With the chief executives of Southern Baptists' national entities standing behind him in support, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley, September 19, thanked Southern Baptists for their "sacrificial commitment" to repairing the hurricane-ravaged campus.
Southern Baptists, he added, have a rare and unique opportunity to impact the city for Christ.
He spoke to Executive Committee members minutes after a historic vote ensured that several million dollars will assist in repairing the seminary, which was badly damaged by the flooding of Hurricane Katrina and has moved its offices temporarily to Decatur, Georgia.
"I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done ... in helping us climb a mountain that looks awfully high right now," said Kelley, who received an extended standing ovation before he spoke.
Executive Committee members unanimously approved the use of all Cooperative Program funds received for national SBC causes above the 2004-05 budget, ending September 30, for assisting in hurricane relief. Fifty percent of the extra money will go to New Orleans Seminary, 25 percent to the North American Mission Board for disaster relief, and 25 percent split among the Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama state conventions.
The Executive Committee also voted to use the same formula with beyond-the-budget receipts for the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget during the first quarter of the new fiscal year.
At the time, officials estimated that the 2004-05 CP budget overage would yield about $7 million to help reconstitute churches and keep ministers in the field, assist New Orleans Seminary faculty and students and rebuild the campus, and provide extra support to NAMB for disaster relief operations.
Kelley thanked the entity heads for the sacrifices they are making. In most years, the extra CP money is split among the various entities, providing an often-anticipated boost in funding. Kelley said Southern Baptists must "redouble our efforts to make sure that every one of these ministries is not short at the end of the [budget] year" in funds.
"We simply must encourage our churches to make up that which these precious entities and their very important ministries are investing in the area hit by the hurricane," he said. "We simply must recover that money for these ministries in the later part of the year."
The entities that receive CP funds are the five remaining seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources, and Executive Committee.
Estimates show New Orleans Seminary suffered between $5 and $15 million in damage, Kelley said, adding that the figure does not include lost revenue. The seminary hoped to have a solid estimate on damages by the end of the week, he said.
NOBTS' sister seminaries have stepped up in various ways to assist in the repairing effort. During the Executive Committee meeting, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, presented Kelley with a check for $147,282, which came from an offering of Southeastern students and faculty members.
"Never before in history have the five seminaries ... made this kind of investment in disaster relief," Kelley said.
Using a slide show, Kelley showed pictures that graphically demonstrated the extent of flooding on the campus. While 90-95 percent of the administrative and academic buildings are unaffected, he said, most of student and faculty housing was impacted. New Orleans Seminary has on-campus faculty homes, all of which experienced flooding of at least two feet, Kelley said. In addition, 80 percent of first-floor student housing experienced flooding of at least two feet, which, Kelley said, was a "devastating loss for families that live on a margin."
The flooded parts of the campus, he said, smell "unbelievably bad."
"Everything it touched it killed," he said of the toxic-laced water. "It is a combination of water, of oil, of chemicals ... of sewage, of dead bodies, of dead animals."
The NOBTS office of the dean of students was contacting every student who registered in August, Kelley said, and the seminary is "reconstructing [its] database." In addition, each faculty member was contacting the students who were enrolled in their classes "just to make sure they're OK, they're safe" and to offer ways to help.
Southern Baptists, Kelley said, have an opportunity they have never had.
"We have an opportunity to have a presence and a loud voice literally in the building of a city," he said. "The old New Orleans is gone ... and a new New Orleans is going to emerge.
"We have an opportunity as Southern Baptists to have a greater role in the city of New Orleans than we have ever had before, and through New Orleans and what we do there to learn some lessons about impacting the urban culture and the urban setting .... The whole world is going to watch and see who rebuilds New Orleans."
Kelley then asked: Why did God allow a hurricane nearly to destroy a Southern Baptist entity?
"It could very well be that we are going to discover the only way that God could get the gospel a clear hearing in a city like New Orleans was through our loss," he said. "And if our loss provides a highway for the gospel to this great city, and to all the people who are going to be watching this rebuilding process, it is not too high a price to pay."
The relief effort also has provided Southern Baptists the opportunity to reach out to the poor, Kelley said. If the denomination is to fulfill the Great Commission in the 21st century, he added, it must minister to the poor.
"Southern Baptists have to learn to align evangelism and ministry as all a part of the same task," he said. "And God is reminding us of how critical that is, and He's giving us an opportunity to practice it in south Louisiana, in south Mississippi, in south Alabama."