A year after Katrina, the new ‘normal’ is challenging, but opportunity knocks, prof says

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NEW ORLEANS–Jack Allen leaned back in his chair in the coffee shop at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, explaining that life has changed some for the seminary’s students and staff.

For example, it took Allen four hours recently to drive a dozen miles to the grocery store, meander through crowds, stand in long checkout lines and then drive home. Pre-Katrina, there were two grocers within easy driving distance. Seeing a doctor or getting a prescription filled is time intensive too, he said.

The campus newsletter, The Gatekeeper, announced that a bank would reopen soon not far the campus. That’s huge news for a seminary wife with kids in tow.

“Doing some of the routine things of life is a tedious, slow, hard process that people across the country don’t understand,” said Allen, an Austin native and church planting professor who spent the last part of 2005 and seven months of this year in Austin.

Housing is expensive because of a shortage. But most of the student housing is open again, and seminary President Chuck Kelley is pleasantly surprised with the enrollment numbers, even if they are less than before the hurricane, seminary spokesman Gary Myers told the TEXAN.

Allen’s home, which he and his family evacuated the weekend before Katrina, suffered flood damage and saltwater evaporation rot, which claimed about 80 percent of the family’s belongings, he said.

Some of the students suffered similar losses, Allen said.

“About all they have is their calling. A lot of them lost what they had,” he stated.

Allen’s wife and his daughter, a senior in high school, are staying in Austin with relatives through the school year, a situation for which Allen got a special exemption from Kelley to avoid moving his daughter in her senior year. Also, the Allens’ house isn’t habitable yet.

He plans to travel to Austin twice a month while his wife travels to New Orleans in off weeks. It’s not an ideal situation, not normal, he said.

“Normal happens when you go to Heaven. Normal is what happened before the fall.”

Allen’s eyes glistened a bit, however, when he began talking about the ministry opportunities the seminary has. Before Katrina, talking to New Orleans residents about spiritual things was sometimes difficult.

“The blessing of Katrina has yet to be realized,” Allen said, noting that as news of the levees breaking last Aug. 29 unfolded, a group of seminary staffers were praying “we’d be able to rebuild the churches and rebuild the city evangelistically.”

“People are very open to the gospel. They want to understand.”

Allen said the seminary has an opportunity to demonstrate physically and verbally the truth of the gospel to a city that is willing to hear it. In the Uptown community, which is dominated by what Allen calls a “Bohemian culture,” the people will discuss spirituality even if they struggle with the exclusive claims of Jesus. They are open, he reiterated.

On Aug. 29, the anniversary of Katrina that led to catastrophe in the city’s lowest regions, the seminary canceled classes and students and staff spent the afternoon doing recovery work and evangelistic outreach in the city’s neighborhoods, where much clean-up remains to be done.

The city had imposed an Aug. 29 deadline for damaged homes to be gutted.

A sense of anticipation characterizes the student body, which has been eager, Allen said, to offer itself to aid local churches in nearly all ministry areas, “and we haven’t even announced our plans in chapel yet” to “re-plant” many churches that have lost members. Allen said the re-planting process will look very much like a church start.

“We’ve got to be a missionary-minded, purposeful about telling people about Jesus. In some cases we have to connect the dots for them. Right now people don’t have trouble seeing the bad side. They remember seeing their neighbors walk off with big=screen television sets. But talking about the remedy for our sin is a little more difficult.”

Allen said the Lord has taught him that “when God calls you, he lets you know your security is in him.”

A former homebuilder, Allen said he was offered jobs paying twice his salary this year.

The circumstances after Katrina “reiterated that a calling from God is a very sacred thing and you never know when you’re going to need [a reminder] or where you’re going to need it.”

 

TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce

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