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HAMMOND, La. (BP)--“I’m overwhelmed but not in a negative way. It’s very positive,” said Lonnie Wascom, director of missions for the Louisiana north shore Baptist associations in Chappapeela, LaTangi and St. Tammany parishes.
“I’m 58 years old and I didn’t think I’d have new dreams, but we don’t have a choice. We need to re-dream the dream.”
The north shore area of Lake Pontchartrain was directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina. From the towns of Mandeville to Hammond, Covington to Slidell, the incredible impact of nature’s fury continues to be evident.
But because most of the damage was wind-related and not flooding, recovery is gaining speed.
Wascom quipped, “What we are dealing with in reality is another Oklahoma land rush,” estimating there are at least 100,000 new people in the north shore area, many from New Orleans, who will become permanent residents. A major oil and gas-related corporate office’s announcement of its relocation to the area helped fuel the rebuilding and new development.
“In 1991, we had one church for every 2,400 citizens. Now, we think it’s about one church for every 7,500,” Wascom said.
As a result, Wascom said he and other north shore associational leaders must scrap their former long-range strategies and dream again. “We had a strategic plan that we believed would hold us until 2012. It’s smashed. It’s obliterated,” he said. “We have no choice but to strategically address the radical change that occurred in our area.
“What we need now is a missionary church planting movement,” Wascom continued. “We need something like what’s happening in overseas missionary fields. Granted, it will be different because of American economics. We’ve got to throw out every paradigm we’ve ever used and re-dream the vision of reaching this area for Christ.”
Wascom told Larry Badon, missions and ministry area coordinator for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, that he believes nine missions could be started today. Badon organized an Oct. 5-6 tour to connect sponsoring churches, church planters and others in a coordinated effort to tackle the challenge. Fifty-five people from several states participated in the “GPS tour” (“Growing the Kingdom, Planting new churches, Seeing the people”), which also looked at needs in Baton Rouge, all of the Interstate 12 corridor and the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans south of Lake Pontchartrain.
“Larry asked us to give him locations for church plants. I’ve come with nine so far. We could do five times that, but I want us to make sure that the ones we plant are going to stay,” Wascom said. “In addition to Mandeville and west St. Tammany Parish, we’re looking at another at east St. Tammany. Another church could be planted somewhere north of Slidell, between Picayune and Slidell. Another could be planted in the area between Pearl River on the west, Picayune, Miss., on the north and Slidell on the south.”
The church plant in the Mandeville area would be a traditional work. “Mandeville is a very affluent area,” Wascom said. “It may be the most affluent large city in Louisiana ... incredibly high per capital income.... Gated subdivisions are everywhere you go.... Housing has just gone to the moon. The companies are staying and are doing everything they can to entice their people to stay. I stopped by a golf course housing development where the housing starts at $400,000. There’s going to be like 1,400 houses in there. By and large, most of our churches aren’t prepared to reach these kinds of folks.
“I don’t know what an awakening looks like but I’ve tasted it in my 58 years from time to time,” Wascom reflected. “I’ve seen pockets of renewal in an individual church or in a small area. I do know from reading about awakenings it all starts with desperate praying. With what has happened to us, we’ve made prayer a major core value.”
In all three of the associations he works with something extraordinary is happening, Wascom said. The pastors are gathering for regular prayer and fasting. Not just prayer for the sick, but desperate prayer for “an awakening, for revival to come.”
“All three of these associations have talked about evangelism. They’ve talked about ways to penetrate the lostness. And they’ve heard my mantra over and over again -- ‘If we die, it will be because we drown in the sea of lostness,’” Wascom said. “We can continue to do what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always gotten and, while we are doing that, we can drown in a sea of lostness.
“Lord, I don’t care how You do it, I just don’t want to be left out,” Wascom petitions. “God is up to something. The storms have seriously awakened this state.”
John L. Yeats is director of the communications team for the Louisiana Baptist Convention and is the recording secretary for the Southern Baptist Convention.