People in New Orleans used to think of evangelicals as angry protesters with bullhorns during Mardi Gras," Doug Daspit (ThM, 2003) said. "Now their view has totally shifted. They see love and servanthood with no catch." A New Orleans native, Doug helps pastor Berean Bible Church, the only Bible church inside the city limits. He grew up at Berean and now coordinates its ongoing ministry to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. "Katrina gave us an opportunity like no other in the city's history, and it became obvious that God had plans for us."
Berean borders some of the city's most damaged neighborhoods, so its facility became a headquarters for outreach and relief efforts that continue today. Now Berean plans to break ground for a facility devoted to housing visiting work teams. "We're going back to rebuild the same homes we gutted after the storm," Doug said.
Berean's response exemplifies that of many churches along the Gulf Coast.
In Lafayette, Louisiana, Dennis Malcolm (ThM, 1981) watched the worst of Katrina hit to his east and the worst of Rita hit to his west. Dennis, who pastors Trinity Bible Church, Lafayette, said evacuees flooded in from both directions. "We had just completed a brand new children's building," he said. "The church voted unanimously to turn it into a shelter for displaced families. We counseled them and gave them time to heal." The church turned half of the classrooms into hotel-style rooms.
Trinity and other groups created Foundation for Hope, which matched evacuees with churches all over the country. The supporting churches provided housing for up to six months and helped adults to find jobs and to place their children in schools. The foundation placed almost two hundred people. "The response from churches was amazing," Dennis said. "We had more churches than evacuees. You know how long it takes a church to pick carpet—yet we had churches deciding overnight to take on five families."
Trinity was not the only church to assist hurricane victims. Community Bible Church in Cut Off, Louisiana, where Dr. Bill Jemison (ThM, 1978) is pastor, channeled nearly $200,000 in relief funds to evacuees, largely from churches staffed by Dallas Seminary graduates. "People wanted to send support to someone they could trust," Bill said. "And there was no administrative cost—our church took nothing from the money that came through."
In Dallas efforts to help evacuees began immediately. "The support from the DTS community was heartwarming. When I was a student, I wouldn't have thought of putting 'heartwarming' and 'DTS' in the same sentence," Bill said with a laugh, "But [the Seminary] showed such concern. They have a heart for people in need."
Storm damage forced New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to cancel classes. But less than a week after the storm, Dallas Seminary offered free tuition to any New Orleans student who wished to continue the semester in Dallas.
"People here felt like everyone let them down—the government, FEMA, the local governmental structures, even their insurance agencies," Doug Daspit said. "But if you ask them, 'Who has been the most faithful to your needs?' the first words out of their mouths will be, 'the evangelical Christians.'"
Commission and Commandment
This spring Dallas Seminary's President, Dr. Mark L. Bailey, spoke at a pastors conference in Baton Rouge. "It's been eighteen months since Katrina, but still the hurricane was the number one topic around the tables at the conference," he said. "These pastors want to see the pain in their communities healed by Christ Himself, so their humanitarian outreach leads them to share the gospel.
"The Cross requires us to add the Great Commandment to the Great Commission," Dr. Bailey adds. "In New Orleans the church is rising to the occasion because of the worst natural disaster in our country's history. We're learning to crack the culture through acts of compassion."
Dr. Michael Sprague (DMin, 1997), pastor of Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Covington, Louisiana, feels Katrina left the church with an unparalleled opportunity as humanitarian needs propped open the door to share Christ. "We have done more evangelism in the last eighteen months than we did in the previous ten years," he said. "Credibility comes as we help people in the name of Jesus. Doors swing wide open. It's a myth that you have to choose between a demonstration and a proclamation of the gospel. It's both.
"We've stopped hearing about Katrina, but the need is greater than ever," Michael said. Although more than eight thousand volunteers from thirty-six states and six countries have come through Trinity, a tremendous amount of work remains. "The hurricane damaged more than 292,000 homes, but more than half of them still need to be gutted."
The nature of the need allows all kinds of Christians to get involved. "The church is full of blue-collar workers who might never teach a congregation," Doug said. "But when they come here, they use their gifts. They see that the people in need are just like the people back home. Then they get involved in their own communities. God is using New Orleans to create passion for Himself around the country."
The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues to give churches across North America the opportunity to practice compassion. "I like to think that someday, students will take church history at DTS and read about the church in the early twenty-first century," Doug said. "I want them to read about how God brought revival to New Orleans and to America through the storm. I really believe that could happen. And if that's the case, I want to be a part of it. That's what keeps me going."
Eva Bleeker and Jeff Wofford are students in Dallas Seminary's Christian Journalism class.
The Dallas Seminary Alumni Office has coordinated some of the hurricane clean-up efforts as many members of the DTS family have prayed, organized teams, gone themselves, sent used books to rebuild pastors' libraries, and contributed financially—even the smallest gifts have helped—to aid those in need. If your church continues to need post-hurricane ministry teams, please email us at [email protected].
For those wishing to take teams or help in some way, you may find the following websites of participating churches helpful.
Berean Bible Church of New Orleans, Louisiana
504. 362. 3254
Trinity Evangelical Free Church of Covington, Louisiana
985. 893. 0218
Community Bible Church of Cut Off, Louisiana
985. 632. 3077
— KS Staff