By Jack Hunter
NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Disaster narrows focus and frames choice. When your neighbor is busted up and bleeding out, do you go to him or pass by? This was the question Katrina put to the churches here: Would we pass by on the clean, safe and orderly side of the road, or would we cross over and go to our neighbor in his gritty, messy, costly need? (Luke 10:30-33)
In the wake of Katrina, our larger Southern Baptist community crossed over. Its disaster relief response has been well documented. Southern Baptists get a well-deserved “A” in volunteerism and disaster relief. To our larger Baptist family, we remember your response and again say, “Thank you. Thank you for coming to us when our need seemed overwhelming.”
Our local Southern Baptist community crossed over, too. We did disaster relief day after day, week after week, year after year. There were days when we thought that the gutting out, crying, and rebuild would never end. At about year four, it began to slow down. A couple of years later, the rebuild was over. But there were still needs, deep needs.
We crossed over. Our local Southern Baptist community partnered with foundations and other non-profits, and built nearly 100 new homes in one of the communities hardest hit by Katrina.
We crossed over. Our local Southern Baptist community is now a leader in the recruitment, training, and support of Christian families fostering vulnerable, traumatized children. We now contract with the city and state to train juvenile justice system and children and family services personnel in trust-based relational interventions.
We crossed over. Our local Baptist community launched a community health clinic in the Lower 9th Ward when, almost a decade after Katrina, there were still no grocery stores, gas stations, schools, police or fire stations, or medical services. But there were people. Hurting, needy people who, despite their enormous loss, felt as if they had been abandoned.
Six years after opening, Baptist Community Health Services now employs full-time pediatricians, internal medicine and family practice doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, nurses, and others at five locations across the metropolitan area. BCHS is a federally qualified health clinic providing primary care to all. Its key personnel are commissioned as urban medical missionaries by the New Orleans Baptist Association and their clinics are mission points sharing the love of Christ in both word and deed.
We crossed over. Over the past several years, the New Orleans Baptist Association has distributed more than $500,000 to churches and individuals across Louisiana suffering significant net loss due to flooding, hurricanes, tornados, and COVID-19. Every dollar distributed has been in collaboration with local churches and in the name and love of Christ.
We crossed over. Our local Baptist community is participating in open and honest conversations about racism in our own hearts, churches, institutions, and society, as together we seek the mind of Christ and the responses of His Church to end this scourge.
We crossed over. Our local Baptist community is praying and working on how we, as followers of Christ, can break the cycle of generational poverty in our city, setting free those long held captive in its shackles.
Going into neighbors’ flooded homes, day after day, with a wheelbarrow and shovel, and dumping all their belongings in a soggy heap on the curb has an effect. It clarifies what’s important, what’s temporary, what matters most. Christ and His kingdom, what Augustine called the civitate Dei, are eternal, and, therefore, they are real, genuine, and true. Our stuff is temporary, no matter how well we insure it, and so are our lives in this world, the civitate terra. The death of a friend or loved one has a similar effect. Both remind us that life at its longest is very brief. On the other hand, our life in Christ is eternal.
Katrina galvanized the confidence of our faith community in Christ: Christ died for us. Christ rose for us. Christ lives for us. Christ called us. Christ saved us. Christ sends us. Christ is with us. Christ is in us. Christ goes before us. Christ is above us. Christ forgives us. Christ cleanses us. Christ assures us. Christ depends on us. Christ equips us. Christ must be all, or all is nothing.
In some ways, our faith community is past Katrina. We’ve moved on. But the flood and how it changed us are always with us like a brown, oily waterline on the side of a once-flooded house. Fifteen years after the flood, our post-Katrina purpose remains the same: Share Jesus, Start Churches, Shape Culture.
Jack Hunter is executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association. Saturday, Aug. 29, marked the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.