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Pastor: ‘Amazing’ opportunities to share Christ abound in La.

WESTWEGO, La. (BP)–Though Hurricane Katrina caused unprecedented damage, completely disrupted thousands of lives and left tremendous heartache in its wake, the natural disaster also has opened avenues for relaying the Gospel that were closed tight just months ago.

“It’s hard to put into words how God is opening up doors for ministry and especially sharing the Gospel,” said Jay Adkins, pastor of the New Orleans-area First Baptist Church in Westwego. “People are receptive. They seem to want to hear anything they can hear to bring peace to their lives.”

Adkins, also a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, noticed God’s provision in the midst of the crisis when, for example, he discovered that the only working telephone in the area was an oft-forgotten extension phone in the kitchen of the church’s fellowship hall. From there, Adkins was able to request immediate help from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers hours after the storm had passed.

Adkins helped coordinate two feeding units from Georgia with places in the community, like the local hospital, that urgently needed food. Now an average of 40 workers associated with the units are being housed at the church while they cook meals just up the road at the John A. Alario Event Center, Adkins said, speaking Sept. 27 from the extension phone in the kitchen.

Many of the opportunities to share Christ have come at the event center, Adkins said, because a large number of military personnel are stationed there for cleanup in the area.

“Many of them have opened up their hearts. Many of them have just gotten back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we were able to share the Gospel with them and even National Public Radio called and I was able to share the plan of salvation over the airwaves on their show ‘All Things Considered,’” Adkins said.

First Baptist Westwego has had Sunday services for three weeks since Katrina hit, and attendance has ranged from nine people the first Sunday to 69 this past Sunday, Adkins said.

“I was able to tell them about what the Georgia folks have been doing for three weeks now, so our people are excited and many of them are over at the kitchen and they’ve jumped right in and helped,” the pastor said.

And the community has noticed. Adkins said 85 or 90 percent of the area is Catholic, and God has been working on their hearts.

“It has been amazing to see people in our neighborhood that aren’t members of our church that have been away from any sort of religious life for years that are now saying, ‘You know what? We’ve seen what you guys are doing. The Southern Baptist Convention is feeding people, and we want to be a part of that.’ We had visiting Catholics at church this last Sunday,” Adkins said.

As a seminary student, the lessons he learned in class were not lost when it came time to put his knowledge into action. In fact, Adkins said he is so busy ministering to people on the ground, handing out Bibles and sharing the plan of salvation that he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to resume his studies this semester.

“Many folks who were not involved in church work while in seminary have gone to places like Atlanta, Alabama and Mississippi, and they’re able to do some extension work,” he said. “The classes are supposed to start over the Internet, but we’re covered up with ministry here.”

Adkins said he is partial to New Orleans Seminary and has communicated with officials who assured him they’re going to do all they can to make exceptions for those students who are still ministering in the hard-hit places. That didn’t surprise him, Adkins said, because he knew one of the administration’s primary focuses had been getting students involved in area ministries even before the storm.

“I knew they were going to do everything they could to help us. There’s still a little concern, though, in the back of my mind because I’m going to have papers and things to write while we’re handling and housing about 40 disaster relief workers that are coming and going, but I believe God’s going to take care of it,” he said.

All the inconvenience the hurricane has caused will ultimately be worth the cost, Adkins said, because he is certain revival will emerge from the battered Gulf Coast region.

“[New Orleans Seminary President Chuck] Kelley has always said that this is the perfect fertile soil to be able to share the Gospel with people, the perfect place for mission-minded people to come and learn how to do ministry. And, man, we’ve got a wide open gate to walk through right now,” he said.

As the work continues in Westwego, a town of about 10,000 people on the banks of the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish, Adkins hopes Southern Baptists will unite in prayer for the potential awakening that could result from catastrophe.

“What we are concerned about right now is that God would raise up people that are bold enough to take this opportunity to share Christ with the world. That is the most important thing right now,” Adkins said. “It’s about time that Christians do what the Great Commission has called us to do, to stand up and have the boldness and the humility to share the love of Christ with people.”

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  • Erin Curry