“Work for the shalom of the city where I have sent you…and pray on its behalf. For in its shalom, you will have shalom” (Jeremiah 29:7).
New Orleans is safer now than in 2005. The Corps of Engineers has raised the levees protecting the city by five feet, and spent billions of dollars on pumping stations to empty the city of water should it be flooded.
Streetcars travel up and down Canal Street now, and soon will head down Rampart Street toward the Bywater neighborhood. This is all new and we’re excited about it.
Oh, and the Baptist Seminary has a Wal-Mart across the street. And speaking of NOBTS, the enrollment is back up to pre-Katrina numbers, although a large number of those students are strictly on-line and not in the city.
But here is my personal list of the 10 greatest changes in New Orleans since that fateful August 29, 2005….
1. The population of New Orleans is down by 75,000.
However, the population of metro New Orleans is almost back to normal. The racial balance of New Orleans proper has shifted somewhat, with the number of African-Americans being slightly down and the Hispanic population higher.
2. Politicians are in prison.
The mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, re-elected in the year following Katrina, went to jail for corruption, as did some of his closest advisors. The president of Jefferson Parish (Metairie, Kenner, etc), Aaron Broussard, who famously sent the pump operators away from the city as the hurricane approached (thus allowing parts of Metairie and Kenner to flood), has gone to prison too.
3. The Baptists are respected.
When I asked a number of friends for their answer to this question (“When people ask how has New Orleans changed, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?”), some were quick to say, “Baptists are no longer seen as a cult.”
Having thousands of church groups from SBC churches pour into the area over the next few years to help rebuild the city, rebuild homes, and rebuild lives will do that. One friend said, “I heard someone say, ‘We evacuated to Texas where the Baptists took us in, and when we got home, the Baptists were cleaning out my (flooded) house!”
4. Housing projects, once breeding grounds for crime and corruption, are gone.
In the place of those old ugly rows of housing like St. Bernard, St. Thomas, and Desire Street, the government has built lovely neighborhoods of different styles, price levels, and attractive architecture.
5. The school system is changed.
These days, 9 out of 10 students in New Orleans attend a charter school. These are government-funded institutions run by local boards.
6. The demographics of the city are different.
Thousands of people whose homes were not flooded nevertheless decided they no longer wished to live here and moved away. Seniors whose children were grown and living elsewhere relocated to be closer to their families. In their place, thousands of younger adults, many of them professionals, have arrived, changing forever the character of the city.
The church I pastored from 1990 to 2004, the First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the airport, has a few people remaining from my years. But more and more, it seems the church is made up of young adults and young families. (And I love that.)
7. The medical institutions are new.
Old Charity Hospital is shuttered. In its place, a new billion-dollar VA hospital and LSU teaching hospital are being constructed and due to open sometime this fall. A huge section of the city just north of downtown was bought up and torn down to make room for this major medical center.
8. The Baptist association is new.
When Katrina hit in 2005, I was the director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. These days, Jack Hunter is the executive director of missions for New Orleans Baptist Association. (In between us, Dr. Duane McDaniel served two years before a massive stroke took his life in 2011. Duane had changed the association’s title, and had brought Jack Hunter on staff as director of intercity ministries.) Jack has led NOBA to build an exciting community health outreach in one of the needier sections of New Orleans, staffed with medical professionals. Also, a number of new church starts are going forward.
9. The newspaper situation is interesting.
The Times-Picayune, our award-winning daily, won all the prizes available to newspapers, it seems. And then, the Newhouse Corporation in New York decided to cut publication to three days a week even though this paper was the lifeline of New Orleans. When the ownership stonewalled pleas from city leaders and scoffed at overtures for locals to purchase the paper, millionaire John Georges went to Baton Rouge and purchased The Advocate. Then, that paper created The New Orleans Advocate as a daily in direct competition to the T-P. Georges hired away many T-P staffers who had been fired as a result of the downsizing. The competition between the two newspapers has been fun to watch. Recently, the Times-Picayune announced it would no longer print the New Orleans editions locally but in Mobile, and truck them over every night. Chalk another one up for the Advocate.
10. The old traditions which held our churches in a death-grip have been broken.
These days, churches are innovating and ministering in ways unthinkable ten years ago. Just last Sunday, my pastor announced to our congregation that a church just outside the city that has dwindled to 8 members had voted to give themselves to us, lock, stock and barrel, as the saying goes. Pastor Mike Miller said, “There is no other evangelical witness in that area. We’re praying about how to respond.”
In the months following Katrina, in our weekly sessions, I told our pastors, “If you have ever wanted to end some program in your church that has outlived its usefulness, now is the time. Just don’t restart it. And if you have ever had a vision for something you’d like to do in your church but were afraid to go forward, this is your chance. The Lord has given you a clean slate.”
And many did just that.
“That the leaders led in Israel, and that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord” (Judges 5:2).
Where our leaders are leading, God is sending people who will step up and volunteer, and exciting new things are being done for the glory of the Lord.
Pastor David Crosby of New Orleans’ First Baptist Church told me last week, “This is an exciting time to serve God in this city.”