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New Orleans pastors voice hope for churches to spark revival

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Pastors of New Orleans Southern Baptist churches do not know the details of how they will rebuild their ministries but are committed to going back and working hard to see the churches return to life.

Nearly two dozen pastors and staff members and representatives of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans traveled from temporary homes in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma to meet at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., Sept. 14, along with staff members of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and North American Mission Board.

Joe McKeever, director of missions for the New Orleans association, encompassing 75 churches and 60 missions across four parishes, got the word out about the gathering through e-mail and announcements on Christian radio stations in the Southeast. First Baptist, in hosting the meeting, “rolled out the red carpet,” McKeever said.

The men met during the morning for a debriefing and strategizing session. After lunch, they gathered for a group interview.

“There is an abiding sense of loss,” said Christopher Black, who represented the 100-year-old Grace Baptist Church in New Orleans’ Bywater community. “But there is hope.”

While their ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ, the New Orleans ministers also feel hope because of the support of Southern Baptists.

“We are going back, but not alone,” one pastor said.

“We know that our leaders are with us,” another pastor added, referencing the representatives from the Louisiana convention and NAMB present for the meeting.

“I am proud to be a Southern Baptist,” Beau Colle of the Louisiana convention said of Southern Baptist entities’ pledges of money and volunteer recruitment to help the congregations rebuild and revive their ministries.

“We talk about cooperation a lot as Southern Baptists. We have cooperative giving and now we have cooperative response,” Colle said.

“Our commitment,” one pastor said, “is to be there, waiting on the resident when they return.”

But there are many unknowns for the pastors. A few already have been able to go home. Others were planning to return within days. Still others weren’t sure when they will be back.

Some still did not know the full extent of the damage to their church facilitates. At least four churches are a total loss.

The whereabouts of many church members is unknown as well. And for those who have been located, some have talked about not returning to New Orleans.

One pastor, Alberto Rivera from the Spanish-language Getsemani Baptist Church, knew that his church’s building was under water and that one member died in her home. Another member told him about swimming from his home to the church only to find it uninhabitable. He did find a woman in the house next door. He pulled her to safety but she died a few hours later. He waited for a day and a half on the roof of her home before he was rescued.

Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist in New Orleans was taken by helicopter to the marooned church and found it high and dry Sept. 13. National Guardsmen with him checked out the facility before allowing him to enter. They found three dogs that had taken shelter in the education building. A casket that had washed up from a neighboring cemetery also was found on the side of the parking lot.

Paul Brady, pastor of Oak Park Baptist Church in Algiers, La., evacuated with his family to Broken Arrow, Okla., only to experience other stresses of life. His father became critically ill and both of his daughters had car accidents -– one was hit by a drunk driver and the other hydroplaned and totaled her car. Thankfully, the father’s condition has improved slightly and the daughters are OK.

Despite these unknowns and challenges, the pastors said they are optimistic about what God can do in New Orleans, that the time is ripe for a spiritual awakening.

“We want Southern Baptists to join us in praying that God will enable us to reach our city for Christ,” the pastors simultaneously emphasized with various words at one point as they looked to the future.
Tanya Dawson is on church staff at First Baptist Church in Madison, Miss.
*Name changed for security concerns.

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