Ten years ago this week my world was upended by Hurricane Katrina. Over 1,800 people lost their lives and more than $100 billion worth of property was lost. Katrina was a disaster for the record books, and one for the Keathley family as well. I was just entering my sixth year serving on faculty at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in August 2005 when Katrina blew in and changed our lives.
I remember the moment we learned that Katrina posed a danger. Penny and I were recent empty-nesters and we were out for a quiet evening. We were leaving a restaurant on our way to see a movie when we saw some other NOBTS people eating there. They were headed home, with plans to spend the evening boarding up windows. Katrina, they informed us, had changed course. She was now headed for New Orleans.
We left the city the next day. Katrina hit the Gulf Coast like perdition with a 26-foot surge, and the levees surrounding the city gave way. Like most of the homes on the seminary campus, our house was flooded. Four feet of water remained in it for over a month.
Everyone was shell-shocked. NOBTS opened temporary quarters in Atlanta and we joined the school there. The seminary returned to the New Orleans campus the next spring, and at that time I received and accepted a call to teach at Southeastern.
When a catastrophe of this magnitude hits, it consumes one’s life for a while. What will we do? Where we will go? How will we recover? What’s next? These are some of the questions that filled our thoughts day and night for weeks and months. We were counseled to expect to experience the five stages of grief (we did); to share our story with others and to write about our experiences as a way of coping (we did). A forever bond formed between those of us who went through that crisis together. We cried with each other, encouraged and supported each other, and prayed for each other through one of the most difficult times in our lives. Though we would never have wanted or asked for this experience…God used it for good. Now – we thank him for it.
This week seems like a good time to share a few lessons we learned through that crisis.
1. Travel light – we can get by with much less “stuff”. We left New Orleans with just a change of clothes. It is weird to wake up one morning and realize you have basically no material possessions but what is on your back – it was sobering.
But in a way, it was also freeing. God’s word tells us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Losing our material possessions reminded us how little we actually need and to put our “things” in proper perspective.
2. The hope and comfort of the Gospel shines even more brightly when the outlook is dark. So many people lost everything. Not just homes, but businesses and careers were washed away. But the citizens of New Orleans were amazed when thousands of Southern Baptists arrived with food, chain saws, and work gloves. The teams from Baptist churches and associations didn’t just come to help during the immediate days and weeks after Katrina. They continued to work and serve for months and even years afterwards.
New Orleans, a city that was at that time 93% non-Baptist, took notice. The opportunities for Gospel witness during those days were phenomenal.
3. God’s grace is sufficient and also humbling. God met our needs and He did so primarily through His people. Penny and I will always be grateful to the many Christians who responded with love, financial support, and a lot of hard work. He even used strangers to bless and encourage us. It was a humbling experience to accept charity from others. But God used that humbling experience to grow our character and teach us to depend on Him more fully.
Hurricane Katrina serves as a marker in our lives; a reminder of God’s sustaining grace and mercy through calamity. Whatever the future holds, we know our Sovereign God holds the future in His good and trustworthy hands. “I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.” Is 43:2
Cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com