NEW ORLEANS (BP)–A simple act of service spoke volumes to Sid Allen.
“To me they represent what the church should be,” Allen said after volunteers cleaned out his flood-damaged home. “They came and gave of themselves and asked for nothing in return.”
The volunteers were Southern Baptists who came to New Orleans through the MissionLab program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in late January. These volunteers are making a significant impact on the NOBTS campus and in the neighborhoods near the seminary as well.
The seminary launched MissionLab in 1999 to provide custom mission experiences for youth, college students and senior adults. Before the hurricane, MissionLab focused on urban ministry outside the seminary gates.
Hurricane Katrina presented a unique challenge for MissionLab. Flooding left the city virtually empty and NOBTS campus housing severely damaged. Meanwhile, many Baptists began calling to offer help with campus restoration.
The MissionLab staff adapted for new needs. They began scheduling volunteers to help clean and restore the campus. However, from the start, MissionLab directors Bob and Linda Jackson hoped volunteers also would be able to help restore homes in the community. That goal was reached in January.
Since Oct. 31, when seminary cleanup began, volunteers have cleaned out and painted numerous campus apartments and buildings, trimmed trees, laid new sod and installed new fencing. The results are tangible — Southern Baptist volunteers have saved the seminary an estimated $1 million in labor costs.
During the week of Feb. 19, volunteers from First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn., continued the on-campus restoration work. Nine members of the church repainted student and staff apartments on Lipsey Street, getting the campus ready for reopening later this spring. This was the second team sent from the Tennessee church and plans are underway to send two more groups.
Volunteers are still needed to help with the mammoth restoration effort on campus. However, when large groups of volunteers come to campus, the Jacksons send some into the neighborhoods to help homeowners like Sid Allen.
Allen fled to Kentucky after the storm and returned to his job in New Orleans at The Bridge House, a drug and alcohol recovery program, in October. Because of his work schedule, Allen couldn’t find time to gut his flooded home. His neighbor had received help from MissionLab, so Allen gave the Jacksons a call.
Volunteers from First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, Fla., and Central Baptist Church in Marlow, Okla., spent a day and a half gutting Allen’s home. The job would have taken Allen weeks. Allen was overwhelmed by the act of kindness.
“They were really a blessing,” Allen said. The group even took Allen out for lunch after they finished at his home.
Post-hurricane adaptability also will mark the seven-week MissionLab youth program this summer. Traditional MissionLab ministry areas such as the public housing projects and mission centers may not be open this summer. MissionLab staffers, searching for ministry opportunities, noticed entire neighborhoods of FEMA trailers parked in front of severely damaged homes as owners work to salvage and rebuild.
The staffers saw the clusters of trailers as perfect locations for block parties and backyard Bible clubs.
“The neat thing is the openness for allowing us to come into these neighborhoods,” said Rob Wilton, chapel pastor for MissionLab. “The ministry that we are going to be a part of is going to be unbelievable.”
Wilton said the MissionLab staffers are praying for a movement of God and many to accept Christ when 200 youth per week descend on the city for the outreach this summer.