PINEVILLE, La. (BP)–Worship pastor Josh Tanner has had a crash course in crisis counseling as an estimated 7,000-10,000 refugees from Hurricane Katrina have flooded the Pineville, La. -– and 30 and counting to Trinity Baptist Church’s gym so far.
“I praise God I’m being able to be used for Him,” said Tanner, who graduated in May from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and relocated to Louisiana in July. “I’ve had people ask me if I’m stressed because I’m just out of seminary, [but] God gives you the strength to do the ministry He brings to you.”
Trinity, a Southern Baptist church of about 200 members, has been one of the designated Red Cross emergency facilities for Pineville, located approximately 220 miles from New Orleans. On Wednesday, the church gym had approximately 30 refugees but could hold up to 250, Tanner said.
“We fluctuate between 30-50 people. We’re one of the smaller [shelters] right now because of the confusion,” Tanner said of struggles in communication with initial relief efforts.
“It’s sad to see these people watch TV and see their homes underwater,” Tanner said of the sweeping number of homes flooded in New Orleans. “They have no jobs, nothing to go back to. It’s just a sad situation. It’s going to be devastated for quite a while.”
But despite the storm’s devastation, Tanner said he’s had the opportunity to witness some remarkable things as a result of ministering to the refugees.
“I talked to one guy, Dorian, who just became a Christian five years ago,” Tanner said. “He’s got a great testimony for God.”
Tanner said the New Orleans resident told him that even though he lost his home in the hurricane, God had given him an opportunity to share Christ through the crisis.
“He said, ‘I may have lost my home but I still have Christ and He’s going to provide for us,’” Tanner recounted. “He said it was an awesome opportunity to be a witness to his friends and families.
“It’s neat to see God’s provision for people even though they’ve lost everything,” Tanner added.
The refugees themselves also have been part of God’s provision to the church.
Tanner said due to the hurricane, his pianist was not be able to play for the church’s Wednesday service because of her job, but one of the refugees offered to fill in.
“This gentleman is an accomplished pianist who plays by ear and has said he would play for us tonight,” Tanner said.
The man practiced for more than two hours and Tanner taped it as a reminder to himself for how God has worked amidst the devastation.
Of the songs he’ll be playing for the church service?
“God provides in every situation,” Tanner said.
The Arkansas native said that although he doesn’t have family or friends in the devastated areas, many in the congregation, including the pastor, have loved ones they are seeking to make contact with.
Two members of the church, Zelda Bealle and Henry Powell, are managing the shelter.
Trinity members also have been giving their “time, energy, money and even helping [refugees] find temporary jobs to help them get finances for their family,” Tanner said. “It’s awesome to see a church go into action like Trinity Baptist Church.”