Month: September 2005

God’s purpose in Katrina

While speaking at a rally for the Texas Restoration Project, Arlington pastor Dwight McKissic asked if God might have a purifying purpose in the shaking Katrina gave our country. A few people had a fit about it. Others sought to distance themselves from such a politically incorrect question. Governor Perry was on the program with Pastor McKissic and a spokesman for the governor’s office said: “The governor does not agree with that. But far be it for the governor to try to divine the will of the Almighty.” Was the preacher’s even raising that question insensitive or was it prophetic?

Christians are often asked by cynics to answer for God in the face of tragedy that only he could have prevented. The implication is that we must have settled this question if we continue to follow a god who must be either powerless or wicked. No simple answers are to be had. In fact it’s a bad question. It’s narrow to think of God having a single purpose for New Orleans on August 28 any more than for Austin on that same day. More importantly, he has millions of purposes for that day, and for the blessings and tragedies of this one. Some of those will become clear in the lives of individuals.

For this reason (dangerous ground here), we expect to meet people for whom August 28 marked a positive life change, as well as those for whom it was a lifelong catastrophe. For most, it will be like the other shakeups of life, an experience that may bring us important lessons but no one would choose to repeat. When Jesus said, in Matt. 5:45, that God brings the rain on the “righteous and the unrighteous” he was referring to indiscriminate blessing, but we can also imagine in most every case that some will find the details of this common grace to be inconvenient or destructive.

Don’t forget in the midst of our focus on one tragedy that thousands of events just as devastating for individuals happen each day in large and small towns not directly affected by a hurricane. Lost jobs, sick children, crime, broken families, and thousand other manifestations of sin’s effect tower over the other details of our lives anytime we face them. They happened in New Orleans also, perhaps at a higher than average rate, during what most considered to be the best of times. Some find these more localized disasters to have a refining effect. Others never get past the bitterness of the loss. To a large degree we all trudge through the same corrupting creation. Some can do it without ever seeing the mercies that often accompany the wounds. As neighbors who bear many of the same scars, we carry the good news of those mercies and of the God who grants them more generously in the midst of suffering.

Katrina was not the gentle soaking rain that breaks a drought. It was furious and destructive. Hundreds of thousands had their calendars cleared in a harsh way. Many hundreds were killed. There is no single description of God’s purpose for all these people. There is a purpose for each one, an impact that washes over the lives of many others who travel to Louisiana or Mississippi, or Alabama?and for those who meet evacuees in their own home towns. A thousand journalists working a thousand days will not tell all the stories. And the stories will move outward from here. Some will never return to their former homes. New communities formed around evacuees will plant in Lubbock and Ft. Smith and Shreveport and a score of other places. Small changes have an impact we may hardly notice. Massive changes are unavoidable for a whole generation. Though with less loss of life, the hurricane of 2005 will ultimately affect more lives than the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in 2001.

Even in our limited vision, the stories will not be all bad. Thousands who formerly scoffed at Christians have been touched by the love of Christ in the past few weeks. I’ve seen Moslems praying in a Southern Baptist church and I’ve seen self-absorbed suburbanites anxiously pursuing a chance to help those very strange to them. No doubt some children who lived in squalor will now grow up with new opportunity, and safety. Some who were oppressed by demonic lives of drug addiction will be set free and begin a new life in Christ. Some who lived in thrall to dark religions will spend eternity with God. And many of us for whom the poor were abstract, now put precious faces and names to Jesus’ call to feed and clothe the least among us.

What about judgment, though? That’s Dwight McKissic’s question that sent the more timid running for high ground. Do we squirm a little because the idea is daffy or because a prophetic word is supposed to make us squirm? Most of us live in cities that could be righteously judged, and we would know the reason why. God extends patience toward our home towns for the sake of both the saints and the lost. New Orleans, or for that matter Biloxi and Mobile are no exceptions. Many who would accept a prophetic message about God’s mercy (and only potential judgment) on unrighteous communities are unwilling to hear that message when mercy is lifted ever so slightly. It seems ungrateful and nearsighted to think we’re owed forbearance.

Although we’re not privy to much of God’s purpose or his evaluation of a people or place, we can easily judge the fruit of a life or community. The most pertinent evaluation we can make is of our own community. Hurricanes, and other “acts of God,” should remind us of his power and of his mercy.

If we look at the human stories we’ve already seen and further imagine those likely to unfold, purification is an apt description. Those formerly lost people who return to New Orleans saved will add a purifying element in a town that has a bad rep among respectable people. Those who remain lost will never be quite so confident in their self-sufficiency. Many of these will have heard the gospel from someone during their exile. It will either take root in their lives or continually judge their unbelief. Again, purifying.

Criswell College president calls students to ‘stand between the living and the dead’

DALLAS?Instead of blaming or judging those involved in relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina victims, Criswell College President Jerry Johnson instructed students and faculty to assume the attitude of Moses and Aaron?to stand between the living and the dead. In a Sept. 8 chapel address where volunteers were commissioned to serve in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Dallas, Johnson reminded that murmuring, complaining and rebellion brought death, according to Scripture.

“We are prone to this today. That is why I am always for the pastor, I am always for the policeman, I am always for the president. They are authorities that God has placed over us in our lives. We need to get under the authority that God has put over us, and not be murmuring and complaining and blaming them. We need to understand theologically that what brings death is sin and sin is rebellion against God and his authority and those authorities he has placed over us.”

As 40 Criswell College students and professors prepared to travel by specially chartered bus to assist with disaster relief efforts, Johnson called on students to urgently “stand between the living and the dead” with prayer and the atoning message of the gospel.

“When the plague comes and when the blame game begins, God’s people must stand between the living and the dead,” he told the 40 students and faculty joining the efforts of Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) Disaster Relief units assigned to work alongside the Salvation Army and Red Cross relief efforts in Louisiana.

“We ought to seize this opportunity. This is an effective door that has opened if we believe in the providence and the sovereignty of God. He means to bring glory to himself and he means to bring the gospel to the people. He means to save people and he means to use you and me to do it. We need to be urgent. Now is the time.”

Johnson’s message underscored the active role the Dallas school has taken in response to Hurricane Katrina. On Sept. 6, the Criswell College volunteers received necessary “yellow hat” training from SBTC to allow them to enter and assist in relief areas. On Sept. 7, about 150 Criswell students and professors went to three Salvation Army disaster relief sites to minister to hurricane victims, including those inside Reunion Arena. Meanwhile, Criswell College students have given over $800 for disaster relief, and college radio station KCBI has raised over $37,000 that will be sent to the North American Mission Board disaster relief fund.

“There are two things happening in that region,” Johnson said of the stricken Gulf Coast. “People there are gospel hardened. Many people in Mississippi are Baptists, but they are backslidden or lost. Many are members of Baptist churches, but they are lost. In New Orleans there is a dearth of the gospel. Now those people have come out. They have been flushed out among us, and we have an opportunity to share with them. We don’t have to go to New Orleans; they are right here among us. They are out of their comfort zone.”

Johnson took as his text Numbers 16:41-50, where the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron, just after those involved in Korah’s rebellion were destroyed when the earth opened up and closed over them.

“There was an earthquake?a natural disaster. The earth opened up and swallowed a bunch of people. It was something that God did in judgment. Actively God judged the people. Then in this passage we read that the people began to complain and the blame game began. They blamed Moses. They said, ‘Moses, you killed the people?the people of the Lord!'”

Johnson noted that other biblical passages, such as the description in John 8 of the man born blind, the story of the fall of the tower of Siloam in Luke 13, and the struggles of Job, show that not all disaster is a judgment on sin. Likewise, Johnson refused to join with those would claim that Katrina is part of God’s judgment on America.

Insisting that he does not know the mind of God regarding the hurricane’s purpose, Johnson noted a range of biblical options:

?A direct act of judgment through natural disaster for sin such as is found in the passage he cited or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah;

?Part of living on a sinful earth when there is a holy God.

Somewhere in the range from this general curse on the earth, to a direct act of judgment for a situation, these kinds of events fall,” Johnson concluded.

He observed that the first response of Moses and Aaron was not to figure out God’s purposes, but instead to pray.

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SBTC church members minister to Katrina victims through vocations

“Just another day at the office” has taken on a whole new meaning for several Texas Southern Baptists who are using their ordinary vocations to provide extraordinary aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Glenn Freeman of Grand Prairie is using his 30-plus years of military experience on the frontlines of Katrina’s destruction: New Orleans. According to his wife, Toni, her husband has served in the United States Air Force and the Air National Guard. He was activated by the Guard and sent to New Orleans where he is helping to set up a tent city in the ravaged community. Due to the destruction, communication with Freeman is sparse, but his duties might be expanded to include search and rescue and recovery operations.

Freeman, who works for Sprint, was called to serve for a year in Fort Worth following the 9/11 attacks and has been struck by what he’s seen in New Orleans, his wife said. “He e-mailed and said it was like being in a whole other country.”

Ben Peterson of Keller might have felt like he was in another country as he tried to fulfill his duties as a prime medical supply vendor following the hurricane. Peterson’s territory includes Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama?all affected by the storm. In addition, the regional distribution facility near Lake Ponchartrain was knocked out of commission. “We had to redirect all of our products,” Peterson said.

While many of the hospitals he services in New Orleans were closed, other hospitals in the region were overflowing with casualties and had a great need for medical supplies. “It was unbelievable. We were struggling from our inventory to try to get product to the hospitals,” Peterson said. Also, communication breakdowns complicated the efforts. “We had a hard time getting in contact with hospitals,” he said.

Peterson was so engrossed in trying to make sure hospitals had what they needed that he didn’t realize the scope of Katrina’s destruction for several days.

“I had been so busy. My focus had been on what I was trying to do,” Peterson said. “I reached a point last week and I stopped and watched TV. It broke my heart. It was gut-wrenching.”

The distribution center Peterson uses is now fully operational again.

But while structures are being repaired, it will be some time before the lives of the hurricane victims are back to normal again. Working through school districts across Texas, many children will begin to rebuild by going back to school.

At Grand Prairie Independent School District, Southern Baptist Patty Busby serves as secretary to the superintendent, helping to welcome 146 children of evacuees. GPISD is not only enrolling students in school, but is also helping provide assistance in the form of food, clothing, and housing.

“It’s just part of my job,” Busby said. “We are working with all our school principals and social workers and the superintendent to get everyone on the same page.” The superintendent is also working to get the city of Grand Prairie on board with the relief effort. “We are trying to get these kids into a stable environment.”

Busby said the district is working with families to make sure students have a place to learn even if it means making exceptions to the norm. For instance, one apartment complex that is housing victims is split between two different schools.

“We are trying to let them go to other schools even outside the boundary,” Busby said. “We don’t want schools to be overcrowded.”

Workers have also heard incredible stories of how people are surviving after Katrina, according to Busby. She had a report of one family with 78 people living under one roof. Of the 78, more than 25 were school-aged children.

Despite the overwhelming numbers and the increased workload, Busby believes this effort is her responsibility.

“As a Christian, there was no question I would be participating,” Busby said. “If we felt inside about what Christ did for us like we do when we see the pictures on TV, there would be no question that we would share our faith. It’s not just a Christian obligation. It’s a moral obligation.”

Lynn Cunningham of Grapevine is trying to fulfill her Christian obligation each day as a transitio

Katrina: Focusing our efforts

The Katrina Disaster has dominated our attention for almost a month. Your SBTC staff went above and beyond the call of duty during this time. I am happy to report to you that within a few hours we went from chaos to a concerted effort to help alleviate the suffering.

SBTC Disaster Relief teams were on the ground almost immediately after the rain stopped in Louisiana and Mississippi. Gibbie McMillan and Bill Davenport have worked tirelessly to direct the training of new volunteers and guide field operations. Cindy Davenport provides support for the DR units and SBTC staff. Virtually every SBTC staff member turned their attention to the relief effort. Thousands of volunteers have been trained to work on the relief teams.

Churches, associations and individuals have contributed in various ways. Of course monetary gifts are the most useful. Through the SBTC budget, surplus funds and Katrina Disaster gifts, literally thousands have been touched.

Although the SBTC is involved on several fronts, we have tried to target our response. David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, told me that over 100 churches were totally lost. He said the most pressing need was to help the pastors’ families with necessities. The SBTC immediately sent $20,000 to help some of those needy families. Several churches have been “adopted” by SBTC congregations. The SBTC churches have agreed to help with clean-up, rebuilding, pastor’s salary and outreach. I would encourage you to contact our office by phone or e-mail if you would like to participate. You may also want to visit the NAMB website at You can “Adopt a Church” and make a difference for the kingdom.

The Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans has been severely impeded by the loss of churches. The SBTC is taking the lead in coordinating assistance for the director of missions, Joe McKeever. Partnering with associations in Texas, the SBTC will help provide for Bro. Joe’s needs, personally, as he directs the New Orleans Association.

What we have seen is Acts 8:1 in reverse. Instead of the church being scattered, many people who do not know Christ have been sent to our communities where we can show them the love of Christ. This could be the sweeping revival that might have never come to New Orleans. “Houses of Hope,” another NAMB effort, are springing up all over Texas. If you are willing to provide housing (either in your home or by arranging apartment housing) for the evacuees, please contact us.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater, was dealt a severe blow. I talked to President Chuck Kelley. He said he would like mud-out units, chainsaw units and other assistance to be directed to the campus as soon as access is permitted. Our primary mission will be to reclaim Texas Manor, faculty housing and any other buildings requested by NOBTS. Immediately, the need is to help displaced faculty and students. The SBTC is working with NOBTS to help those in Texas especially.

Finally, let me say that your Cooperative Program gifts continue to make a difference. Planting churches, reaching the lost, and building the Body of Christ is being accomplished through your faithful participation. What Southern Baptists are doing through Disaster Relief is possible because of the infrastructure funded through the Cooperative Program. Please consider in your upcoming budget to give by percentage and to increase your gifts.

While Katrina will be on our minds for a long time, there is no better way for us to stay focused on kingdom work than to join as one in Amarillo for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. On Oct. 24 and 25 we will pray, preach, sing, and seek the Lord together. See you there.

Texas leaders discover widespread damage in Rita’s trail

JASPER, TX?Fifty miles north of Beaumont in Jasper County,

members of First Baptist Church of Kirbyville were busy passing out water and ice to fellow townspeople who were all in the same predicament: No electricity and no water.

“We’re living ‘old school,'” said Robert Fuller, a member of First Baptist, Kirbyville. The church did not suffer serious damage, he said, but winds knocked out power and damaged homes around the town, Fuller said. “I’ve got a big pine that should have hit our house,” he added.

Fuller said he was making use of his generator, though he said he was expecting to be without power for possibly a month.

The towns of Jasper, Kirbyville, and Silsbee, in deep Southeast Texas, were hard hit by Rita’s winds. Early attempts to reach churches in the area were mostly unsuccessful since phone lines were down and some roads were blocked.

Wind damage was reported as far away as Tyler, Texas, nearly 220 miles north of the Gulf Coast and on the western edge of the storm.

Winds from Rita tore a large portion of a stucco façade from the four-year-old worship center at Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler, which had to cancel Sunday services because church officials were concerned about the building’s safety, said Pastor Dale Perry.

“It tore the west gables off completely and exposed all of the roof and air conditioning duct work and steelwork,” Perry said. “We were really fortunate that we did not have water damage. When Rita passed by, it was strongest from north to south. On the west side of the building it just peeled of like a banana.” Friendly had earlier voted to postpone a planned building note campaign to allow a focus on providing assistance to Katrina victims.

Edwin Crank, president of Jacksonville College, a two-year school affiliated with the SBTC, said about 120 on-campus students waited out the storm without power for much of the Saturday when Rita hit, but the campus was spared serious damage. Jacksonville is about 30 miles south of Tyler in East Texas.

“We just had a couple of broken windows,” Crank said. “Our electricity went off and we were without power for 14 hours. The campus is full of broken limbs and twigs but other than that, everything is just fine. “We were just thankful for the Lord’s hand on us through the process,” he added.

A SBTC staff contingent covered much of East Texas Sept. 26-27, visiting several dozen churches in Rita’s path, said Deron Biles, SBTC Minister/Church Relations director.

City Groves was hit hard, along with Woodville, Bridge City and Silsbee,” Biles said, estimating that nine in 10 buildings were damaged in those small towns.

SBTC Disaster Relief leads training for 32,000 at Second Baptist, Houston

HOUSTON?The multitude that included Christians, Jews, Muslims and others won’t be wearing yellow shirts with “Southern Baptists of Texas Convention” on them, but the SBTC trained them just the same.

Some of the 32,000 people who filled Second Baptist Church in Houston Sept. 3-5 to be trained in relief operations for Katrina evacuees were Baptists, but many were not even Christians?an oddity, maybe a first, in a Southern Baptist church.

Gibbie McMillan, the SBTC’s missions services coordinator over Disaster Relief work, in several sessions led a church auditorium full of volunteers through much of the typical disaster relief “yellow cap” training.

Included was 5-10 minutes of Scripture-based teaching, said SBTC Communications Director Gary Ledbetter, who attended the sessions.

“Gibbie’s presentation was not denominational but included a clear, New Testament foundation for doing various kinds of relief ministries,” Ledbetter said. “It was a clear reminder to non-Christians in the training of our unique motivation.

“These volunteers represent a broad spectrum of denominations and religions,”

The tens of thousands of sympathetic Houston area volunteers were processed quickly, many of them in place by Sept. 6, sharing a meal of chicken and rice pilaf before manning the feeding units.

After being appointed incident commander in Houston, McMillan began training volunteers offering to help at the Astrodome and downtown convention center. When displaced people were moved from New Orleans’ Superdome to Houston, the Astrodome space quickly filled to capacity.

The George R. Brown Convention Center provided overflow space under the direction of a coalition of faith-based groups.

Operation Compassion drew so many people to the training at Second Baptist Church of Houston that every route for a mile away required traffic direction by police. When the huge church lot was filled, volunteers parked at area grocery stores, restaurants and even a liquor store, walking several blocks to the training site.

Although only Southern Baptists can join SBTC Disaster Relief units and wear their official yellow shirts, a shrouded Muslim woman with a Middle Eastern accent found her way to the meeting. She joined hundreds of other Muslims training to serve with their faith group.

Training held on Saturday of the Labor Day weekend attracted 1,000 volunteers, growing tenfold on Sunday and to 20,000 on Monday. Crowds were so large that overflow seating was utilized at the Houston megachurch and the large number turned away remained for an improptu session added afterward.

Though dominated by Baptists, the 131 faith-based organizations included Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, charismatics, Pentecostals, Church of God, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ, Quakers and Mennonites. Other religions represented included Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Bahai and Muslims.

By Sept. 6, the 32,000 volunteers in Houston had assumed responsibility for supplying 240 volunteers for each meal shift at the convention center for the next month. Churches in the Houston area are contributing millions of dollars to cover the cost while mobilizing members to volunteer their time.

The command center coordinated placement of neatly arranged beds, a color-coded shower schedule and a vast array of services functioning when the first group of evacuees arrived.

Led by Second Baptist Church of Houston, pastor Ed Young Sr. told those gathered that a Southern Baptist minister would be praying in the name of Jesus. He invited volunteers from other faiths to understand why this was appropriate in a Christian church.

“In this church we will pray in our way,” he explained, inviting others to approach God in regard to their own convictions.

Young said Houstonians understand the impact of a flood of great magnitude, referring to the 2001 devastation that put much of metropolitan Houston underwater. He called the fact that tens of thousands came together from so many faith-based

Scholars affirm historical Baptist concept of religious liberty at SWBTS conference

FORT WORTH?The historic Baptist idea of religious freedom expressed in the First Amendment is under attack from the American judiciary, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Sept. 9.

Land was the keynote speaker at the seminary’s first annual Baptist Distinctives Conference, a two-day event that this year examined “The First Freedom” of religious liberty.

“The greatest threat to religious freedom in America are secular fundamentalists who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices out of political discourse,” Land said.

More than 300 people, including registered conference participants, seminary students, faculty and staff were in attendance as Land presented his paper titled, “The Role of Religious Liberty in the Founding and Development of America.” Land told the conferees that America has been, is and always will be a “very religious” country.

“This drives post-modernists crazy because they think that as a country evolves, religious dedication should fade,” Land said. “Religious liberty is the unique Baptist contribution to the Reformation.”

Land traced the history of Anabaptists and Baptists to explain how they came to cherish?and even die for?the idea that government should not interfere with the people’s right to believe, or not believe, and practice, or not practice, whatever faith they chose.

He explained that as successful as the Protestant Reformation was in taking “church” back to the “primitive” New Testament model, magisterial reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin were never “quite able to separate church from state.”

On the other hand, “Baptists understood that the ‘parish church’ concept was not biblical,” Land said. “This became the cause of Baptists.”

From Oliver Cromwell and the English Interregnum, to Baptists in the 1660s fleeing to Colonial America to escape religious persecution, to the stand Baptist pastors took to make sure the First Amendment was incorporated into the new U.S. Constitution in 1791, Land demonstrated that “current controversies” in America about the separation of church and state are nothing new.

“We have never separated religion from politics in America,” Land said. “In 1854, 3,000 New England clergymen signed a petition to the United States Senate demanding an immediate end to the practice of chattel slavery and denouncing the Missouri Compromise. ? Pro-slavery senators urged the Senate to ignore the petition on the grounds of separation of church and state. But the preachers refused to shut up. They understood ? that most Americans want to talk about God (in political discourse).”

Land said that Baptists have always believed that the state must be separated from the church largely because the state always “pollutes and corrupts the church.” Thomas Jefferson affirmed that idea in 1802 when he wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association saying that, “their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

But Land said that the Supreme Court’s modern application of that doctrine “is twisted” because Jefferson meant for the First Amendment to protect the church from the state, but not vice versa. “The restrictions of the First Amendment are on the government,” Land said. “They are not on people of faith.”

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson addressed the question of whether the concept of religious liberty is compatible with the doctrine of the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ. Patterson drew on personal experiences to explain that this question often arises from people of faith who are not believers in Jesus Christ. They often think that Christians want to restrict freedom of religion simply because Christians understand unbelievers are “going to hell” unless they believe in Jesus Christ.

Patterson turned to “the biblical witness” and “the historical witness” to refute that misunderstanding. He explained that belief in the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation and a vigorous defense of religious freedom are not mutually exclusive.

“Jesus Christ does not favor coercion,” Patterson concluded as he reviewed passages on the life and teachings of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew and John.

Patterson acknowledged that an objection to that conclusion might arise based on the account of the Jesus driving out the money-changers from the Temple in Matt

In Louisiana, Baptist leaders preach messages of hope, faith

BATON ROUGE, La.?Amid the challenges left behind by Hurricane Katrina, “I think a good prayer would be, ‘Please Lord, don’t leave me here the way I am,'” Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch said Sept. 6 in Baton Rouge, La. “‘Use me.'”

Welch joined Southern California pastor Rick Warren and several other Baptist leaders in addressing an afternoon gathering of pastors, pastors’ wives and church staff members displaced by Katrina. The leaders also spoke at an evening disaster relief worship rally open to Baptists from throughout the state. Both sessions were held at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church.

Warren, taking a cue from the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, told several hundred people at the afternoon session that “rebuilding the city is always harder than building the city. The same is true of lives.”

Earlier in the day, Louisiana Baptist Convention leaders and Welch met with associational directors of missions and later with several SBC entity heads and state convention leaders.

Louisiana Baptist Convention President Philip Robertson told about 15 of the state’s associational directors of missions (DOMs) that Louisiana churches must mobilize for weeks and months of recovery.

“They’re the lighthouses in the community,” said Robertson, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Pineville. “And if ever they needed a lighthouse it’s now.”

Welch told attendees at the evening rally that disasters don’t discriminate against certain individuals but they affect everyone.

“Many organizations can bring them food, electricity and water they need,” Welch said. “But we can bring them Jesus.”

Welch also said hardships have a way of becoming holy events because the love of Christ can capitalize on catastrophe.

Alluding to his challenge for Southern Baptists to baptize 1 million people in a year, Welch said, “I believe that Louisiana and Mississippi may be poised, themselves, to witness to, win and baptize 1 million people in a year.”

Warren told the afternoon crowd that there are three stages following disasters: the rescue stage, the resuming stage and the rebuilding and relocation stage. The latter is the longest and most difficult part, he said. “And that, my friends, is the duty of the church.”

Warren said in Nehemiah 2:17-18 that Nehemiah took note of the devastation of Jerusalem by saying, “Let us rid ourselves of this shame and rebuild.”

“God loves to bring good out of bad. He loves to turn crucifixions into resurrections. Every obstacle is an opportunity. Every problem has potential. Every crisis is an opportunity for ministry. Every hurt God wants to use for his glory.”

Southern Baptists challenged to reunite gospel proclamation with ministry to the poor

FORT WORTH?”If the church does not learn to deal with the poor, we simply can never fulfill the Great Commission,” said New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley just three days after hurricane winds and massive flooding devastated the campus.

Kelley hopes to raise an estimated $6 million to launch a program of social work that will honor what he described as “a New Testament model of both proclamation and ministry” occurring in the local church simultaneously. “The disconnect has been in place quite a long time,” he said, referring to a tendency of Southern Baptist churches to emphasize one or the other of these two priorities.

Noting the large population of poor people in all urban areas, Kelley warned: “The consequences are going to manifest themselves. It may not always be a hurricane, but it is a time bomb waiting to happen.”

As people observe the generosity that Kelley said characterizes Americans, they “look past skin color, socio-economic class and see the needs” of individuals. “You can’t do that in the church without a pastor first teaching his people from the Bible that this is a biblical model of what a church is. The mission God has given us includes sharing of the gospel and also the doing of ministry. It has to be taught from the pulpit,” he insisted.

Furthermore, Kelley said, “The volume of the Baptist witness in New Orleans can increase dramatically” through the rebuilding effort. In the past, he said, Southern Baptists had never been a player, but merely a “whisper in the noise that was New Orleans.” Now, Baptist groups cycling through the city to rebuild will help people realize, “We’re not going to leave New Orleans.”

Through a well-established program known as Mission Lab, churches will continue to bring mission groups for a weeklong experience of ministry to an urban area. The seminary provides housing, meals and ministry opportunities at an affordable cost. Typically, over 2,500 high school students lead mission projects across New Orleans over a 10-week period. College students fill in during spring and fall breaks. More recently, senior adults began participating in the work among the homeless, alcoholics and impoverished citizens.

“They have a wonderful week and God uses them. Then as they’re riding on the bus back to the church, everyone begins talking about how great it was and they wonder if their own city has anything like this. They ask, ‘If we did it in New Orleans, why can’t we do it in our city?'”

From grandparents sitting on sidewalks alongside “gutter punks” to those who admit to having never touched the skin of a black person, Kelley said they are sharing their faith, anxious to return for another week of ministry the next year.

“We’re not a church and we can’t go out and reach, baptize and disciple people, but we can be the facilitators for the church and take some of our expertise to help where we need help. We can provide the context for them that is relatively safe and let people find out some things about themselves they didn’t know,” he said, referring to the need for experience ministering among the poor.

“There is a way for Southern Baptists to start making some of those adjustments and it’s encouraged me as churches have reached out to people in the storm, taking them into their homes, their shelters, enrolling them in school and getting them clothes. They’ve had contact with them and are finding it’s not that hard.”

Kelley recognizes Southern Baptists have “a huge, long way to go” as they tackle a problem that began with “some bad exegesis.” He spoke of the belief that because deacons were chosen to wait on the tables, pastors should simply do the preaching while the members do ministry.

“We forget that Stephen was one of those doing ministry and he was martyred for his faith. Philip was a deacon and he became an evangelist. We separated the two functions,” he said, contending that often “evangelism became proclamation and ministry became missions” among Southern Baptists during an earlier era.

As Southern Baptists rediscover the biblical pattern of joining evangelism to missions, they will be a part of changing lives among the urban poor, he said.

“Instead of changing our whole ministry philosophy, we need to take some small bites,” he said, suggesting involvement in disaster relief. “There’s this enormous release of energy and a freshness of vision” without “changing or compromising our evangelical witness.”

As one of a few schools indicating its interest in continuing to hold classes and remain in New Orleans, Kelley said, “People remember things like that. The new New Orleans is going to be much more open to a Baptist witness than ever before,” Kelley predicted.

Baptists’ quick response to hurricane shifts gears to long-term strategies

First there were the desperate cries for mercy as Southern Baptists learned of Hurricane Katrina’s widespread destruction. From winds wiping out churches and residents in Gulf Coast cities of Alabama and Mississippi to the intense storm and subsequent flooding that included much of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the surrounding area, the resulting tragedy was unimaginable.

Then came the offers of money as Southern Baptists contributed designated gifts for Katrina relief in the offering plates of tens of thousands of churches. Within several days of setting up an online giving link on the website of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, thousands of dollars were transferred through credit card payments. Checks arrived at the SBTC offices from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska and West Sussex, England.

A strong year of giving through the Cooperative Program missions-funding method allowed the 16-million member denomination to be ready to be even more generous through allocation of existing funds, potentially offering $7 million towards Hurricane Relief from budget surpluses.

By Labor Day weekend, well over 30,000 new volunteers?most not Baptist?were trained through SBTC alone, preparing for the quarter million evacuees housed in major cities like Houston and Dallas. Baptist volunteers staffed feeding units that headed to Louisiana before the rain ended. By mid-September, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers had served more than 2 million meals in the affected area.

SBTC churches quickly lined up with offers of short-term and extended housing to meet the needs of many of the Louisiana evacuees. Many spread the word to meet transportation needs, reuniting displaced families or helping them resettle to new quarters.

Now a long-term initiative announced by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) will help damaged Southern Baptist churches recover through the “Adopt a Church” initiative. SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards is urging the more than 1,700 affiliated churches in Texas to consider adopting the more than 100 churches wiped out by the hurricane and another 200 that were damaged.

Participating churches agree to help with clean-up, rebuilding, pastor’s salary and outreach. Smaller churches could join together to accept the assignment of one small church, while many of the large Texas congregations could handle a multi-staff Louisiana church on their own.

By helping Louisiana congregations whose facilities were badly damaged or destroyed, the affected church can get back on its feet in 12 to 24 months. Mission and construction teams would assist in recovery and rebuilding, provide care packages, collect special offerings, offer training to encourage and strengthen staff and assist pastors by replacing ministry libraries lost or damaged.

After a church registers for Adopt a Church through a NAMB link at, the SBTC will assume the responsibility of matching partner churches, individuals and families. Those without Internet access may call the SBTC at 877-953-SBTC for Katrina relief-related inquiries.