NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- When Hurricane Katrina crashed against the shores of Louisiana in 2005, floods deluged New Orleans, washing away houses, businesses and churches as well as the hope of many. Yet in the wake of catastrophic destruction, Southern Baptists found an opportunity to shine amid the darkness and help rebuild the Big Easy.
Jack Hunter, executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA) and a native New Orleanian, rejoices over the "virtual army of Southern Baptists who have come through to help with various aspects of the rebuilding of New Orleans."
Hunter practiced law in New Orleans for nearly 30 years and ministered in a housing project through his local church prior to Katrina. After the flood, he joined the thousands of other volunteers in recovery efforts. He joined the staff of NOBA in 2009 and was named executive director in 2011.
While initial post-Katrina efforts emphasized relief and recovery, Hunter said NOBA has shifted toward rebuilding -- none of which could be accomplished without the cooperation of Southern Baptist churches.
"After Katrina, we experienced a tremendous influx of assistance from other churches, associations and conventions toward the rebuilding of New Orleans," Hunter said. "Now, more than six years later, we're still experiencing a lot of support from other churches, associations and conventions toward Kingdom building in New Orleans."
The association had to overcome a net loss in congregations -- many of which were reduced to mere slabs -- and an overall loss of population as a result of the storm. However, Hunter sees a closer bond of fellowship among the remaining churches as a byproduct of the hardship.
In recent years, New Orleans has re-emerged as a bustling metropolitan area as young professionals, entrepreneurs and artists have repopulated the city. Many of those whose professions brought them to work on the recovery fell in love with the city and stayed.
Hunter said NOBA has embraced a threefold approach to reaching people and facilitating the ministry of churches: church planting, sustainable compassion ministries and a fellowship of healthy churches.
"Baptist work in New Orleans is quintessentially Southern Baptist cooperative work," he said. "We have a strategy that has been developed at a grassroots level and it's being led by our local churches."
Hunter added that NOBA is "dependent upon" and "appreciative of" its partners in ministry, including churches in other areas, sister associations, the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board.
David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, has witnessed this cooperation firsthand, with NOBA becoming a vital part of the life and ministry of churches during the immediate aftermath of Katrina and in ongoing Kingdom advancement. NOBA serves as a hub for information and resources, providing training, encouragement and support to local churches in a variety of Gospel-driven efforts.
"The association partnered with us to establish a preaching point in Central City, where we saw many people make professions of faith in open-air meetings," Crosby said. First Baptist also has worked with the association to establish partnerships with local schools and to host block parties in neighboring communities.
NOBA's compassion ministries have become an effective bridge in reaching people with the Gospel. Plans are underway to launch a new work this summer: Christ Community Health Services-NOLA (CCHS) -- a primary care health clinic in the medically underserved Lower Ninth Ward.
"We're going to provide full-service primary care to the residents of that community in a Gospel-centered way," Hunter said. "We'll only hire healthcare professionals who can share their faith with their patients and will pray with their patients."
This ministry will provide much-needed medical assistance in the community but also will be a launching pad for church planting efforts. As with all NOBA ministries, CCHS is linked to the association's overall mission.
"These aren't separate dimensions of the work," Hunter said. "They're really interrelated dimensions of the work. Our church planting will be connected with compassion ministries. And they will both be connected with the health of our existing churches."
Among the plans for CCHS is adopting an unreached people group in a country where missionaries cannot go but medical teams will have access.
"We learned during Katrina that we could have spent all of our time, energy and resources doing good works, but doing good works apart from sharing the Gospel doesn't build the Kingdom. And sharing the Gospel apart from demonstrating the love of God in Christ begins to sound like a clanging symbol," Hunter said.
Hunter's belief in the power of cooperation for Kingdom impact in New Orleans has him looking forward to the SBC annual meeting in June. He believes the ground has been plowed and prepared for a great harvest through Crossover, the annual evangelistic thrust prior to the convention.
"From an associational standpoint, we've given great emphasis to Crossover," he said. More than 18 months of preparation have gone into this year's Crossover outreach. Local churches have been trained and equipped with evangelism strategies, and a heavy emphasis on prayer pervades every meeting.
"We have been praying that God would prepare the soil of the hearts of the people in New Orleans, that He would send forth laborers into this effort, that His Spirit would move and that people would be brought to faith in Christ, congregationalized and brought to maturity in Christ," Hunter said.
"The focus of Crossover New Orleans is going to be door-to-door evangelism within the communities of our churches. We want volunteers to come and to go with our church members into the communities to do this."
Additionally, NOBA is looking for men and women who will embrace New Orleans and plant their lives in the city as church planters, teachers or business professionals.
"We really want people to follow Christ within their own careers, within their own professions, and to do it here in New Orleans," Hunter said. "We're looking for ways we can start new faith communities."
Keith Collier is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information about the work of the New Orleans Baptist Association, visit www.joinnoba.com/serve-new-orleans.