On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and laid waste to the area. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, I went on mission trips to the area with my church and its youth group. We went to Pascagoula, MS; Bay St. Louis, MS; and then to New Orleans itself. In 2007, I had to fly in and out of New Orleans for the Bay St. Louis trip. At the end of the week, I was dropped off in the New Orleans airport for the flight home and I noticed something interesting. The airport was filled with small (and some fairly large) groups of young people in matching t-shirts. It was youth groups from all over the country that were there to help the Gulf Coast rebuild. Three years after the hurricane, we were in New Orleans working with Operation Noah, a massive Christian ministry organized by Southern Baptist churches which was working to rebuild the city.
Southern Baptists in Iowa have often felt like strangers in a strange land. But in 1993, our state was just about washed away by floods. That’s when the Baptists showed up – men and women in yellow hats and blue hats with Disaster Relief logos. They cam and they stayed and they made an impression. A big impression. Iowans had little idea who Southern Baptists were, but in a time of need they were there to help.
We spend a lot of time criticizing the church and our denominational structure here at SBC Voices and on other blogs. I do not believe that is wrong nor unjustified. There is a lot that needs to be critiqued and reformed. While our leaders often disdain us and demean us, I think blogging serves a useful, even godly (at times), purpose. I would not do it if I didn’t believe that.
There is a lot that is wrong with the church today. God’s People are biblically illiterate, living unholy lives, listening to the wrong voices, focused on temporal values instead of the treasures of heaven, and wasting their lives on selfish pursuits instead of the glory of God. Honestly, to just about every accusation made against the church we must reasonably plead guilty, at least in part. We are what we are.
But when the chips are down, when tornadoes destroy, when floods ravage, when hurricanes devastate, it is the church of Jesus Christ with all its faults that shows up to help. In fact, to a large degree, it is Southern Baptists who show up – not exclusively, but in huge percentages. When I was in the New Orleans airport, I did not see any Young Atheists groups there. I did not see Muslim or Buddhist groups. Maybe a few of them came. But it was the church of Jesus Christ who carried the water for the rebuilding effort.
Last week, a series of tornadoes devastated the heartland of Baptist work. And it will be Southern Baptists and their brothers and sisters in Christ who will show up this time to minister to the hurting and helpless.
I’ll tell you one other thing; a lot of the things we fight about on blogs lose their significance when the storm blows. Internecine debates about Baptist Identity and Calvinism and Baptist polity seem to lose some steam when the city lies in ruins. That is not to say that these have no significance, it is just that devastation puts them in perspective.
The church of Jesus Christ has a lot of problems. It really does. But let us remember that it also shines in the black of night, when the need is great. The church shows up. Motivated by the love of Christ and the desire to proclaim the gospel, the church will show up by the thousands to help. In Pascagoula, the church we stayed at devoted itself to rebuilding the destroyed homes of those in their community. It was exhausting work and life could not go on as normal, but in a time like that the church became the church. No government red tape, the church got busy and rebuilt a community. In Birmingham, CB Scott and the people of Westmont Baptist Church are suspending their lives for the next few months to become a ministry center. Rick Patrick of Hueytown, AL shared how they have turned their church into a Red Cross Disaster Relief Center and are ministering to their area. I’m sure that this is being replicated along the path of these killer tornadoes. The church is being the church and it is a beautiful thing.
The church is often nearly as messed up as its critics say. But when the night comes the church shines brightly with the glory of God. The church becomes the church.
I guess the trick is learning to do this when a crisis does not exist!