By MARILYN STEWART, Regional Reporter
NEW ORLEANS – Jose Mathews, pastor of Discipleship Baptist Church in New Orleans East when Hurricane Katrina hit, lost everything in the storm – home, possessions, church. Then things got worse.
Before his family had time to process the loss, Mathews suffered a stroke, lost his mother, and then his son.
With a faith strengthened through trial, Mathews recognizes that God worked through the storm. Today, Mathews is the pastor of the growing Circle Baptist Church in Baker.
“Katrina was the catalyst for moving me from the city I grew up in – a city I said I would never leave – to a city where God was already working,” Mathews said. “I didn’t go looking for God, but found God already at work where he put me.”
Volunteers who served in New Orleans after the storm agree with Mathews that while “nobody wanted Katrina,” God has used the storm to change lives and ministries across the nation.
A NEW HEART FOR ALASKA
Michael Dupree, Rabbit Creek Community Church of Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t understand at first why people didn’t start life over someplace other than New Orleans. After two trips to the city, Dupree came to appreciate the importance of “home.”
“Katrina, for me, was a huge eye opener,” Dupree said.
While active still in long-distance and international mission trips, the church has a fresh focus on reaching people in its own backyard. More members than ever before are involved in missions at “home,” Dupree said.
The storm changed the direction of Dupree’s ministry, as well. After twenty-two years in the youth ministry, Dupree moved to a staff position where he directs the church in mission outreach.
“We are growing in strength and numbers of people who are helping in local missions,” Dupree said. “We are focusing on our very own state and our very own city.”
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The collegiate ministry of First Baptist Church of College Station, Texas, plans mission trips regularly. Hurricane Katrina caused them to do something they had not done before – make a last minute change of destination.
A mission trip to Thailand was put on hold as details were arranged instead for New Orleans. Cope used the switch to remind his students of an important principle.
“You just have to be ready to be where God is,” Cope said. “It’s not just that you’ve got to ‘join him,’ you’ve got to adapt to wherever and whatever that means.”
The Texas A& M group worked three times in New Orleans, gutting and rebuilding.
This year, the group’s plans changed again after the Haiti earthquake. The new trip “upped” students’ sacrifice with a more costly trip in funds and timing, Cope said.
Cope is seeing his dream of students becoming life-long supporters of missions carried out. Students who worked in New Orleans and are now graduated, continue to have a heart for missions.
“You were made for [servanthood],” Cope said he stresses to his students. “This is who God designed us to be.”
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
Joel Morgan has seen the impact of volunteer work in New Orleans on two different youth groups.
When Katrina hit, Morgan was the youth pastor at Seneca Baptist Church in Seneca, So. C. The church came five times to help Vieux Carre Baptist Church in the French Quarter and developed a friendship with pastor Greg Hand.
“Missions became personal,” Morgan said. “It opened our eyes to how important it is to come together in times of need.”
The youth group worked construction on the early trips to the city. Later, the youth worked street evangelism and performed skits and interpretive dance routines for street audiences.
Morgan now serves as the student minister at First Baptist Church, Trenton, Tn, a church who rebuilt homes in New Orleans. Morgan said the volunteer work helped youth like Andrew Peevyhouse, 13 at the time he worked in New Orleans, grow spiritually. Peevyhouse serves as worship leader for the youth group.
“Being in New Orleans helped them see the big picture,” Morgan said. “It’s not just about helping next door, but far away. We’re all in this together.”