the Gulf Coast, not the sin of the people of New Orleans, but our sin.”
The answer to the earth’s troubles, Mohler wrote, is Jesus Christ.
Other contributors to the journal include:
— Emil Turner, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, who wrote of the journey of a Crossroads, Ark., carpenter to ravaged St. Roche Street in New Orleans. The pilgrimage, from a town of 135 to a devastated major American city, is only part of the story. The carpenter’s tale is one of witness through action.
— Jim Eliff, president and founder of Christian Communicators Worldwide, who provided a theological perspective on suffering in “Natural Disaster and Pastoral Comfort.”
— Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who gave a biblical basis for the work of Baptist associations and state conventions to provide disaster relief.
— Marilyn Stewart, a regular contributor to the journal and the wife of New Orleans Seminary faculty member Robert Stewart, who looks at the impact of volunteers on the recovery of New Orleans.
— David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, who recounts how God prompted him to begin a building project in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward before Katrina struck.
— Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, who chronicles how the association helped keep churches together after the storm struck.
Paul F. South is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry is available online at www.baptistcenter.com.