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Land recalls his days ministering to French Quarter’s wayward souls

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Located alongside the Gold Mine Saloon and across the street from the French Quarter Wine Cellar sits Vieux Carre Baptist Church, a small church in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

It’s not a traditional setting for a Baptist church, but it’s one that Richard Land remembers well. Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, served as pastor at Vieux Carre from 1970 to 1972 while a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Nearly three decades after leaving Vieux Carre, Land returned to preach at the church June 10 while in town for the SBC annual meeting.

“This was my first church, and it was different,” Land said in an interview following his morning sermon. “It is a lighthouse preaching station and witnessing station, and I sure saw the transforming power of God in a way that a middle-class kid from Houston had never seen.”

For Land, Vieux Carre was an eye-opening experience. The church, which averaged around 25 attendees on Sundays, was home to the homeless, prostitutes, drug users, runaways and even former satanists. They were searching for meaning, and Land and his wife, Rebekah, provided the answer by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I had been at Princeton for four years and I had been to New York City, but this was different,” Land said. “I had never personally met a Satan worshiper before I came here. I had never personally known anyone who I knew was a homosexual.”

Land’s encounter with a satanist took place one Sunday morning when he was preaching out of the Gospel of John. The man, a bishop of the Church of Satan, came in and sat on the back row.

“He was very irritated,” Land said. “We had had about eight people in the church who had come out of Satan worship to know Jesus as their Savior. He was irritated. We were proselytizing his flock, and we promised that we were going to keep doing it.”

Immediately, Land decided to change text.

“I left the Gospel of John, where I was preaching, and I went over to the Book of Revelation where our Boss throws their boss into the fire,” he said. “We need to always remember how the story ends.”

Many of those in Land’s church were roaming the streets on a nightly basis, looking for a place to sleep. When possible, the church bought bus tickets for the individuals and sent them home.

“We had a lot of kids who were runaways,” he said. “The police told me that there were probably a thousand runaways in the French Quarter at any given time. When one of them came to know the Lord, we felt the most important thing was to get them out of this environment. If they were prostitutes, for instance, and they had a home to go to, we would buy them a bus ticket and send them home. Then we would tell a local pastor that we had done it.

“We felt like the most important thing that we could do for them — other than sharing the gospel with them — was to get them out of this environment.”

However, many of those who entered the front doors of Vieux Carre had no home.

“A lot of those people had no family that wanted them or would take them,” Land said. “A lot of them had run away from horrible homes. A lot of them had burned all the bridges. They hadn’t spoken to their family in 10 years.

“We did our best to minister to them where they were.”

The church has expanded since Land left. Vieux Carre bought a Laundromat next door and converted it into guest housing. Throughout the year, the church hosts high school and college students and trains them for street evangelism.

“I can’t think of a place that needs more missions,” Land said.

While the church has changed, its mission hasn’t. There are still homeless people, prostitutes, drug users and runaways searching for answers. Vieux Carre’s current pastor, Randy Brown, shares with them the good news.

“We just try to be a light in the darkness around us,” said Brown, a native of Summerfield, La., and a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “That’s all we’re trying to do. We try to reach out to the community.”

Land said his two years at Vieux Carre simply confirmed to him the changing power of salvation through Christ.

“One of the things I learned in a very new and meaningful way while I was pastor of this church was that our God is in the life-changing business, and he can change any life,” he said. “I don’t care what you’ve been involved in.”

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust