Missouri needs to help New Orleans Baptists
Those words, all, are words that many of us heard and used more than two years ago trying to describe and trying to understand the destruction of New Orleans immediately following the incomparable explosion of Hurricane Katrina on that city.
Surely you remember the pictures on the television news every morning, evening and night for several months. You read about it over and over again in newspapers and in magazines. Time and again, we were reminded of the desolation of a once vibrant city in the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in the history of our country.
Many of you actually traveled to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana and to New Orleans, itself, and you saw the damage for yourself. You were moved with compassion to action. You gave your time, your talent and your treasure. You gave up your energy and your sweat. Some of you offered your expertise and your equipment. Many of you spent a few days working in disaster relief. But some of you gave up weeks, even months, feeding homeless people, cleaning up debris, working on chain saw crews, cutting up and stacking tree limbs, scraping mud out of houses and businesses, and ministering to people who were hurting physically, emotionally and spiritually. And, Missouri Baptists generously gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the disaster relief work in the St. Bernard parish of New Orleans.
Two years ago, your Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board voted to adopt a specific area of New Orleans called the St. Bernard Parish. Hundreds of Missouri Baptist churches sent thousands of volunteers to the St. Bernard area of the city known as the Big Easy. You went to rebuild homes and churches. The Poydras Baptist Church, located near the Delacroix Island (pronounced del-a-croy) area of St. Bernard parish is one of the churches rebuilt by Missouri Baptists. Today, the new carpet and comfortable chairs in the sanctuary of that church offer the people of the St. Bernard Parish a fresh and clean place to worship our Lord. The people and pastor of Poydras Baptist Church have expressed that they are forever grateful for the people of God called Missouri Baptists who scraped mud, scrubbed floors and walls, replaced windows, replaced kitchen and bathroom fixtures, put up drywall, painted and otherwise rebuilt that church. I have seen the finished product. You can be proud of your work.
The First Baptist Church of Delacroix Island also is being rebuilt. While Missouri Baptist people also helped in that effort, the work at the Delacroix church currently is being completed by volunteers from other Southern Baptist state conventions. The pastor at the First Baptist Church of Delacroix Island is affectionately called “Booger.” He is a man entirely sold out to the Lord, and committed to rebuilding the city and reaching the people of New Orleans. Prior to the hurricane, the Delacroix Island church struggled to reach only a few people in a heavily catholic area. Since Katrina, the Catholic Church has all but pulled out of Delacroix Island. The people of the island are watching the Baptists rebuild and they are responding to “Booger” and the message of hope in Jesus Christ that he preaches. Missouri Baptists will learn a lot through continued involvement in that exciting ministry.
Missouri Baptists also have been instrumental in the rebuilding of the First Baptist Church of Chalmette. In fact, Missouri’s own Gary and Marilyn Morrow have actually moved to Chalmette to oversee the work of rebuilding First Baptist Church. Technically, Gary Morrow is called the project coordinator. But don’t get the wrong idea. In this case, oversight and coordination means a lot of hard work and sweat from the Morrows themselves. John Jeffries, pastor to the Chalmette First Baptist Church only recently was able to move back to Chalmette. For over two years, Pastor Jeffries was forced to live two hours away from the church and the church field to which God has called him. Finally, volunteers, led by Morrow, have completed the work on the pastor’s house and he is back on the field reaching the people in St. Bernard parish. The Jeffries house had been deemed “not rebuildable.” But, Show-Me state Baptists rebuilt the house and the pastor has returned.
But we have been talking about the New Orleans of more than two years ago.
What about the New Orleans of 2008? Are we ready for a rebuilding rededication celebration? Has the work in St. Bernard Parish been completed? Hardly.
Those words, all, are words that describe the St. Bernard parish in New Orleans today. The fact is our job in New Orleans is not finished. A few weeks ago, a few of us from your MBC staff flew to New Orleans. Roy Spannagel, Danny Decker, Gary Taylor and I were there to evaluate the work that has been completed. We were impressed with your handiwork. We were impressed with the dedication of people like Gary and Marilyn Morrow and their dedication to the people of St. Bernard parish. But we also came to understand that there is more work to be done. And that work needs to be done soon.
I was struck as we turned onto the street in front of the Chalmette First Baptist Church by a sign prominently displayed on the chain-link fence that surrounds the partially restored church. The sign stated, “Restoration made possible through the Cooperative Program of the __________ Baptist Convention.” I’m not going to give you the name of the state convention. But thankfully, it was not Missouri. I always perk up when I see any sign of the Cooperative Program at work. Normally, I like to brag on the Cooperative Program. But this time, I remember thinking, only to myself (you are the first person I have told about this), that sign has been on that fence for more than two years in front of a half-restored church building. It is obvious to the passerby that the work has been stalled. Missouri Baptists, that sign is a poor testimony of the work of Southern Baptists. We need to finish the work on that church immediately. And then we can proudly put up another sign that says “Restoration made possible through the Cooperative Program of the MISSOURI Baptist Convention”.
Will you help us? Have we forgotten about our partnership with the people and churches of the St. Bernard Parish? Perhaps your church will take another mission trip to New Orleans? Gary Morrow has given me a list of 11 projects that are needed to complete the work on the Chalmette First Baptist Church. You can find that list of 11 mission/building projects on the MBC website. Or, call me. I can help you discover a great missions opportunity for your church. Surely we have at least 11 of our 1,984 Missouri Baptist Churches that are willing to go again and give their time, talent and treasure to others who have lost so much.
Another opportunity to help will be offered to those who participate in the 2008 Missouri Baptist Evangelism Conference. On Tuesday night of that conference, New Orleans pastor, Fred Luter will be the featured speaker, and that evening an offering will be taken specifically for the work at the Chalmette First Baptist Church. I am praying that you will give and go to New Orleans. Won’t you help us honor our commitment to the churches and people of St. Bernard Parish. Let’s finish this work.