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The Open Door


In what has been called the worst natural disaster in the history of our country, Hurricane Katrina first stormed across the tip of Florida before slamming into the Gulf coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. With gusts nearing 200 miles per hour and storm surges exceeding thirty feet, entire towns in Southern Mississippi were swept away, while downtown Mobile was under water and New Orleans was under as much as thirty feet of water in some places.

As Katrina moved inland, tornados were spawned bringing destruction and death in numerous places. But near and dear to our hearts, Roopville and Helen, were struck a devastating blow. Our hearts and prayers go out to dear friends in Carroll County who experienced both the loss of life and property.

Almost before the storm headed inland, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Teams headed to the affected areas of the three Gulf States where the most severe damage occurred. Friends located in McComb, Mississippi, stated the joy of their family upon seeing Southern Baptists arrive on the scene.

Philip and Vickie Russell said, "I cannot say enough for the Southern Baptist relief [work]. They rolled into our church parking lot with two huge tractor-trailers full of supplies. Very organized and very caring individuals! Then we had a crew from North Carolina to come in on Sunday night to help staff our shelter plus a "chain saw" crew who goes around to help people cut up the trees. I have heard several very surprised people who have been blessed by the work of these crews."

Expressing the triumphant spirit of a Christian, Vickie wrote, "We have so much to be thankful for, especially when we hear of the devastation along the coast of Mississippi. Again, we thank you so much for your prayers. God has been here through this. I can say that our church has been praying and fasting for our upcoming revival next week. This is not how I would have chosen, but I can say God is using Katrina to bring people to Him.

"The devil thought he was wreaking havoc on the lives of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. He did. What he did not realize was how many people were going to turn their hearts to God. Praise the Lord! Our Sunday morning worship service was miraculous! I wish everyone could have been there!"

In the midst of the startling devastation of Katrina we have witnessed, through the scenes on television, homes destroyed and many lives lost while others are dazed by the destruction of everything they have known and loved. The plight of the evacuees has touched all of our hearts and we pray for them daily. We pray also for the many who are responding to the crisis. While complaints of slow response, and who is to blame, have at times dominated the airwaves, you need to be aware that your Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief teams have been located at the sites of the worst destruction almost since the storm moved inland.

Initially 110 Georgia Baptists were sent to Southern Mississippi to provide hot meals for people who have no place to live or prepare their meals, do clean up and recovery, provide shower units and communications where all lines of communications are down. Other Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Teams were sent to Carroll County to assist with the needs in our own state. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Units have been challenged by the Red Cross to provide 500,000 hot meals a day to people in the affected areas.

This is certainly a huge challenge, but Southern Baptists have demonstrated in past disasters an ability to deliver in the midst of great crisis. We are grateful to Jim Burton on the staff of the North American Mission Board who oversees Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. In Georgia we are so thankful for our own Jim Richardson who heads up Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief and for the many faithful and highly trained volunteers who assist him.

Many of our churches and individual families have opened up their facilities and homes to provide shelter and sustenance for evacuees. No doubt, this powerful Christian witness will be used by the Lord to open hearts to the Savior. On the first Sunday in September, Georgia Baptists opened their hearts and their checkbooks to give generously to the Katrina Disaster Relief Offering.

Every dime of this offering will be used to meet the needs both at the sites of the disaster and to meet the needs of those who have been displaced. At this writing I have not received the total of last Sunday's offering, but we will supply that information when it becomes available. Numerous churches have indicated that they will continue to receive this special offering in successive weeks, because the needs will continue for a long time.

The Georgia Baptist Conference Center at Norman Park is currently caring for 300 evacuees. We have been told that the Conference Center at Toccoa will receive 700. We are also prepared to use the facilities at Camp Kaleo. The evacuees we are caring for have literally lost everything they own. Pray for us and help us as we seek to meet their needs, physical, emotional and spiritual.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has moved its operations to the North Georgia Campus in Decatur. This involves locating housing for students, administration and faculty. Our Convention has been instrumental in assisting with the location of sufficient housing as well as demonstrating efforts to help supply physical and personal needs to dear friends at the seminary who lost everything in the flood. Many of the leadership at the seminary are housed at our Georgia Baptist Retirement Communities facility at Clairmont Crest. I am grateful to Laura Willis and her staff who made this possible.

Please make all of this a matter of constant prayer that God will, in His own miraculous way, bring spiritual order out of physical chaos.