Just two weeks after Mardi Gras, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse sponsored a citywide Celebration of Hope in New Orleans. In contrast to the spiritual emptiness and despair that no parade could mask, the Celebration of Hope brought the hope and promise of God’s saving and sustaining love.
Our Rapid Response Team of chaplains from BGEA and disaster relief crews from Samaritan’s Purse have been in the city since Katrina hit, helping thousands deal with the spiritual and physical trauma resulting from the storm.
Their hard and compassionate work–thousands of homes have been cleaned, hundreds of mobile homes installed, and more than 1,400 people have made commitments to follow Christ–laid the groundwork for my father and me to proclaim Jesus Christ to more than 30,000 people.
Just as God promised to restore the exiled people of Israel with “plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV), I believe He is at work in New Orleans. In the midst of devastation and despair, examples of hope stand out.
Hundreds of damaged churches are stepping out in faith and taking the initiative to rebuild their communities. Thousands of Christians from around the country are coming week after week to clean out flooded houses and minister to those who are suffering and grieving–and helping them to find new life in Christ.
Everywhere we went, people were inspired and humbled by how God’s people have responded. Even the media have noted how Christians are accomplishing things the government and other agencies have been unable to do. More important, believers in New Orleans have been encouraged, and thousands of their unbelieving neighbors have been saved.
That’s reason to celebrate. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians. “I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7, NIV).
Residents of New Orleans need our prayers and support as they face years of rebuilding. God has not abandoned or forsaken them. No–He has only begun the work of restoring lives and healing broken hearts. We can be confident in Paul’s words: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).