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Scope of opportunity expands for port ministry after Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Global Maritime Ministries, the Southern Baptist ministry to the Port of New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana, has found that the world is truly at their doorstep as thousands of international seamen enter their ports each year.

The three-man staff of GMM often has the opportunity to share the Gospel with people from countries closed to missionaries.

But the presence of relief workers from across the nation and the prevalence of loss due to Hurricane Katrina have produced a myriad of new visitors and new ministry opportunities for GMM, even as they deal with their own loss.

Though no physical damage was sustained at the two centers and offices operated by GMM, personal loss was much greater.

Jared Walley, a port chaplain and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student, suffered extensive damage to his home and significant loss to his family’s belongings.

Philip Vandercook, executive director of GMM, and his staff returned to the New Orleans port as soon as authorities allowed, providing clothes, Bibles and supplies for those in need, including 15 Harbor Police officers whose homes were completely lost.

As others learned of the work of GMM, requests for help began to pour in.

The office personnel of the Army Corps of Engineers sustained great losses and asked Vandercook for emergency supplies. When an officer learned of the death of a family member in Mexico, Vandercook was called upon to provide pastoral counseling.

Through their contact with military personnel, GMM was granted permission to board the two Carnival cruise ships chartered by FEMA to house emergency personnel, and they’re allowed to conduct worship services and minister to the crews for the duration of the relief effort.

“God has opened the right doors at the right time to meet the right people,” Vandercook said.

Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of the Port of New Orleans, but the GMM center at Reserve, La., 40 miles upriver, remained open. After the levees broke, the center served as a temporary post for the National Guard, enabling them to enter the flooded region by boat.

Chris Garrett, a port chaplain at Reserve, helped transport emergency personnel to command centers, and GMM provided three meals each day for the National Guard there.

“The men witnessed some disturbing scenes,” Garrett said. “We were glad to provide a place for them away from all that.”

The GMM center at Reserve is also the temporary home to 40 men who lost everything in the heavily flooded area of St. Bernard Parish. Meals, shelter and clothing continue to be provided.

The heightened demand for supplies and resources accentuates the greatest loss for the port ministry staff — a sudden drop in critical financial support.

“Many of our most faithful supporters are in the Gulf Coast region and have been devastated by Katrina,” Walley said. “They are hurting, too.”

More than 85 percent of the ministry’s annual budget is met by donations from churches and individuals, rather than from convention funds.

Financial contributions may be made by sending checks designated for Global Maritime Ministries to the Louisiana Baptist Foundation, P.O. Box 311, Alexandria, LA 71309.

    About the Author

  • Marilyn Stewart