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New Orleans’ MissionLab teaches leaders to ‘Learn, Do, and Be’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The city of New Orleans is a true laboratory for missions work, providing a range of settings which could mirror most any international or North American missions effort.

It was in this laboratory — one of the nation’s most challenging environments — that almost 200 people were led to Christ through the dedicated work of 800-plus youth and their adult leaders.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary recently hosted its eighth and final week of MissionLab New Orleans, a missions experience that provides an environment for youth to learn missions by doing, and to encourage and equip them to become missionaries at home.

“Our desire from the beginning was to be ministry centered,” said Darrell Lindsey, MissionLab co-director. “We want them to understand that God is already doing a work here that they can be a part of, but we also want them to see that God is working around them at home, and they need to go home and get plugged into that.”

Young people from across the United States were invited to participate in 117 mission projects at 22 strategic sites in New Orleans, which included its infamous French Quarter, where youth handed out bags of sandwiches, hygiene products and evangelistic literature to the homeless; its Desire Housing Development, where youth led backyard Bible clubs for children in the area; and St. Bernard Housing Development, where many young people helped a local mission with the total renovation of a youth building.

The results of their efforts have been overwhelming, Lindsey said.

“We’ve seen 15 to 20 people come to Christ in the French Quarter [infamous for the practice of voodoo, Satanism and other cults],” he said. “One group in one week saw eight people saved through that ministry.”

Participating youth, who were given opportunities to share their experiences with their peers, were likewise overwhelmed at God’s activity during the projects.

Jennifer, of Brandon, Fla., recounted the story of a prayerwalk through the mean streets of the North Rocheblave area. During their prayers, a woman seated on her porch called out to them and said, “Hey, come bless this house!” That night, Jennifer said, that woman accepted Christ.

Several young people also made public their decision to follow God’s call into the ministry. Lindsey said roughly five to six kids a week talked about an interest in missions after their experience in New Orleans.

“Jesus looked out across Jerusalem, and this grown man burst into tears,” said Amber, of Brandon, Fla. “He was broken for people! He’s been calling me to have a burden for people, too.”

While the stories may mirror those of most youth camps, Lindsey said, the reality of their inner-city surroundings brought the experience closer to home.

“There was this one girl from the St. Bernard Housing Development who was having her face painted,” Lindsey recounted. “And while she sat in the chair, the police did a drug raid on her house. I remember one of her friends coming up to her and saying, ‘They’re taking your mama to jail. Aren’t you going to cry?'”

Lindsey remembered the little girl’s response. “‘Why should I cry every time she goes to jail?'” “The next day, she and her family were forced to move out of the housing development,” he added.

While many young people admit the inner city was a frightening place to imagine, Lindsey said MissionLab is able to offer a safe environment for the kids by providing site coordinators and counselors who are specially trained for inner-city ministry, as well as extensive orientation with the young people. The only challenge for young people was ministering to a people group largely unreached by the traditional church.

“Before I got here, I was really worried about our group’s safety,” said Andrew Lively, a high school student from Augusta, Ga. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve never even once felt in danger.

“If God can remove my fear of danger in the projects of New Orleans, he can remove my fear at home.”

Though this was only the first year of MissionLab New Orleans, the response was overwhelming. Within two months of the initial brochure’s mailing, MissionLab New Orleans 2000 was booked full: a pleasant surprise Lindsey admits he didn’t expect at all.

The success, however, has given leaders a greater vision. MissionLab will not only become a year-round missions program, but will provide missions opportunities for adult groups, senior citizens, as well as families.

The real vision for Lindsey and others, however, is for ministry.

“The people in the housing developments want to build lasting relationships,” Lindsey said. “They want love, and that’s what MissionLab participants have been giving them.

“Sometimes sharing the gospel begins by giving a kid a hug.”

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