(We’ve just sent this message out to all our pastors and churches that make up the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. We suggested they photocopy it and distribute to their members.)
In October of 2004 at our associational meeting, I began my message to you with a burden. The biggest surprise I’d had on becoming your director of missions six months earlier was the ISOLATION of our churches. Each congregation was doing its own ministry, its members complete strangers to members of the other churches. Even the pastors barely knew each other; we might count 15 at our monthly ministers’ meetings which lasted one hour.
One result of the isolation of our churches was the INSULATION of our members. We insulate a house to keep the world outside. We insulate our members from the outside community when we occupy their time with meetings inside the organization and jobs inside the building. Ask our people to go down the street and meet their neighbors and most will tell you they don’t have time.
If one of Satan’s methods is to divide God’s people, and it is, he can check that one off his list, I told you. Because we’ve done it to ourselves! We were not working together. The result of that was a complete ABDICATION of our assignment to be salt and light in this community. We were failing the Lord, the world, and one another.
Normally, when a preacher unburdens himself in a sermon, he ends with the remedy. He tells how the Lord wants to correct the bad situation. But at that meeting, I said, “I don’t know what the answer is. I do not know what God is going to do to get us into the community as salt and light.” And that’s where we left the matter.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, every church was closed down and the members scattered across this nation, in the greatest natural disaster and population displacement in American history. Within a few weeks, many of the churches were up and running again. In the eight months since the storm, around half of our 140 churches and missions are in business. Some of the others are gradually coming back. However, never again will it be business as usual for any of our churches.
One pastor told his returning congregation, “We’re through spending two hours in a business meeting discussing whether to spend 15 cents a month on call waiting.” Another told his psople, “We are not the same church we were before. We existed for ourselves. From now on, we are getting into the community to serve the people.”
Some of our most damaged churches are coming back with a new vision and new energy. Delacroix Hope church was completely blown away, but they are now meeting in a shed in the St. Bernard community, running as many as 75, compared to 25 before the hurricane. They’ve recently had 8 adults saved. Edgewater is meeting in a tent on their Paris Avenue location, and feeding lunch on Sundays and supper on Wednesdays to the community. Oak Park is building bunk beds in their educational building to house volunteer groups coming to help rebuild the city. Calvary has built a large RV site on their property to accommodate volunteers. Horeb is up in attendance by 50% and have led many to Christ. And this is just a sample. Dr. David Crosby told the pastors at last Wednesday’s gathering that Franklin Avenue Baptist Church put over 1700 people in the sanctuary of FBC-NO last Sunday morning. FABC’s scattered congregation is also meeting at Istrouma Church in Baton Rouge and at FBC Houston, TX.
Nothing is the same; everything has changed. Every single one of our churches has lost members, and many are still losing them as retirees move closer to their families and as companies relocate.
One of the most hopeful signs of the new day is the way our pastors are coming together. During the evacuation last September, one minister suggested to me that we try to get the pastors together. We sent out word and met the next Wednesday at FBC Jackson, MS. We saw quickly what a great need this gathering was addressing, and met the following week at FBC LaPlace. That wonderful church has hosted us ever since, even serving lunch at 11:30. Until recently, we met for three hours each Wednesay, if you can believe it. And we’ve had as many as 60 present on several occasions. We had fifty this past week.
Please note: beginning Wednesday, May 3, our weekly meeting moves to Oak Park Baptist Church in Algiers (corner of Kabel and General Meyer) from 10 am to noon (lunch at 11:30). Ministers and church leaders and spouses are welcome. They’ve agreed to host us for the next 3 months.
What do we do at these weekly meetings? Depending on whom the Lord sends, we talk to each other. We hear what blessings God is bestowing, what lessons people are learning, what help is available, what problems people are encountering. Often, we’ll have representatives from Lifeway, the North American Mission Board, or our state convention office in Alexandria present to offer help and encouragement. Pastors and leaders from across America show up with comfort and tangible assistance. Almost every Wednesday we welcome a pastor who has just returned to the area. This past week, it was Brother and Mrs. Johnny Jones of the Free Mission Church in the Lower 9th Ward.
It may be the best thing about these meetings is the fellowship. Our leaders see quickly they are not alone. Pastors have become friends. As one said, “You and I were never rivals or competitors. We were strangers.” Racial and ethnic lines are becoming blurred, as barriers disappear in the onslaught of love.
No more isolation of churches. No more insulation of Christians. No more abdication of our assignment. We are in the community. Our people are building houses in the Ninth Ward (see www.baptistcrossroads.com). We are beginning to learn what it means to be salt and light.
Just before Katrina, we had someone working to get the BAGNO website up to speed. Alas, it wasn’t ready when the storm hit, so we had to use my personal website. Everything on it from September forward has been devoted to the rebuilding of New Orleans and the restoration of our churches. Please tell your friends to check into www.joemckeever.com. Displaced New Orleanians have said they check it frequently to keep up with the local situation.
Before the storm, Baptists in this city were an often overlooked minority, shut up inside our buildings, making hardly a ripple in the life of the community. Since the storm, Baptists from 41 state conventions have descended upon this devastated area offering love and help and the gospel. Many of our ministers and members have noticed, and some have exclaimed, “It’s a great time to be a Baptist in New Orleans!”
We celebrate that brothers and sisters from many denominations–not just Southern Baptist–have been here in full force, making visible the love of Christ. The Billy Graham and Franklin Graham ministries have been visible, working alongside Campus Crusade and a host of other ministries.
Please tell your friends who are concerned about New Orleans to PRAY BIG. We would prefer not to have the miserly little “God bless New Orleans” prayers. Our task is mammoth and we need big praying. Tell God something like this: “Lord, you love this city. Jesus died for it. You have many people here. Satan has held this city long enough, Lord. Take it back. Take it back. Do a new thing there, Lord. Do a God thing. A big thing. Do it for your glory, according to your plan!”
(We would be pleased for any church to print this out and make available to your members. Feel free to edit it down to fit available space. If you have room, mention that it’s from Joe McKeever, the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. E-mail: email@example.com.)