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New Orleans seminarians, faculty receive ‘outpouring of support’

ATLANTA (BP)–Thanks to the compassionate response by Southern Baptists, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is helping members of the seminary family recover from Hurricane Katrina.

“We are so tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support from so many Southern Baptist churches,” NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said. “Churches have offered us a multitude of options in terms of housing and job opportunities that students can have during the next year.

“We are going to do all we can to address the financial needs of our students,” Lemke said. “We hurt very deeply for them.”

Aid given by Southern Baptists across the country is channeled through the seminary’s temporary administrative offices at the North Georgia Campus in Decatur, Ga. All main campus students are urged to call the seminary at 1-800-662-8701 or (404) 284-1458 or email [email protected] for immediate assistance.

Baptists have rallied to the cause of those displaced from the seminary campus with a variety of resources. Hundreds of free housing units, jobs and other forms of assistance are available. The assistance includes:

— rent-free housing in locations across the Southeast.

— assistance in registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Southern Baptist relief sources and other sources.

— referrals for hundreds of job opportunities.

— counseling for students who have experienced emotional stress.

“We are trying to help as best we can to relieve the financial and emotional burden that members of the seminary family have experienced,” Lemke said. “We love our students, and our dean of students’ office is doing everything they can to address every student need within their power to help.”

Over the past week, the dean of students’ office has contacted more than 600 main campus students — placing more than 300 of them and their families in free housing. Many offers for free housing are still available throughout the country -– many of these units are near NOBTS extension centers.

“Southern Baptists have responded magnificently with offers of free housing and other resources,” said Craig Price, NOBTS dean of students. “It is just unbelievable what God is doing. People across the South have opened their hearts and their homes to us.”

Baptists also are helping with the basic needs of the seminary family. Food, clothing and household items donated by churches and individuals are now available at the North Georgia Campus in a new relief resource room. One church has even started a book drive to help students replace lost textbooks.

Many others have found tangible ways to help students. The Florida and Georgia Baptist conventions thought of a unique way to meet the most basic needs of seminary families -– Wal-Mart gift cards.

“When I heard Dr. Chuck Kelley speak [about the disaster] it was pretty obvious that there were some great needs among students and faculty for New Orleans,” said Cecil Seagle, missions division director for the Florida Baptist Convention. “The dislocation is obviously a big, big thing. I kept thinking, ‘What can we do?’”

Seagle immediately conferred with John Sullivan, the executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, about helping the seminary family. On Sept. 7, the two decided that Wal-Mart gift cards provided a way to help with immediate needs of students, faculty and staff.

The next day, Seagle arrived at the NOBTS North Georgia Campus, delivering 125 $200 Wal-Mart gift cards. Hearing of Florida’s plans, Georgia Baptist Convention leaders decided to match their contribution with 125 additional $200 Wal-Mart gift cards.

“This is one of the most helpful ways to assist our seminary family in the midst of this crisis,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley. “It allows families to get what they specifically need. It’s just a marvelous, wonderful way to help the seminary family and we’re extremely grateful to both Georgia and Florida for their very generous gift.”

NOBTS faculty members received their gift cards during a planning retreat at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Sept. 9. The business office at New Orleans Seminary began handing out the cards to students and staff members Sept. 13 at the school’s temporary administrative office in Decatur, Ga.

Texas Baptists also have rallied to the cause of NOBTS students. On Sept. 11, First Baptist Church of Dallas presented NOBTS President Chuck Kelley with a check for $25,000 dollars. And during a chapel service, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students also gave $7,000 to assist displaced New Orleans students.

Churches in Orlando, Fla., have compiled a list of more than 500 jobs available to displaced seminary students. The jobs include all types of employment -– ministry positions as well as secular jobs. Churches around the Southern Baptist Convention also have offered a wide variety of ministry positions to displaced students.

Because of the emotional trauma experienced by so many students, the dean of students’ office is working to establish a network of Christian counselors throughout the Southeast. Information about free counseling services will be available in the coming weeks.

In addition, the seminary has taken steps to ease the financial pressure on the New Orleans campus students who wish to continue the semester. This assistance includes:

— 20 percent tuition rebate for the fall semester to help students complete the semester.

— FACTS (Fast Automated Cash Transfer System) tuition charges have been delayed for one month.

— rent for on-campus housing is not being charged until repairs are complete.

— all fees additional fees are being waived for students who drop or add other NOBTS courses (including Internet courses, Saturday classes, extension center classes and October workshop class).

“We don’t want financial hardship to keep any of our students from completing the semester,” Lemke said. “With rent-free housing and the tuition discount, it’s our hope that every one of our New Orleans students can continue their theological training at NOBTS this semester.

“We don’t want this tragedy to delay the graduation of any of our students,” he continued. “So, we are going forward with December graduation. We are going forward with classes.”

Students are not the only ones affected by the tragedy. Every administrator, faculty member and staff member living on campus also has suffered deep losses. Baptists are rallying to their cause as well.

“We’ve all suffered through this; we’re all grieving for the loss of treasured possessions and starting over again,” Lemke said.

Students continue to experience the stress of their loss on many levels –- not only financial stress, but also emotional stress. Lemke encouraged churches and individuals to continue giving financial, prayer and emotional support to NOBTS students from their own churches.

Those who wish to donate to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary recovery effort may call 1-800-662-8701 for more information. Donations can be made online at www.nobts.edu or by mail at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, P.O. Box 1608, Decatur, GA 30031 or New Orleans Seminary Hurricane Recovery Fund, Southern Baptist Foundation, 901 Commerce St., Suite 600, Nashville, TN 37203.