NEW ORLEANS (BP)–As Hurricane Lili made landfall Oct. 3, the most carnival-like atmosphere in Louisiana may have been at First Baptist Church in DeRidder.
The church served as a shelter and provided meals for 100-125 carnival workers who were in the west-Louisiana city for a festival, reported Johnny Johnson, director of missions for the DeRidder-based Beauregard/Vernon Baptist Association.
Elsewhere across the largely evacuated Gulf Coast regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and east Texas, Hurricane Lili’s winds were accompanied by sighs of relief that it had become a Category 2 storm — and still dangerous — but not on par with the Category 4 storm it had been during the night, with winds of 131 to 155 mph.
Lili hit the south-central Louisiana coast at 8 a.m. Oct. 3 with winds of 100 mph.
“The Lord Jesus blessed. We were careful about how we prayed,” Johnson told Baptist Press the morning of Oct. 3, “because we didn’t want the storm to go anywhere else, but we didn’t want it either.”
Three Southern Baptist disaster relief units which had been at work since Tropical Storm Isidore a week earlier — two units in Louisiana and one in Mississippi — closed and volunteers were evacuated the day before Lili made landfall.
The teams are planning to resume operations “once the storm clears [and] they can safely operate,” according to a report posted at the disaster relief website maintained by the North American Mission Board, which coordinates multi-state disaster relief by Southern Baptists.
The Louisiana units were stationed at Christ Baptist Church, Houma, and Williams Boulevard Baptist Church, Kenner; the Mississippi unit, at First Baptist Church, Biloxi.
The unit at Houma returned to its base in Ruston, while the unit at Kenner moved to a Baptist campground in Hammond, northwest of New Orleans, Joel Phillips, offsite coordinator told Baptist Press Oct. 3. The Mississippi unit was secured behind one of the Biloxi church’s buildings, Phillips said.
On standby are an additional Southern Baptist disaster relief unit from Louisiana and others from Arkansas, Alabama and east Texas, along with two shower units operated by the mission board and command/communications units from Texas and South Carolina.
The Beauregard/Vernon Baptist Association office had planned to be open to church people who live in mobile homes, but that ministry wasn’t needed, Johnson reported, with the local school system sufficient to serve as the area’s primary shelter. Some church members in the association opened their homes to church members from places such as Morgan City, where residents were evacuated, Johnson said.
One bayou-area pastor in Louisiana, Jerry Moser, reported by e-mail Oct. 3 that “quite a number [of local church members] will remain to ride the storm out on their boats,” after he and many others evacuated the Bayou DuLarge community Oct. 2. “Our fishing vessels are the only means most of our people have of making a living,” he wrote. “The fate of those who remain will depend upon just how intense the storm is as it blasts through our area.”
Moser recounted that he and his wife, Cindy, have lived on the Bayou DuLarge marsh island since 1983 “and we’ve been through several hurricanes and tropical storms over the years. Along with our people, we have lost our home and possessions, but by God’s grace there has been no loss of life. Houses, boats, cars and all other possessions can be replaced, but the loss of a life is a great loss indeed. Most of those who are staying do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Savior,” he wrote, asking for prayer for their safety.
With Lili’s approach, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary closed Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. and was to remain closed through Thursday, Oct. 3. The seminary will reopen on Friday unless circumstances prevent.
Following so closely to Tropical Storm Isidore, the seminary campus was prepared for another storm, said Chris Friedmann, associate vice president of operations. Many of the campus’ largest windows are covered with plywood and loose items have been stored.
“The trees on our campus are our greatest concern,” Friedmann said. Anticipating more damage from wind rather than rain, he encouraged everyone on campus to stay indoors and out of possible harm from termite-ridden tree limbs that may be hurled about by Lili.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, in Tuesday morning chapel, Oct. 1, told the seminary community, “Please remember that when God called you here to learn and prepare for ministry or to be a part of the teaching team or staff of the seminary, he did so with the intent of making this place a part of your discipling process.
“The experiences that you have while you are here are not accidental or casual experiences,” Kelley said.
“What you must understand, if you have not understood it yet, is that the call to ministry is a dangerous calling,” the president continued. “God may intentionally lead you in harm’s way for his purposes and his kingdom’s advance. He has led many people on the mission field, places most people would consider very dangerous places. They have gone — wife and children — in obedience to God’s call.”
He encouraged each person to live in accord with the direction God is leading them.
“What are we doing now with another storm in the Gulf?” Kelley asked. “I am asking God to quiet my heart, to remove from my heart fear of the circumstances, … to quiet my heart and to listen to his direction.”
To the seminarians, he concluded, “God has called you to this place … a place that does get threatened by storms as a part of your discipling process. And he is teaching you as you pray about how to handle circumstances … and how to listen to his voice through those circumstances.”
Shannon Baker contributed to this article.