On Aug 29, 2005, Katrina, the deadliest hurricane to strike the US in the past 85 years, slammed into the Gulf Coast causing severe destruction from Texas to Florida. Because of the failed levee system, the hardest area hit was New Orleans. In total, Hurricane Katrina cost at least 1,245 people their lives.
This past month, the news was dominated by the headline – Katrina, 10 years later. Every news outlet reported on how the Gulf Coast, and specifically New Orleans continues to slowly recover from the devastating impact of the destructive storm. The stories of survival and recovery reminded me of PastorServe’s involvement in New Orleans – and how our involvement continues to this day.
Katrina obliterated more than 160,000 square miles. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the Gulf Coast to seek refuge in several major cities. The pressing problem quickly revealed itself – because entire congregations had fled, more than 2,000 pastors and church staff (a conservative estimate) lost their jobs as more than 90% of Gulf Coast churches immediately closed. Churches that ceased operations included several New Orleans mega-churches – one numbering more than 5,000 members. Of the churches that remained, the majority immediately lost between fifty to ninety percent of their members.
Many pastors stayed behind to care for those who either lacked the means to flee or refused to leave their city. Many pastors who committed to staying and rebuilding had no means of financial support. Apart from a miracle, many pastors would be forced to leave. Immediately after the hurricane, in partnership with Generous Giving, we launched the PastorServe Hurricane Katrina Pastors Fund. Within one month, PastorServe had raised more than $135,000.
In December 2005, Charles Briscoe, Dan Dermyer and I traveled to the Gulf Coast region to distribute the funds as well as provide emotional support. The financial support offered a lifeboat to drowning pastors. While PastorServe was able to deliver financial help to more than forty pastors, there was a special friendship forged with nine pastors of the Lower Ninth Ward C.U.R.E. Churches (Churches United for Revitalization and Evangelism), a connection, which has continued over the past ten years. The night that we presented each pastor a gift of $10,000 was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The gift was literally a game changer allowing the pastors to stay and minister in New Orleans. Ten years later, eight of the nine pastors continue to pastor in the Lower Ninth Ward.
“But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
During the past decade both Charles Briscoe and I have traveled to New Orleans to preach in C.U.R.E. churches, encourage these brothers and deepen friendships with pastors of the Lower Ninth Ward. I have stayed in the home of Pastor James Willis. On a Palm Sunday I was privileged to speak at both the New Kingdom Baptist Church and the Carver Desire Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward where I heard “Amen” more times than I could count. The relationship with these pastors continues. Just this past week, one of the pastors e-mailed me seeking pastoral counsel. Soon, we hope to lead a New Orleans pastors conference. No doubt, much good has emerged from Katrina.
Just as we observed in Haiti, in Joplin and in other areas impacted my disaster, pastors are often the first in line to give help and the last in line to receive help. And yet, they too need care, encouragement and support.
Thank you for being a part of this work. Through your partnership – we are blessing pastors in Kansas City, New Orleans and many other locations around the country. PastorServe’s vision is that one day every Pastor in America would have a place to turn in order to deal with the challenges and crises they face.
What a blessing to know that pastors serving in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans have a place to turn.