New Orleans | Where the River is Restoring a City
August 28, 2005. New Orleans, Louisiana. It was Sunday morning and my family was all loaded up in two cars. We were leaving our beloved city, evacuating to avoid Hurricane Katrina, churning toward us across the Gulf of Mexico.
My heart was broken. For the first time in 27 years, we were canceling the Sunday services of our church, Victory Fellowship, to allow our members to prepare their homes and businesses for the storm and then evacuate the city. Both of our church’s locations in Metairie, a suburb, and the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans were bracing for the worst. At noon on Sunday, the mayor of New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation.
The truth is that my wife and I had no idea what kind of journey we were really beginning. We expected to return home in two or three days; because over the years, we had evacuated several approaching hurricanes. Each time the storm had veered off, and we always returned safely home to resume our normal lives.
We awoke in northern Alabama on Monday morning to the news that our city had once again dodged the storm. Hurricane Katrina had moved slightly east at the last moment and seemed to spare New Orleans the worst of her force. We spent the day enjoying our family and making plans to return home.
On Tuesday morning, the ringing of my cell phone woke me.
“Dad, have you heard the news this morning?” Silence filled the air. We both knew what that meant. With New Orleans below sea level, we knew that the long-expected “worst” had happened.
Our precious city filled with water, floodwaters that remained for three weeks. Eighty percent of the city experienced catastrophic flooding, and even today, nine months later, over 300,000 people still have no homes to return to.
The good news for us was that our main church building remained intact barely touched by the storm’s fury. Just four days after the storm had passed, electrical service was restored to the church property, and we were able to begin distributing food, water and other necessary supplies to the people who remained in the devastated area. This was the beginning of an unprecedented involvement in relief work.
Now nine months later, we have fed multiplied thousands of families with hot meals and provided them with bottled water, non-perishable food items and other essential supplies. Over these months, thousands of relief workers have come to help us with teams from all across America, several cities in Canada, and various locations in Europe. What a blessing to see how the body of Christ has rallied to pour out the love of God onto our city!
THE RIVER PREPARED US FOR THE FLOOD
The ways of the Lord are past finding out, the scripture says. How could anyone ever be prepared for this kind of destruction and this measure of human need? The Lord Himself prepared us and has sustained us.
For Victory Fellowship, the preparation began back in the summer of 1994. Like many other ministers, I had gone through a long, dry season in my life. The work of the ministry was very hard and the results were incredibly disappointing. In August of 1994, I was ready to call it quits. I could not continue laboring without the blessing of the Lord.
That month, I heard about the outbreak of revival in Toronto, and I also heard about the Holy Ghost meetings being conducted by Rodney Howard- Browne. I reluctantly attended some of Rodney’s meetings in Dallas, Texas. After about a week of soaking in those services, I went forward to receive prayer. After hands were laid upon me, I found myself lost in God in a heap on the floor. The joy of the Lord was exploding inside of me. My life was being changed by one touch from the Lord.
When I returned to our church in New Orleans, I had no idea what to expect. I could not begin to imagine the impact that my experience was going to have on our entire church body. From the first Sunday after I returned, the presence of God fell upon our congregation. Rivers of God began to visit us. We didn’t know it then; but at that moment, the work of preparation for things to come had begun deep within our hearts.
Within two weeks of this experience, our church welcomed a special guest speaker. Little did we know that our guest had just returned from a trip to the church in Toronto. The speaker was Suzette Hattingh from Reinhardt Bonnke’s ministry. As Suzette began to minister that weekend, the glory of the Lord began to fill the building.
I specifically remember one prophetic word she spoke at that meeting. The Lord declared to us that rivers would converge in our church and impact the nations. As the weekend continued, the power of God intensified. All of us knew that something special was happening. God had come down; and we would never be the same again.
Not long after these services, my wife and I met Georgian and Winnie Banov at some revival meetings in Lakeland, Florida. The Banovs were really enjoying the outpouring when we met them, and an immediate friendship resulted. Shortly after this, the Banovs moved to New Orleans to help us with the unfolding move of God in our city. Their love for His presence and for the Word of God was contagious. Over the years, they have played a great role in keeping Victory Fellowship saturated with the glory of the Lord.
Looking back now, I realize that the outpouring of God’s presence in our church saved our lives and our ministry and prepared us for things to come. Since Katrina destroyed much of what has been precious to us in south eastern Louisiana, we have seen great changes take place.
Our city has now become a mission field.
The atmosphere in New Orleans and the level of spiritual hunger are similar to that found in many African cities that I have visited. My wife, Parris, and I feel as if the Lord has brought the mission field to us. We now live in the midst of incredible natural destruction and at the same time, a place of deep spiritual hunger. There has never been a greater opportunity in North America since the days of the Great Awakening in the 18th century!
I believe that we are living in the time of God’s fulfillment of His promise to visit our nation with another Great Awakening just before the return of our Lord. Wouldn’t it be just like Jesus to start this work in a city so famous for sin? Maybe it is true that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.
WE NEED THE BODY OF CHRIST
One of the great lessons we have learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is our tremendous need for the Body of Christ. Our church has always been on the other side of the giving and receiving equation. Over the years, we have sent out workers, planted churches, and provided financial support for many ministries, both in the United States and abroad.
Now things have changed. Churches and ministries from all over the world have been showering us with the love of God. In the months since the storm changed our way of life in New Orleans, our church has seen workers, food and supplies, and financial donations coming in from everywhere. Suddenly, we are on the receiving end of the gift of God flowing through His bride.
Teams have arrived to prepare and distribute food and to give out supplies. Others have come to pray and to reach out in ministry. Still others have come to do the work of restoration and rebuilding to “gut” houses, to repair roofs, to do electrical work, and to install new sheetrock. You name it and the body of Christ has given it or done it in the last few months. Such an outpouring of the love of God was totally unexpected, and it has really touched the hearts of the people of New Orleans.
New Orleans has never been open to evangelical Christianity. For so many Christians to come and to give so abundantly was totally unexpected and has affected our city deeply. While many New Orleanians see our government institutions as having failed to provide desperately needed help, we see Christians everywhere praying, feeding, loving and working. People in New Orleans find it hard to believe their eyes. This massive outpouring of help and support has caused a great openness to the gospel, something we have never seen in our city before.
The hearts of the people of New Orleans have been prepared for a great work of God.
Through the Lord’s faithful provision, Victory Fellowship has purchased a new church building in the heart of New Orleans, half a block from Canal Street. This church is in the heart of the flooded area. Right now, the neighborhoods around it are empty and the businesses closed. We are restoring this building so that it can be our new hub for extended relief work. It will serve as a headquarters for our relief workers for the next few years. We will send out teams from this location to help restore our city.
We believe that in the years ahead, people will return to their homes and businesses in this area of New Orleans. As these people return, we want to have a new church already in place in the heart of the city. Pre-Katrina, this would have been impossible. Before the storm, the historic property we have purchased was not available for sale and would have been very expensive if it were. It is amazing how God redeems situations, isn’t it?
Hurricane Katrina has provided a great opportunity for all of those who have been touched by the outpouring of God over the last several years. The tremendous devastation this storm created has also created an opportunity for many to step out into the fields of ministry. Never before have we had this kind of need in North America. Never before have we had so many precious Christians who have been touched so deeply by revival.
Who knows? Maybe you were anointed for such a time as this. Maybe the Lord is calling you to labor on the streets of New Orleans.