EDITOR’S NOTE: David Hankins is executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. This is part of a series of columns and articles this week in Baptist Press marking the 10-year recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina.
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina left her mark across southeast Louisiana. Who can forget how we felt when we saw the broken levees, the flooded homes and churches, the devastation at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, the Superdome refugees and the broken lives.
Just a month later, approximately 200 miles to the west, Lake Charles and southwest Louisiana were coming to grips with the devastation left by Hurricane Rita.
As Baptists from New Orleans returned home to the devastation, Southern Baptists were there with hot meals, prayer, counsel and their own sweat to start the process of rebuilding. While we helped those in need, opportunity after opportunity occurred, and Southern Baptists shared the transforming Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration Church in New Orleans, saw firsthand the combined strength of Southern Baptists. Within two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Celebration Church’s relief center was serving thousands of families. “This was for a period of nine months,” Watson recounted, “and with the help of over 20,000 volunteers,” most of whom were Southern Baptists.
Through all of the disaster relief, recovery and rebuilding, thousands of people came to faith in Christ. Celebration Church reaches more people now than it did before the storm.
David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist in New Orleans, relays a similar experience: “Our local association, state convention and national entities were very important in the immediate aftermath of the storm and through years of rebuilding.
“Katrina washed our people out of the building and into the streets of our city,” Crosby said. “This may be the reason God allowed the storm to come — to change the way we do church.”
From across the country, thousands of volunteers from churches and schools came to help with the recovery. More than 3,500 volunteers from 404 churches, 34 state conventions and multiple associations assisted with the rebuilding of First Baptist in Chalmette. Pastor John Jeffries says the storm refocused their evangelistic endeavors.
Down the road from Chalmette is Poydras, where John Galey serves as pastor of Poydras Baptist Church. “We had five feet of water throughout all three of our buildings [auditorium, educational building and fellowship hall]. Almost all of St. Bernard Parish was under water,” Galey said.
When he returned October 2005, he was the first Southern Baptist pastor in the parish. The Missouri Baptist Convention adopted St. Bernard Parish and volunteers from Missouri poured into the area. Galey noted that “Missouri Baptists helped us when we could not even help ourselves.”
Since Katrina, churches like Celebration, First Baptist, Poydras and others are experiencing the phenomenon of members engaging the community in multiple and creative ways. New churches have started in the New Orleans area that reflect a passion to reach various people groups that live in the heart of the city and surrounding areas.
Today we are better prepared for a disaster. We know more about mobilizing people and resources for relief and rebuilding. We’ve learned the value of communicating and networking together. For Louisiana Baptists, we’ve learned afresh the importance of Southern Baptists cooperating together with the goal of permeating one of our nation’s great cities with the Gospel.
This fall, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Katrina, Louisiana Baptists will launch our Here for You initiative. This multi-platform, multi-year media strategy is designed to give every person in the state the opportunity to say “yes” to a relationship with Jesus.
So 10 years later, we remember the prayers, support and volunteers who flooded into our state. We remember how blessed we are to be a part of a family of believers who rally around each other during such catastrophic times. And we remember the challenge of our Lord to share His love with those living in New Orleans and beyond.