By Dr. Rhonda Kelley
On August 29, 2005, our lives were unexpectedly disrupted when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans and areas along the Gulf Coast. The levees broke and water covered our city and the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where my husband served as president and we lived. Panic and fear set into the Crescent City as more than 150,000 homes were flooded, and thousands of residents found themselves homeless and without hope. We faced many unknowns during those days, and our daily lives changed dramatically overnight. Our family lived in exile in Atlanta for five months, and our campus was closed for the full school year. Our family was scattered in multiple states, and our holiday gatherings looked very different. But God showed up, and we truly lived through a miracle as He protected us and provided for us!
In March 2020, people around the world, and we again in New Orleans find ourselves in a different kind of Katrina. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) is our new Katrina. First diagnosed in China in November 2019, the virus has quickly spread to countries around the world including the United States. We have watched people become sick and die in all 50 states in just a couple weeks. The city of New Orleans is one of the hot spots in our country and is actually outpacing other Covid-19 hotspots in rate of cases per capita according to the Governor of Louisiana. For many, there is fear and panic as schools are closed, jobs are at risk, store shelves are empty, and the future is uncertain. Hourly news reports announce more restrictions to stop the spread of the disease, and the rippling economic and financial effects become glaringly apparent. Everyone is impacted in some ways, but the elderly and infirm people we love are most at risk. But God is still on His throne and can handle even Covid-19!
Let’s reflect on some ways that our experience during this pandemic is the same but different than during Hurricane Katrina. I truly believe that God who saw us through then and taught us so many spiritual lessons will do that again. He has always been faithful and will be faithful to us now. We must seek His guidance as we live our disrupted lives and minister to disheartened people. We can claim His promises of provision and protection now as we did before:
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:2-3).
Same. There are many similarities between the impact of Hurricane Katrina and Covid-19. Those of us who experienced Katrina will forever mark our lives “before Katrina” and “after Katrina.” Now all of us will forever mark our lives “before Covid-19” and “after Covid-19.” What is the same then and now?
· God is still on His throne and in charge of the world.
· God will take care of you now and forever.
· You can have hope in Jesus Christ who has saved you and will give you eternal life.
· God’s Word is truth and can inform us how to live.
· Believers encourage each other and work in ministry together in harmony.
· Christians have an opportunity to serve others in times of great need.
· People are more open to the Gospel in times of crisis than any other time.
· The lives and businesses of people are disrupted but will find a “new normal.”
· Your daily lives will be different but can be joyful.
· You will love and be loved by your family and friends more than ever before.
Already we have witnessed ways in which the Lord is at work in individuals and churches as well as the Southern Baptist Convention, state conventions, and local associations to spread the Gospel and help with the real needs of people. Our federal, state, and local officials are responding in unprecedented ways to protect us and provide for us. We can be a part of God’s miracles during this crisis as He redeems what seems to be bad for His good and our best interest.
Different. There are many differences between these two events which happened fifteen years apart and are different types of disasters. Can you see how God has been preparing us to cope with this pandemic in ways only He could have known? What is differentthen and now?
· Thousands of people across the Gulf Coast were impacted by Katrina, but now billions across the world have been impacted by Covid-19.
· Many people were exiled from their homes in Katrina, but now all families are quarantined in their own homes.
· After Katrina, we were isolated from the familiar, but now we are isolated from each other.
· Telephone lines and internet substations were damaged in Katrina limiting communication, but now information is everywhere (television, internet, phones/texts, emails, and social media), and community can connect us even in isolation.
· Groceries, gas, and other basic supplies were destroyed during Katrina, but now businesses are working hard to provide for our basic needs through grocery and restaurant pickup and delivery, even though there has been an initial depletion of disinfectants and toilet paper. And, online shopping is more familiar today and will explode as stores and malls shorten their hours and control the customer flow.
· Hurricane Katrina was a massive disaster that had an immediate impact and quick start on the road to recovery, while Covid-19 holds us captive awaiting the full impact of the disaster.
· Following Katrina, we worried about TODAY, while now everyone is worried about TOMORROW.
In many ways, we are better prepared today to have a worldwide crisis than we were fifteen years ago. God has gone before us to make a way in this storm. The future is still unknown and many questions are yet to be answered. But God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever will work all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28) in this same but different Katrina!
Join me in a “Katrina-like response” … trust God to care for you and your loved ones. Spend time daily in His Word and in prayer. Listen to Him not the naysayers and pessimists. Turn off the television and your social media for awhile and focus on your family members who are now in your home. Play together, walk together, sing together, and pray together. Let the Lord renew your faith, boost your spirits, and give you hope. God who sustained and strengthened us through Katrina will do so again – if we seek Him (Matt. 6:33)!