Churches Provide Roots in Flooded Areas

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Despite the dismal state of much of New Orleans, Pastor Jay Adkins has returned to his parish, where he is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Jefferson Parish in Westwego, La. Adkins and others say churches are playing a vital role in helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

According to a poll published in today's Washington Post, victims of Hurricane Katrina say they gained greater faith from the tragedy. Eighty percent of evacuees questioned said they felt that their faith was strengthened by the experience, and 90 percent said they were hopeful about the future.

BLOCK: Jay Adkins is pastor of First Baptist Church in Westwego, Louisiana. It's on the west bank of the Mississippi, across from New Orleans. He came back to the church just a few days after the hurricane. He's been working with a handful of church members and other volunteers, cooking meals for relief workers and victims of the storm. Adkins says the church itself took a pretty good hit.

Reverend JAY ADKINS (First Baptist Church): We lost a number--in fact, a majority of our shingles, which caused a great amount of water damage inside, and so we've had to gut the sanctuary. And we've done that with some volunteer help that's come in the last few days.

BLOCK: So you're already working on trying to fix things?

Rev. ADKINS: Oh, yes, ma'am. We're trying to get right back after it and do some ministry. And even though we're a little concerned about our people right now because three or four families have already mentioned that they probably will be moving, and so that's going to affect us a little bit. But we want to get going as quickly as we can. And so it takes some time, but we're on our way.

BLOCK: When you talk to people in your parish, what sorts of questions do they have besides the purely practical questions of getting by day to day? But do they come to you seeking spiritual help, and do they have questions about God?

Rev. ADKINS: What I'm hearing is `What kind of God would cause this to happen?' My response is, one, to encourage people and assure them that my theology is one that doesn't suggest that God causes these things to happen, but that out of great tragedy God can bring wonderful renewal and blessing and encouragement. He can change lives, and he o--and he kind of specializes in that, taking tragedies and changing those things around for the good.

And so, right now, we're getting a lot of--at first it was, `Hey, Pastor, do you have a bag of ice?' You know, it was that at first. `Do you have some water?' And certainly, we were able to minister to those needs as well early on. But more and more, it's, you know, `Wow, look at this. Look what's happened.' It's just something that from time to time we have to say there's just really no answer. One day we may understand, but until that time, we can just trust the Lord.

BLOCK: Apart from the tragedy from nature, the pure destructive force of the storm...

Rev. ADKINS: Sure.

BLOCK: ...there was also a lot of human failure here. There was the failure of government to...

Rev. ADKINS: Of course.

BLOCK: ...respond. There was--there were scenes of incredible depravity in the Convention Center. How do you explain that?

Rev. ADKINS: Well, I can tell you that, again, from the scriptural perspective, the Bible tells us that the nature of man--if left to his own device, the nature of man is fallen and frail and it's full of mistakes. That's not to say men can't do good things as well, but it certainly shows us that, in times of major tragedy, oftentimes we see the very best and worst of humankind come out. What we have seen is just what we would--we old Southern Baptists would call just the `sin nature' of man as it bears itself out in selfishness. But it's one of those things that we can point to the pages of Scripture and show that that's part of the need for salvation is that depraved nature of man that so often presents itself in time of tragedy.

BLOCK: Did you mark this National Day of Prayer and Remembrance in any particular way?

Rev. ADKINS: Well, the only way I marked it was getting our folks--I hate to say this, but getting our folks over to start cooking some more meals. We had a prayer time this morning, but we weren't able--because of the situation and the ministry that we're trying to do right now, we weren't able to have a specific time of prayer. And again, most of our neighbors, most of our parishioners, aren't quite home yet. And so what we were able to do was just be in a--and hopefully, continue to be in an attitude of prayer all day long and just thank God for his provision in our life, thank him for what he has allowed to come our way. The apostle Paul says in the New Testament that, through the greatest difficulties, God grows us and encourages us and strengthens us in ways that we can't imagine so that we may be able to understand that even in great tragedy we can grow, become closer to the Lord. And patience works in there, that we can become more and more like Christ and recognize his work in our life, even in the midst of tragedy and difficulty.

BLOCK: Pastor Adkins, thanks very much.

Rev. ADKINS: Certainly. Thank you.

BLOCK: Jay Adkins is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Westwego, Louisiana.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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