By Mark H. Hunter, Regional Reporter
BATON ROUGE – It only took a few days after Hurricane Katrina for the majority of Baptist churches in the Baton Rouge area to coordinate their efforts and begin helping thousands of evacuees that filled the Capitol City.
Of the 85 or so churches and missions of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, then called the Judson Baptist Association, more than 50 churches are included on a September 2005, list outlining which church provided what kind of goods or services to the response effort.
Nine churches provided direct shelter for hundreds of evacuees on their campuses and many of the others provided food, clothing, transportation, telephone service, showers, counseling and whatever else was needed, according to an October 2005 “Good News” newsletter that BAGBR office manager Jan Terral found in her files.
BAGBR also served as an organizational hub for emergency responders, such as Red Cross and military and law enforcement, and found housing for them in dozens of area Baptist’s homes, including this correspondent’s house where several military officers stayed during the crisis.
“The churches of the Judson Baptist Association have shown the world how Christian people react in times of desperate need,” wrote the late Rodrick Conerly, then director of missions, who was called Home following a Dec. 23, 2010, heart attack. “With the aftermath of Katrina, I see an outpouring of compassion.”
Tommy Middleton, BAGBR’s current DOM, was then senior pastor of Woodlawn Baptist, which quickly became a shelter for evacuees.
“We sent our people to parking lots all over the area and started bringing them in and filled the gym with refugees – and fed them,” Middleton said. “Some people brought their animals with them. One of our members was a veterinarian and he brought all of his extra kennels – it was like Noah’s ark.”
“We had nurses and doctors come in and check on their health, we had people finding them jobs – we had churches from all over sending us money – over $50,000 – for whatever we needed,” Middleton said. “An evangelist friend bought every air mattress he could buy in Targets and Wal Marts in Oklahoma.”
“There were about 30 refugees who were saved while they were with us,” Middleton said. “When I look back at that, those were some of the greatest days of ministry we ever did.”
“The church stepped up – everybody – 24-7, from washing clothes to cooking meals to taking care of animals,” Middleton said. “It was amazing!”
After the initial refugee wave ebbed, Woodlawn Baptist became a Red Cross staff shelter for two months, and had over 1,000 volunteers rotate through, Middleton said. “I look at Katrina as a great time of ministry of the church.”