Recently, I had the opportunity to preach at New Orleans Seminary and tour the city. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to drive through New Orleans now, some two years after Hurricane Katrina. It is remarkable to see some of the renewal that has taken place and yet sad to see block after block of homes and businesses that have hardly been touched.
If you were to ask the residents of New Orleans who helped them the most in their recovery efforts, I assure you that at least in the top two or three mentioned will be those people in the bright yellow hats and T-shirts. Of course they are referring to Southern Baptist disaster relief teams who hurried to the city with free meals, labor and positive acts of kindness, and all for the price of $0 to the recipients.
Chuck Kelley, seminary president, told me a humorous but wonderful story about the impact of our people on this great city. A front-page article in the Times-Picayune described a church of the leading denomination in New Orleans that had sat for more than a year without anything being done to it. A few days after the article appeared, a letter to the editor by a member of that denomination stated that they should have called “the Baptists.” The writer went on to say they would have cleaned and cleared the church and its grounds in no time-and they would have done it for free!
As I drove around the seminary that Polla and I attended more than 30 years ago, I marveled at its condition. The facilities are in better shape today than anyone can remember. It is beautiful, and that is due in large part to those men and women in the yellow T-shirts and other volunteers. The seminary still has needs, but it is for replacement housing for married couples. Kelley tells me it will take nearly $50 million to replace buildings that had to be removed after Katrina.
I am so proud of those serving in Disaster Relief. I have been with them and watched them work from early morning until late at night to serve the needs of others. They do so only because of their love for Jesus and a deep desire to share the love of Christ with others. Accompanying every meal, mud-out and tree removal after storms and disasters is a loving witness of the Gospel of Christ. Many have come to Christ because these folks worked hard and gave their time and love in the name of Jesus.
Oklahoma has one of the largest trained disaster relief teams in the nation. We have the greatest number of trained disaster relief chaplains. They are an outstanding team of people who put feet to the love of Jesus and His Gospel.
I am also reminded that Oklahoma Baptists step up to the plate in giving generously in times of disaster. When tragedy strikes, even before we can make an appeal for offerings, you give. New Orleans Seminary, the city of New Orleans, Mississippi and a small section of Alabama received help in the aftermath of Katrina.
What difference does it make? Well, when I was in seminary, there was not much openness in New Orleans to Baptists and our witness. Today, when you say you are a Baptist, the door is opened wide. That is result of our giving and going. I am so proud of Oklahoma Baptists. You are making a difference now and for eternity.