NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Visible from miles away, the steeple of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel has always been a symbol of hope in the city of New Orleans.
In 2002, when seminary administrators chose a new logo for the school, they chose the steeple as a symbol for the NOBTS. The symbol represents the seminary’s witness in the city and the world.
As seminary families returned to campus in the early morning hours Oct. 5-9, the steeple was the only light visible for miles and miles. This lone point of light shining in a sea of darkness represented the hope many have for the seminary and city -– a hope rooted in Jesus Christ.
“The steeple was the first thing we lit when power was restored,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “It really is a light in the midst of darkness.”
For Kelley, this one point of light represents the way God will use the seminary in the coming months -– as a leader in the redevelopment of New Orleans and the re-establishment of area churches. The seminary’s recovery and cleanup efforts, he said, are at least a month ahead of other areas flooded when the levees failed.
Other signs of hope awaited the students, faculty and staff members as they returned to reclaim their possessions. Cleanup crews cleared debris from campus even as seminary families moved out of their homes. At the end of each day, new progress could be seen. Large stacks of roofing materials were stockpiled throughout the campus awaiting repair workers. The initial repair work on many of the damaged roofs already had been completed.
Another sign of hope came each day at 10 a.m. during the campus return –- a brief chapel service on the steps of Leavell Chapel. Endel Lee, an NOBTS professor and a Navy chaplain serving with the Coast Guard in New Orleans, led the service.
“The place behind me, this is where we worship [in chapel services Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the school year] at 10 a.m.,” Lee said. “We stop everything and we come to this place to honor God. I thought in light of these circumstances [we should] first of all be thankful to God for showing His mercy.”
Lee led the small group that gathered each day in songs such as “Amazing Grace,” “He Is Lord,” and “I’ll Fly Away” before sharing a brief Bible reading and message. The service was a small act of resolve and recovery in the midst of difficult surroundings.
The Harsch family received a special blessing as they arrived to clean out their home on faculty row Oct. 5. Bizzie Bene, a campus security officer, met the family at their home to return their cat, Tanner.
“We had no idea if [Tanner] was dead or alive until today,” Jill Harsch said of the happy reunion.
When the Harsch family evacuated, they left their cat in the garage, expecting to return in a few days. Then the flood came and the family feared the worst for their family pet.
The family also praised God for the comfort and help they have received during the disaster.
“God has been very good to us,” Jill said. “He has been taking care of us, providing for us. Everything that’s back here is just stuff.”
For many, the return to campus also revealed deep feelings about the city and the seminary. Many expressed a desire to return to the city as soon the cleanup is complete. For these students, the events surrounding Katrina confirmed their call to the city. Many said they want to help shape the “new” New Orleans through Christian service and witness.
One student family expressed these sentiments as they finished cleaning their apartment and prepared to leave. “I miss my home,” the wife said. “This is where I want to be.”
Her husband was offered a fulltime pastoral ministry position in northern Louisiana. He declined the offer, but agreed to serve as the church’s interim pastor. The student made one thing very clear as he accepted the short-term work -– God has called him to New Orleans.