By Melinda Brown
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-14
This passage from Jeremiah has always had a great impact on my life, but not until Katrina did I begin to understand from these verses the depth and character of our Sovereign and Holy God and what He demanded of us. We were filled with questions about our future after the storm, because our plans had been established. My husband David had accepted the call to pastor a local church and he was taking his last seminar in his Ph.D coursework at NOBTS. It was a crazy-busy time with the demands of both church life and Ph.D work, but we were quite settled in our call. So with this dramatic change now in play, how would God use us in His redemptive plan?
First we asked Him, “What’s next?” (“…you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” Jer 29:12) We began to pray and ask God to show us His plan for the next leg of our ministry. David & I were confident that our call to serve Christ had not changed, but we knew the circumstances surrounding our call had changed. We asked God to strengthen our faith and to grow us during this time. The goal was not to just survive this tragedy, but to persevere and overcome. Endurance was not enough. We had to be able to step out of this event, treat it like history and keep moving forward in our faith. This was going to require us to keep our focus on Christ and His great works, not the devastation surrounding us.
Initially, after the storm, David and I had two major concerns: first, the status of our church folks in Lakeview and what would become of the church, and second, with our friends at the seminary and will the seminary recover and remain open?
In Lakeview, the 17th Street Canal levee break was between our home and our church with the break being less than a mile from our doorstep. We lived in a church parsonage that initially received 12 feet of floodwater which remained wet and ruined for over a month. Like many others, we lost everything in and including our home- furniture, clothes, photographs, books, etc. Regarding our church, Lakeview Baptist, floodwaters
reached 7 feet on the first floor and all of the contents including our worship center, kitchen, fellowship area and classrooms were destroyed. However, the vast majority of our church membership were Seniors and had wisely evacuated and relocated with family & friends and were safe. We had witnessed a sovereign God who was intimately involved in the safety and provision of His people. This setting allowed us to relocate to our hometown in north Louisiana.
Regarding our second concern, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary did a remarkable work in resuming classes online for students who had relocated and in providing connectivity between teachers and students. Furthermore, we received good information about our friends and their settings. David would also be allowed to finish his last Ph.D seminar to stay on schedule for Spring to take his final comprehensive exams and move forward in the dissertation process. This was also God’s provision.
From a practical perspective, early on we set up some routines to keep us structured and focused. In the beginning it was hard, but everyday we got up, kept moving, studying and making plans for our future. We also developed new friendships and got plugged into a local church. The nurturing affect of public faith in a weekly worship service had a great impact on our focus on Christ instead of the tragedy of Katrina.
So how did we move forward? How did we move past just survival? We prayed often and we studied more. We recognized when God was at work in our lives and publicly proclaimed it. God drew us near by opening doors of service from pulpit supply, to teaching Sunday school classes and ultimately a call for David to pastor a church in our community.
The scripture in Jeremiah 29:11-14 set in place a foundation of assurance, instruction and redemption. In our darkest times, we were comforted by a sovereign Lord who made a declaration to the people in the days of Jeremiah that applied to us in our 2005 Katrina setting. Our Lord completely knows us and has a good and just plan for our lives in this world and for eternity through the atoning work of His son, Jesus Christ.
In this tragedy, He beckoned us to call upon Him, to seek Him and keep our eyes focused on His hope and future that had been designed for us. This focus fueled our call and kept us plugged in to God’s redemptive plan. #4HIMWeGiveOurAll
Melinda Brown is the wife of David. He serves as a pastor in Picayune, Mississippi. You can follow her on Twitter @melbrown321