NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Unconventional mission trips to New Orleans have helped a number of U.S. Coast Guard cadets and college students from Connecticut see that many of the folks helping with hurricane recovery work on the Gulf Coast are Christians as opposed to secularists.
“Our mission team was our mission trip,” said Randy Bond, director of the New London Collegiate Ministry in Connecticut who has taken four teams of Coast Guard cadets and students -– including non-Christians — to his home state of Louisiana for volunteer work.
Social awareness is in vogue at Connecticut College and Mitchell College, Bond said. But after Hurricane Katrina struck, New London Collegiate Ministry was the only group making tangible plans to help Louisiana and Mississippi residents.
In Connecticut, apathy and even open hostility to Christianity is common on the campuses where Bond ministers, and just 1 percent — 35,000 people — of Connecticut’s population holds an evangelical faith.
“This is a Gospel-hardened place, and leading someone to Christ is a long, long process,” Bond said. “But taking these teams has been a catapult forward in that process. One team member made a commitment to Christ and several others are very close.”
For many of the students, seeing the response of Christian groups and individuals to the disaster was the first time they had witnessed believers living out their faith, Bond said.
“Where are the secular humanists?” one team member, a self-professed humanist, asked. Bond said the young man was bothered that a large percentage of volunteers in New Orleans were Christians rather than secularists.
The students have a small view of Christianity and perceive it to be inconsequential, Bond said, but the tremendous response of Christians to the disaster has shown them how large the Kingdom of God really is. At the end of the week, the humanist told Bond he was going to reconsider his worldview.
Austin Evers, a USC-2 missionary appointed by the North American Mission Board to work with New London Collegiate Ministry, said that as word of the mission trips has spread, the ministry has built a new rapport among those they’re trying to reach in Connecticut. Taking non-Christians as team members, Evers said, has built relationships and opened doors of opportunity for witnessing.
“This has changed their perception of Jesus and His followers,” Evers, of Harleton, Texas, said. “They no longer see us as isolationists trying to keep out the world.”
The teams worked with Edgewater Baptist Church, which was Bond’s home church during his student years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Operation NOAH Rebuild, a two-year initiative of the North American Mission Board to rebuild homes in New Orleans, helped arrange accommodations for the groups’ trips.
Like bookends to their mission, the teams gutted the Edgewater facility in December 2005, and in December 2006 they gutted the last of the neighborhood homes the church had pledged to help. They also worshiped with the congregation in the renovated educational wing of the church.
“The students were impressed that a church that had lost so much was helping its neighbors,” Evers said. “They wanted to know why.”
At first, students were bothered by the magnitude of the destruction and asked why the hurricane happened. Bond said it became an opportunity to examine Scripture with them and talk about the effects of sin on mankind and on creation.
The question of why the hurricane happened became less an issue as students saw the outpouring of God’s love through Christian volunteers and the unwavering faith of the small remnant of members at Edgewater Baptist Church.
“Christians who had been through it all still testified that God is good,” Bond said. “It made an impression.”
Nearly 75 students participated in the four teams that traveled to New Orleans. The cadets, particularly, made a personal connection with New Orleans and with the men and women of the Coast Guard stationed there, Bond said.
Driven by a strong sense of compassion and duty, the cadets worked non-stop from sunrise to sunset, Bond said, often working until he forced them to stop.
“The cadets have a sobering understanding that they may one day have to lay their lives on the line for someone else,” Bond said. “They give it all to everything they do.”
Of the three campuses, the cadets have been the most responsive to New London Collegiate Ministry. But Bond and his staff have found the trips have earned them a new respect on the affluent and politically correct Connecticut College campus.
As many as 75 students meet in the Bond family home for worship services on Saturday nights, a sign of a growing work among an unreached people group in New England.
Marilyn Stewart is a correspondent for the communications team of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.