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New Orleans-area church ready for next post-Katrina challenges

BOUTTE, La. (BP)–The kitchen is closed.

The burners are packed away, the tents are folded, the volunteers are gone and the trucks have left the parking lot at West St. Charles Baptist Church in Boutte, La.

The time has come to regroup and start planning a different kind of post-hurricane ministry at the church just outside of New Orleans.

Five days after the Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and floodwaters began to rise in New Orleans, West St. Charles Baptist Church opened its doors to a feeding team from the Missouri Baptist Convention. Not long after the Missourians launched into feeding thousands each day, Red Cross volunteers began to arrive. For six weeks, the church — with an average Sunday attendance of just more than 100 — housed a rotating group of about 50 volunteers.

“We were removed from the disaster. We did not experience total devastation that so many experienced,” said Chuck Lowman, pastor of West St. Charles. “We’ve been focusing on how we can minister to those serving the community. The Missouri Baptists and the Red Cross volunteers were the ones going out in the community.”

But church members soon discovered ways to serve, preparing “special” meals for the volunteers, including Cajun specialties like jambalaya and red beans and rice. They also found a ministry among Red Cross volunteers.

“Many of the Red Cross volunteers were unchurched. Usually [when working at a disaster] they stay in motels,” Lowman said. “This was the first time for many of them to actually live together. They learned to work together, but they also saw what the church was doing.”

One Red Cross volunteer confided in Lowman that she hadn’t been in church for many years because she had lost confidence in the church.

“But seeing all this changed her mind,” Lowman said. “I’ve been able to pray with three or four of the Red Cross workers. Some needed to hear the Gospel again. Some just needed to be redirected.”

With the thrust of post-Katrina relief changing, Lowman already has answered calls from volunteers wanting a place to stay while they work at nearby churches. He expects to do that a lot in the coming days. But he also wants to send members from West St. Charles to nearby churches to work as well.

“In the long term, I pray that this is going to give us a greater local mission focus. This has opened the neighborhood’s eyes to what Baptists are all about. Baptists are seen as a church that reaches out to people, regardless of their beliefs. I hope they continue to see that in us,” the pastor said.

“We’re open to whatever God brings us,” he said. “We’re forever changed.”

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  • Sherri Brown