COVINGTON, La. (BP)–Lots of food and plenty of hugs among fellow ministers and wives — some seeing each other for the first time since Hurricane Katrina — created an atmosphere of hope and renewal during a Christmas party for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans hosted by First Baptist Church in Covington.
Waylon Bailey, the Covington church’s pastor, who experienced some of the same horrors in his community as did the New Orleans pastors, said, “… We are touched to have you here. You are our heroes.”
Noting how Baptists from around the nation responded to the crisis, Bailey said, “I have never been more proud to be a Southern Baptist.” Recounting how his neighbors have responded to him since receiving help by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams, Bailey said, “God is making a difference in all of this…. There is now an openness to the Gospel like we have never seen before.”
FBC Covington and several partnering churches provided gift bags for the wives and a monetary gift to the families as an expression of support. “We want you to know you are loved,” Bailey said. “We want you to know you are appreciated and we want you to be encouraged about what God is going to do in the future.”
The driving force behind the occasion, the one who conceived it and worked on it for weeks, was Bailey’s wife, Martha.
She told the banquet attendees of one encounter that resonated with their post-Katrina experiences: “I went into the local supermarket, looking for something to get for the gift bags we have prepared for you. While I was staring at the fruit, a man said, ‘Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Are you the manager?’ He said, ‘I’m the district manager. Do you need a job?'”
“No, but you’re the one I want to talk to,” Martha Bailey told man, explaining that she was preparing gift bags for ministers and their spouses from Baptist churches throughout the New Orleans area and asked if he would like to participate, prompting his offer of one-pound bags of shelled pecans.
When the store manager protested that the cost would be exorbitant for perhaps 75 bags of pecans, the district manager assured him it would be all right.
“Let me tell you why I want to do this,” the district manager said, recounting that his home, just inside Mississippi, had been flooded and the local Baptist church took them in, fed them and looked after them. “My church was locked up and my priest was nowhere to be found,” the man said. When the crisis eased and they were returning home, he pointed out the Baptist church to his wife and said, “Honey, there is our new church home.”
The district manager told Martha Bailey, “I’ve been looking for a way to say thanks to the Baptists.”
Also during the banquet, the group heard from David Arceneaux, pastor of Gentilly Baptist Church, who told of staying through the hurricane and how the wind howled through the night, toppling several trees. As the wind eventually died down, Arceneaux thought all was well.
“We were tired so we decided to lie down and take a little nap. About 30 minutes later, I woke up and the water was coming up the stairs. Before we knew it, the water was already in the house.
“We stayed there for three days,” Arceneaux continued. “I felt pretty bad about putting my family through that and that I tested God.” Rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter off their roof, the family ultimately made it to Houston.
Even after the horrific events of those few days, Arceneaux said he could see the Lord’s provision, from a waitress who gave his family $20 to an insurance adjuster who made a $2,000 contribution to the church. Arceneaux praised God by saying, “God is good all the time.”
Jay Adkins, pastor of the New Orleans-area First Baptist Church in Westwego, also a drummer, told the banquet attendees how he had the opportunity to provide gasoline from his church members to musician Harry Connick Jr. –- and to share his faith with Connick, telling the performer that Jesus provided him with the gasoline.
A family who had not attended church in the past 30 years evacuated to the central part of Louisiana, met some Baptist disaster relief workers and committed their lives to Christ. Adkins repeated the family members’ experience: “Baptist people fed us, they loved us, they took care of us and they watched out for us. And if that’s what Jesus is about, I want to know Him.”
Adkins added, “I got a phone call about an hour ago and it was the [wife] of the couple, who right now are on their first mission trip in Mexico with the church that ministered to them.” A few days before the banquet, the husband told Adkins, “Hurricane Katrina is the best thing that has happened to me.”
Greg Hand, pastor of Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church in the heart of the French Quarter, told of a song that ministered to him after he lost his house and all his belongings. He led the ministers in singing, “When the oceans rise and the thunders roll, I will soar with you above the storm. Father, you are King over the flood, and I will be still and know you are God.”
“The dinner was gourmet quality and worthy of any restaurant in New Orleans,” director of missions Joe McKeever said after the banquet. “If the Covington folks were trying to bless and encourage our ministers and their families, they succeeded in spades.”
Joe McKeever contributed to this article.