WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Even as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary launches its long-term hurricane relief initiative, some faculty members with ties to the Gulf Coast region are reflecting on the storm and how they have seen God work in the midst of tragedy.
Brent Aucoin, an associate professor of history who grew up in Jefferson Parish on the West Bank of New Orleans, said he was broken by news reports of the devastation and seeing pictures of once-visited coastal landmarks now destroyed.
“As I saw what was happening to [New Orleans], the love aspect rose to the top and I found myself crying in front of the TV while I watched the footage,” Aucoin said. “My wife and I were also stunned by the fact that we had all just been to the Crab Festival in Waveland in late July and to the Jefferson Davis home [of Beauvoir] near Biloxi a few months earlier. The area around the festival is gone, as is the Jeff Davis house.”
Southeastern has nine faculty members who attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and others with ties to Gulf Coast state schools like Louisiana State University, Mississippi College in Jackson and the University of Mobile in Alabama.
While they grieve at hearing of the loss of life, many of the Southeastern faculty are ready to go lend a helping hand in relief efforts and to take every opportunity to share with hurting men, women and children that there is eternal hope in Jesus Christ.
Aucoin watched news reports of the storm’s approach and landfall with trepidation. Aucoin’s parents and youngest brother still live in the house in which Aucoin grew up, which was spared flood damage and is still standing. His extended family members and friends, he said, all made it out alive, though some lost their homes.
Virtually all of Steve McKinion’s family lives in the Mobile, Ala., area, though he has family in hard-hit Gulfport as well. All of his family members have been accounted for except one uncle, who is now presumed dead.
“Katrina was massive, both in strength and scope,” said McKinion, an associate professor of historical theology. “The destruction of property is catastrophic. Worse, though, is the loss of life and even the loss of a sense of security. It is a stark reminder of the brevity of life and the dispensability of earthly treasures.”
McKinion said that in the hours after the storm hit, the heart-wrenching images of destruction on television were difficult to watch, particularly since he did not know how his parents, elderly grandmother, and in-laws had fared. After word came that they were all right, though, he welcomed the reports so that he could pass on news of recovery efforts to relatives.
Like many who are from the area, McKinion plans to travel home soon to assist in cleanup and help wherever he can. He said this storm provides a God-given opportunity for Christians to demonstrate biblical neighbor-love.
“On top of that is the opportunity to point women and men who have lost their possessions and their security to an even greater treasure and a rock to anchor their lives to Jesus Christ,” he said. “God’s message in the storm is probably not to New Orleans or the gaming industry in Mississippi, but to His people. The only hope in this world is Jesus Christ.”
Alan O’Dell’s family was similarly blessed. An associate professor of education who just came to Southeastern from Mississippi College this year, O’Dell had two daughters and their families in the path of the storm, and all of them are fine. But he said the aftermath of the storm has been hard on his family for two reasons: One of his sons-in-law, Mark Jones, is the public relations director for the Salvation Army in several Gulf Coast states and has been dispatched to flood-ravaged areas to provide relief. The other, Mike Malott, is working 16-hour days as an emergency claims adjuster for State Farm Insurance in storm-ravaged Hattiesburg, Miss. Both could be gone from their families for the next several weeks, if not months.
O’Dell said God’s hand has been at work in Mississippi. In fact, through relief efforts, Jones has had “hundreds of opportunities” to share the Gospel with people “at the end of their human rope,” O’Dell said.
“We didn’t know quite why the Lord had connected him with the Salvation Army at this point of his life,” he said. “Now we know, as a lot of people have heard the Gospel when the human answers to all of their questions are gone.”
One of those professors with his sights set on visiting New Orleans is Frank Catanzaro, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling. For Catanzaro, the time to go is sooner rather than later. He is planning to leave with a team of eight to 10 Southeastern students on Monday, Sept. 12 and spend a week assisting with disaster relief efforts, including cleanup, providing meals to hurricane victims and construction.
Catanzaro, who spent 14 years in the greater New Orleans area while earning his M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and serving as associate pastor of Grace Memorial Baptist Church in Slidell, La., said that helping victims should be a natural response for Christians. He said that he hopes the tragedy will create avenues for his team to share the Gospel while it is in New Orleans.
“It’s part of who we are as Christians,” Catanzaro said. “The Lord gives us opportunities like this. It’s consistent with who we are, being servants.”
While many eyes were on the situation in New Orleans, New Orleans Seminary graduate Allan Moseley’s attention was focused on Mississippi, specifically Gulfport, where he spent four and a half years as pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church from 1985-1990.
Moseley, Southeastern’s vice president of student affairs and dean of students who received his M.Div. and Th.M. from New Orleans, said he’s heard from people who knew he was once the pastor at Bayou View and want to help out. But Moseley said he hasn’t been able to find out the status of the church and whether it was spared significant damage.
“We’ve already had friends call us and say, ‘Hey, we know you pastored down there. We know there are people down there you know and love. We just want you to know that there are resources to call on so let us know,’” Moseley said.
Moseley said he went through a hurricane in Gulfport in 1985 which felled trees and did some structural damage but nothing like the devastation he sees in images via the Internet or television. He said he looks at the horrific images and remembers what was there before the storm struck.
“There was an Episcopal Church shown on the national news that had a little worship service,” Moseley said. “That’s the Episcopal Church where our [son] David used to go to preschool. It’s not there. It’s blown away.
“[In 1985], power was out for four days. But you saw everyone hit the streets and help everyone out. You saw people roll up their sleeves and clean up. The difference this time is the loss of life and the extent of damage. This will take a different type of operation.”
Another New Orleans Seminary graduate, Southeastern Vice President for Planning and Communication Waylan Owens, was in the New Orleans area from 1984-1993. He met his wife, Betsy, in New Orleans when he attended seminary. They were married in Slidell and their first child, Blayne, was born at the Tulane Medical Center near the Superdome in New Orleans.
Owens has seen his former pastor, Bob Huestess, interviewed on MSNBC and the church is being used as a staging area for the region. He’s seen familiar places now under water or destroyed and his focus is on the relief efforts and concern for human life.
“It’s good to hear from many of our friends there,” Owens said. “It has been a very intense time for Betsy and me. We are focused on helping with the relief efforts. First of all, we are concerned with the issues of human life. Once those things get settled, my focus will be to try to see what we can do to help New Orleans Seminary get itself restored to an operational level. In spite of the ‘Let the good times roll’ image and lifestyle of the city, there is a strong Christian witness in New Orleans and Southern Baptists play a strong part in it.”
Owens, like all Christians, wants to see God glorified in all the efforts to rebuild and to reach the region for Christ. That can get lost in the images of dead bodies, stagnant water and rubble, he said. But Owens said Scripture says God will judge in the end and it is foolish to think God does not bring things to pass that force us back to Him or give us cause to turn back to Him in this world.
“God controls the storm,” Owens said. “I do believe that this is a great opportunity for the people of New Orleans and the entire world to see and understand firsthand that we as humans are very small in this world. God is much, much greater than we are. Life is short, and wasting it on the frivolous and self-indulgence is to throw the brief life that we have away.”