By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
DRY CREEK – When he was first making the trip to Dry Creek Baptist Camp days after riding out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Omar Montalvo thought his purpose was only to escape the aftermath of the storm.
What he found in the end was a saving relationship in Christ for his mother and sister and a place he now considers a second home.
“To me, Dry Creek is a very special place,” he said. “Every time I go there I feel joy just to know that my mom and sister received Christ there. When I go there and I see (camp director) Todd Burnaman I always tell him this is home for me because they also help us during the days we stayed there.”
Four months before Katrina made landfall, Montalvo was battling depression and thinking of suicide when he found Christ at Horeb Baptist Church in Gretna. Katrina severely damaged his family’s home, leaving them with only a 100 dollar bill and little means of finding food.
Eight days later, Montalvo reached his music minister at Horeb, who informed him others from the church were staying at Dry Creek. Miraculously, someone from the congregation drove to New Orleans and picked up Montalvo, his mother and sister to take them to Dry Creek.
The family remained there for 33 days, leaving shortly after Hurricane Rita made landfall in southwest Louisiana.
This was the first time his mother and sister interacted with a Christian group. Eventually, his mother and sister were given an invitation to receive Christ into their lives, which they accepted.
Today, Montalvo and his family are heavily involved Horeb Baptist Church. Montalvo is young adult leader, playing the guitar during Sunday morning services and leading Bible studies. His sister is youth leader and his mother helps out in the kitchen.
“I am very grateful because staying there changed our lives,” he said. “We had no friends and we met friends there. We had no peace and we found peace there. They did not have a relationship with Christ, but they found it there.”
While many chainsaw teams helped remove debris from homes, they also helped lead some to Christ.
Bill Holifield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Vinton at the time and now pastor of Colyell Baptist Church in Livingston, said that 43 people accepted Christ as a result of chainsaw teams and other churches in his area.
Among those he recalls was an 88-year-old man, whose granddaughter as a member of Crossroads Baptist Church in Vinton. The congregation had been praying for him for many years.
As the chainsaw team was removing a tree off his home, they shared Christ with him. He then prayed to receive Christ in his front yard.
Another incident he recalls of two people accepting Christ was during one of two worship services the chainsaw teams held each day. A man who had accepted Christ then led his own son to a saving relationship with Jesus. The two were baptized on Dec. 25, 2005.
“The days in the latter part of September and the following year proved to be very trying ones for the small town of Vinton, but by thegrace of God that was brought to us by the many volunteers who helped us,” he said. “Vinton not only survived but today it thrives and is continuing to grow both in population and in spiritual development. The bonds forged in those trying days have proven to be unbreakable and the people have proved to be unstoppable.”