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Refugees look to God for strength as N.O. collapses in chaos

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Despite having found himself homeless with only some belongings quickly loaded into his car, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley is still relying on the sovereignty and goodness of God to lead him and his seminary through the tragedy that has overtaken the city.

In the face of widespread devastation that has left much of the Gulf Coast region looking like a Third World country, Kelley pointed to the mercy of God.

“For instance, New Orleans did not take a direct hit,” he told Baptist Press. “Imagine what would have happened if we had taken a direct hit. The levee did not break until after the storm was clear and the winds had died down and the rescue workers were able to get out. There would have been untold thousands of people killed had that levee broken in the midst of the storm when no one could move.

“It’s a terrible tragedy, and we still don’t know the scope of it, but the evidences of God’s mercy are there,” Kelley added. “We rejoice in the fact that He has got the whole world in His hands, including the city of New Orleans and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”

Kelley further noted God’s provision through the seminary’s extension centers, with a student body spread over a greater distance than any other Southern Baptist seminary, including about 1,500 who take classes somewhere other than the main campus. Such a setup will allow classes to resume sooner this semester, Kelley said.

“I am confident about this: When we get to the end of this story, the last paragraph is going to be a testimony to the greatness and glory of our God who is able to do all things well, and able to provide every need,” Kelley said.

Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Greater New Orleans Baptist Association who took refuge on his parents’ farm in Alabama, wrote an e-mail to friends and family, noting, “It is a bizarre feeling to be in anguish over what’s happening back at home, to be crying out to God on the behalf of those left behind, and knowing there is not one blessed thing you can do more.

“It’s the very definition of helplessness.”

While McKeever’s home sustained little damage, most people and churches in the association are dealing with tremendous loss. He asked that believers pray for God to be in charge of when and how people return home.

“Everything I see and hear tells me life in New Orleans has been changed forever by Katrina,” he wrote. “That’s not all bad. Pray for the Lord to rule and reign in every change.”

David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, summoned the strength to share a similar outlook. Crosby is attempting to shepherd a flock that is now scattered throughout the Southeast and manage a church staff now seeking refuge in five different states. Yet he draws upon God’s Word for guidance.

“When Jesus began His ministry, He read to the people Isaiah 61:1-3,” Crosby wrote on his church’s website, www.fbcno.com. “Verse 4 says: ‘They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.’

“God has always been in the business of restoration and renewal. He calls His people to be involved in this just as His Son was involved when He came to our planet. God sent His Son to seek and save the lost,” Crosby continued. “Let’s count on God’s intervention through these days. Let’s pray like we’ve never prayed before. Let’s move beyond anger and confusion to trust and confidence in God’s appointed future.”

First Baptist New Orleans has set up a blog for church members to stay in touch with each other amidst the turmoil, and some are organizing a worship service for evacuees in the Atlanta area Sept. 3.

In Monroe, La., the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home is taking in as many children from the New Orleans area as it can accommodate. They started by placing three boys in a cottage who had nothing but the clothes they were wearing, after the boys’ parents asked some New Orleans Baptists to take the children with them when they evacuated. The parents stayed behind and have not been heard from.

The children’s home expected to house 15-20 more evacuees in the coming days and also is providing food and life essentials to displaced families in Monroe, according to information gleaned by the Louisiana Baptist Message newsjournal.

President Bush flew over the Gulf Coast region aboard Air Force One Aug. 31 en route to Washington and later he addressed the nation from the Rose Garden flanked by his cabinet. He pledged the assistance of the federal government in every way possible to save lives, sustain lives and execute a comprehensive recovery effort in the areas devastated by Katrina.

“The folks on the Gulf Coast are going to need the help of this country for a long time,” Bush said. “This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented. But there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to succeed. Right now the days seem awfully dark for those affected — I understand that. But I’m confident that, with time, you can get your life back in order, new communities will flourish, the great city of New Orleans will be back on its feet, and America will be a stronger place for it.”

Bush plans to tour the hurricane-ravaged area Sept. 2, and he has asked former Presidents Clinton and Bush to head a private fundraising campaign to help with recovery.

Efforts to evacuate more than 20,000 people from the Superdome in New Orleans were disrupted Thursday by escalated lawlessness, including at least one shot fired at a helicopter and several incidents of arson outside the complex. Able-bodied persons were still being loaded onto buses and taken 350 miles to the Astrodome in Houston, but the sick and injured needing to be airlifted were left until order could be restored around the Superdome, MSNBC.com reported.

As looting and the potential for further violence threatened to hinder the complete evacuation of New Orleans, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered police to cease search-and-rescue efforts and devote their time to gaining control of thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile and toting guns, FoxNews.com reported.

“I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting, or price-gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving, or insurance fraud,” Bush said in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Sept. 1.

“If people need water and food, we’re going to do everything we can to get them water and food. But it’s very important for the citizens in all affected areas to take personal responsibility and assume kind of a civic sense of responsibility so the situation doesn’t get out of hand, so people don’t exploit the vulnerable,” Bush said.

More than 28,000 National Guard troops have been ordered to the region, comprising what could be the largest military response to a natural disaster. The federal government is also sending helicopters, warships and elite SEAL water-rescue teams, FoxNews.com reported.

As his city soaks in a reddish-brown soup of sewage, gasoline and garbage, Nagin predicted it could be two or three months before New Orleans is functional again. When asked how many people died in the hurricane, Nagin said, “Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.” Officials still are unable to release a death toll in the city because the number of floating bodies is overwhelming.

Electricity remains out to more than 1 million Gulf Coast residents, and the Bush administration has declared a public health emergency for the entire region as authorities are concerned about outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases.

In Mississippi, officials are reporting a death toll of 185 so far, adding that they have yet to reach half the communities of Gulfport and Biloxi. Emergency workers are setting up makeshift hospitals in tents as they attempt to treat the injured, CNN.com reported.
Compiled by Erin Curry with reporting by Brian Blackwell & Brent Thompson.

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