LAFAYETTE – Louisiana Baptists have an opportunity to be a part of the greatest spiritual transformation of a major city in United States history, said Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration Church in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.
By Brian Blackwell
LAFAYETTE – Louisiana Baptists have an opportunity
to be a part of the greatest spiritual transformation of a major city
in United States history, said Dennis Watson, pastor of Celebration
Church in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.
“I’ve been in Louisiana since 1981 and I really
believe we can see our Judea turned around as never before,” Watson
told participants during last week’s Louisiana Baptist Convention
Evangelism Conference in Lafayette.
Since he began Celebration Church in September 1989,
the congregation has planted seven churches in Southeast Louisiana,
five more across the nation and more than 25 worldwide while
ministering to persons in prisons, homeless shelters and New Orleans’
“It’s been a great privilege,” Watson said. “And always our greatest challenge was the city of New Orleans.
“It’s always been a great, great challenge,” he
continued. “In fact, I’ve complained to the Lord numerous times, ‘Why
in the world have you placed me in New Orleans?’”
Watson and his congregation prayed for God to bring
spiritual transformation to the city. Then Katrina made landfall, the
Church facilities throughout the city, including the
buildings on the church’s two campuses, sustained significant damage.
Watson said the greatest loss was not to the church’s facilities but to his congregation.
Before Katrina, people from 35 nations attended the
church. He added that 30 percent of the congregation was African
American. Now, with their homes destroyed, the majority of those people
were displaced to other cities.
Watson said that soon after Katrina devastated New
Orleans, he felt like his church would not recover from the tragedy –
until Sept. 25. That day, with one-fourth of the congregation of 3,000
worshipping in the church for the first time since Katrina, its members
stood and cheered for five minutes during the beginning of the service.
“I saw that their faith in God was greater than the
problems in their lives and I knew we were going to make it.”
Nearly five months after Katrina, people still ask
Watson why Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought devastation to South
Though he admits he does not have that answer,
Watson says God may have used the storms to purge the spirit of
poverty, violence, racism and corruption from the South Louisiana city.
“New Orleans has had a spirit of poverty since the
days of slavery,” he explained. “And now [those living in poverty] are
in other cities and states where they are taken far better care of than
they were in New Orleans.”
He added that for years, New Orleans was known as a
murder capital of America. Now, Watson said it is major news when a
murder occurs in the city.
Watson said he believes New Orleans has been on
God’s heart for decades. When the Southern Baptist Convention was
formed in 1845, one of its three goals was to reach and evangelize the
city of New Orleans, the pastor said.
Great opportunity to evangelize
With the recent hurricanes, the opportunity is
greater than any other time in U.S. history, Watson said. God is
positioning New Orleans and the Gulf Coast for spiritual
transformation, he added.
“People in our region know it’s because of the
church of Jesus Christ that there’s help and hope for our city,” Watson
said. “One of our mayors said, ‘The government couldn’t help me and the
Red Cross couldn’t help me. Thank God for the Christians.’
“The police chief in one of our regions said if it
wasn’t for the Christians, people would’ve starved to death the first
two weeks after Katrina,” Watson continued. “And people are calling up
radio stations from other religions and denominations, saying, ‘I’ve
been this person or religion all my life and I’m ashamed of it. These
Baptists and those others have come to help us; thank God for them.’”
To that end, Watson said that business, education
and government leaders realize the greatest organization aiding
disaster victims in their communities is the church of Jesus Christ.
“And instead of disdaining the church of Jesus, they want to get to know the church of Jesus,” Watson said.
“The response of Christians and Louisaina Baptists
has caused the people of our world to start taking notice,” he added.
“They are saying ‘Here are a group of people who care for us and
they’re gonna bring hope, care and healing in our lives.’”
Through December 2005, Celebration Church fed more
than 350,000 people. They also provided humanitarian products for more
than 60,000 persons and cleaned hundreds of homes.
But most of all, the congregation has seen thousands of people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.
“I could tell you story after story about how people
from your churches and other Southern Baptist churches have reached out
and embraced people and touched people,” Watson said. “And the door is
wide open to share Jesus Christ. God is doing some incredible and
Call to rise up
Pastors from New Orleans have felt loved and embraced by Baptists in Louisiana and beyond, Watson said.
In fact, the day after Katrina made landfall in New
Orleans, Watson was watching the hurricane inch closer to the city. In
the midst of the devastation, he received a phone call from the pastor
of a South African church.
“Dennis my son, I know that you are devastated,” Watson said of the conversation. “But rise up, man of God.
“For what you think is your day of devastation is
actually the destiny that God has created you for,” the South African
pastor continued. “What you think is a great day of tragedy is actually
the greatest opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ in your city
and your state.”
Watson said he has been a Southern Baptist his
entire life. Furthermore, every church he has pastored has been a
Southern Baptist congregation.
“But I never appreciated Southern Baptists like I
should have until Hurricane Katrina came our way,” Watson said. “I
didn’t realize what a grand, glorious, good-hearted, passionate people
that Southern Baptists are. I’ve been amazed.”
Still, Watson said, a vast amount of help and encouragement is needed for the state’s churches and people.
For his part, he offered five suggestions for people wanting to aid South Louisianians. They are:
• First, Watson said, pray for those devastated churches and for the leadership of New Orleans.
“List our names and churches in your bulletins and
pray for us,” he explained. “In your prayer meetings, mention our
• Second, he urged individuals and churches to continue checking on South Louisiana congregations.
• Third, he said, continue sending relief teams to work in the area to rebuild churches and neighborhoods.
“Come and see yourself,” Watson said. “If you
haven’t been to Cameron or the New Orleans area, it will break your
• Fourth, Watson urged persons to consider partnering with affected churches in the region.
“Fifty percent of the churches will never be
restarted,” Watson said. “Most churches didn’t have flood insurance.
How long can you live without offerings?
“There is a great church planting opportunity in New
Orleans,” he continued. “Send interns. The Louisiana Baptist Convention
has done a magnificant job of rallying to the aid of devastated
churches in the region.
“We’ve experienced miracles in our lives but now we experience the miraculous.”
Watson expressed gratitude for Louisaina Baptists’ care, love and compassion.
“God is using Southern Baptsts to bring hope, help
and healing to the region,” he said. “It’s bringing revival and
spiritual transformation to the city of New Orleans.
“And I want to tell you New Orleans has been broken
and the people are open like never before,” Watson continued. “Much of
Louisiana is open like never before.”
This is Louisaina Baptists’ greatest hour of opportunity to reach their Judea for Christ, Watson said.
“Don’t give in; don’t give out,” he urged. “This is our opportunity to reach our state for Jesus Christ.”