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Criswell College Students Go into the Aftermath of Katrina


Preparing food for the Salvation Army Mobile Canteens at 3:30am.
Photo by Josh Ramsey.

We parked our Canteen truck right next to the tents where military vehicles were dropping off and processing evacuees in front of the now infamous Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. This was the site that saw thousands of New Orleans residents stranded without food and bathrooms for days after the levees broke. It became a den of misery and lawlessness.

A Military Policeman informed me that when the army arrived, they found dead bodies inside the Convention Center—bodies that had been brutalized, some apparently mugged and others raped. It is places like these where the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) has been providing disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The work I was doing was part of the SBTC’s partnership with the Salvation Army. The SBTC and the Salvation Army have set up a staging area in Baton Rouge, LA that is providing disaster relief to those who are in the wake of devastation caused by the Hurrican. A group of Criswell College students (led by me) recently joined in that effort.

The SBTC partnership with the Salvation Army in Baton Rouge requires SBC volunteers to load and to man Salvation Army Mobile Canteens. Canteens are trucks outfitted to transport, to prepare, and to distribute food to victims of disaster. The SBTC staging area in Baton Rouge prepares approximately 20,000 to 35,000 meals per day to be distributed by disaster relief volunteers. On Saturday alone, the so-called “bologna brigade” made 20,000 bologna sandwiches to be distributed to victims.

I helped to man a Canteen that provided relief inside the city of New Orleans itself. I found that the catastrophic impact of Katrina was not adequately depicted by the pictures I had seen on the television. Rancid flood waters covered huge swaths of the city, and innumerable buildings lay in ruins. An on-the-ground view of the landscape revealed the sheer scope of the disaster, and it was indeed devastating.

My partner, Mark Bjornholm, and I spent the majority of our time in New Orleans feeding evacuees and rescue workers who were holed up at the Convention Center. A week ago, there were tens of thousands waiting in line to be evacuated. When we served, they were arriving sporadically, and there was no line for them to wait in. The ones who came to our truck were the last hold-outs. One military man told me that these were the ones who would have stayed even longer, but their food, provisions, and will to continue had finally given out.

All the evacuees who arrived at our station looked bedraggled and depressed. And who could blame them? They had lost everything, and now they were leaving home behind. We gave them a meal and a word of condolence for their lost city. And we prayed for them.

We fed a bus driver named Terrence and his family at the evacuation site. Terrence was able to hold on to his job after losing his home and all his belongings in the hurricane. Now he, his wife Raquel, and his three children (Caitlyn, 11yrs; Corey, 11yrs; and Cayla, 7yrs.) have made Terrence’s bus their new home.

Other Criswell College students who manned Canteen trucks made it outside of New Orleans proper and into some of the suburbs that were ravaged by Katrina. Johnny Guthrie and John Ailie went into Kenner, LA where residents were still living with standing water and without power. All of the residents, afraid to come out of their homes for fear of a forced evacuation, were relieved to see the Canteen come rolling into their neighborhood. Guthrie and Ailie reported that the people they served said that the SBTC/Salvation Army truck was the first disaster relief team that they had seen, and this nearly two weeks after the storm. Ailie told each person that he fed, “We’re here to serve you and to serve Jesus Christ.”

Even though the Criswell College students’ primary task was to distribute food, they also found time to distribute the Gospel. In just two days, students estimated that they had made 67 Gospel presentations, given out 119 Bibles, and handed out 1,126 tracts.

Bill Davenport, the director of SBTC disaster relief and leader of the staging area in Baton Rouge, said that his biggest concern is that after the media-hype of Hurricane Katrina dies down he will be left with all the food, equipment, and provisions for relief, but no help.

Needless to say, there is much left to do in New Orleans and in the outlying areas that are sheltering evacuees. And there remains a huge question as to what the impact will be when Hurricane Rita reaches the Gulf Coast this weekend. My hope is that whatever the disaster, God will send more workers out to embody the Gospel in disaster relief efforts.

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More Scenes from New Orleans

Band of Cobelligerents: Denny, Mark (SBC), George, and Mike (Salvation Army). These are the four who manned our Canteen truck. Denny and Mark are from Dallas, TX; George and Mike are from Ohio. It was a real pleasure working with these guys.


The filth and stench outside the Convention Center was unbelievable.


Terrence and his family came through the line at our Canteen truck. Terrence was able to hold on to his job after losing his home and all his belongings in the hurricane. Now he, his wife Raquel, and his three children (Caitlyn, 11yrs; Corey, 11yrs; and Cayla, 7yrs.) have made Terrence’s bus their new home.


USS Harry Truman docked at the Riverwalk which runs alongside the Mississippi River in New Orleans.


It was eerie to see that the Mississippi River Bridge going into New Orleans was deserted.


Denny in front of the Canteen talking to an immigration officer.


Evacuees arriving at our position in front of the Convention Center.


It was our pleasure to serve members of the 82nd Airborne stationed inside the evacuation site.


Flooded street in New Orleans.


Pure D nastiness.


This is a view of downtown from I-10 looking south. We could only drive so far north before having to turn around because flood waters had cut off I-10.


Here we are making nice with the guys who are now running the streets of New Orleans. They weren’t forcing evacuations, but boy is it intimidating to see these guys rolling down the streets of the neighborhood in their armored vehicles.


What can I say? I just like Humvees.

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Scenes from New Orleans

These are two signs I found on a building on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. The sign on the left is the initial warning to looters that the owner left. The sign on the right is the update on his status as of September 4.

Evacuees being unloaded from a military personell truck near our Mobile Canteen unit.

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Going to New Orleans

Dear Readers,

I won’t be blogging for the next few days because I’m going to New Orleans. I’m leading a group of students from the Criswell College to a staging area in Baton Rouge where we will link up with Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. We will man a Salvation Army Mobile Canteen and will be responsible for distributing 300,000 meals per day in New Orleans.

The last several days, I’ve been blogging a lot about the political side of the Hurrican Katrina tragedy because I think the news coverage has been reflexively condemning of federal authorities. I am happy to say that I think that that tide is turning. In any case, I am hoping to have something very different to write about when I get back. I hope to tell some of the story of our trip after we return because I don’t think that I will have access to the internet while I am there (and I don’t think I’d have time to write anyway).

I would greatly appreciate your prayers.

Sincerely,
Denny

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Watching and Waiting With Apprehension and Prayers

My wife and I are watching the impending disaster as it creeps ever closer to the shores of our home state. We are apprehensive about our family and friends who live in and around the New Orleans area and who are preparing for the worst.

One of my friends from high school just evacuated his family at 4pm this afternoon. They left Covington, LA to head back toward our hometown DeRidder, LA (which is in the southwest part of the state and out of the way of the storm). The westbound traffic on I-10 between New Orleans and DeRidder is crawling along very slowly. In some spots it is taking about an hour to go ten miles.

My mother and father went to eat at Wendy’s with friends after the evening service at FBC DeRidder. They saw evacuees all over town. The hotels are full, and others are just wandering around with no place to go. My parents and their friends ran into a family of evacuees in line at Wendy’s. They were traveling through town with no place to go, so my parents’s dinner partners invited the family to stay with them at their house.

As we watch the coverage on the television and as the stories of the evacuees come trickling in, Susan and I are heavy-hearted tonight. We know that tomorrow morning may witness one of the most fearful disasters we have ever seen.

The million persons who are fleeing will likely not be able to go back home for at least a week or more after the storm is over. And when they get back, it is not at all clear that anything will be there. My high school friend who was leaving did not know if his home or his job would withstand the storm. They literally stand to lose everything before the day is out, and there’s nothing to do about it except run.

Our hearts and our prayers are in Louisiana tonight.

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What do college students do when they aren’t studying?


My Greek teacher Rev. James Lipscomb and I during one of our tutoring sessions at his home in Ruston, LA (circa 1994).

“What do college students do when they aren’t studying?” According to the Wall Street Journal’s Naomi Riley’s review of two books about college life, college students are primarily engaged in idleness.

No, they are not studying and going to class forty hours a week. They certainly are not becoming avid readers. Rather, they are in pursuit of the ideal represented in their ubiquitous watchword: “fun.” “Fun” includes among other things a great deal of binge drinking (often beginning on Thursday night and going through the weekend) and frequent casual sexual encounters.

This sad state of affairs comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the decline of university life over the last thirty years or so. We are no longer shocked by Jay Leno’s undergraduate “Jay Walking All-Stars” who don’t even know who the vice-president of the United States is. We simply assume that a significant number of undergraduates will be idle dead-heads who really don’t learn that much by the end of their seven years of college.

There was a time in the history of higher education in America when going to college meant going to get an education. To be an undergraduate student was more than merely hanging around old buildings with books in them.

My own undergraduate experience began with the same shiftlessness portrayed in Ms. Riley’s article (minus the partying and dissipation). Academically speaking, I was just there to get a piece of paper. Somebody told me I needed that paper, so I was there to get it. I had no clue about how an education could enrich one’s life and faith. But that all changed during my sophomore year.

During my second year in college, I entered into a profound crisis of faith. As a result of one professor in particular and a few other key influences, I came to doubt the reliability of the sourcebook of my faith: the Bible. It was as if someone had yanked the rug out from under me and I had no where else to stand.

But God used this spiritual and emotional crisis to drive me to a whole new perspective on Him and my education. In addition to being driven back to the Bible, I became blood-earnest about understanding history, philosophy, theology and all the other big worldview disciplines that have impacted Christianity over the centuries.

For me, it wasn’t an academic exercise, it was a matter of spiritual life and death to understand the Bible and where it came from, to understand the history of theology, and to think God’s thoughts after others who have gone before.

My love of the Greek Bible began in earnest during this period because I knew that I had to read this book for myself. I could no longer allow the secularists to tell me what the Bible is, what it is saying, and where it came from. I had to know God’s revelation for myself or I felt as if I would drown in the morass of conflicting opinions about it.

I’m not saying that everyone’s experience should be like mine or that everyone should go to college so that they can become a New Testament professor. What I am saying is that an education is not coextensive with a piece of paper. Many people with the piece of paper don’t have an education.

An education relates to how we view the mind that God has given us. Are we going to be passive receptacles for the world’s tripe, or will we discipline ourselves for the glory of God to learn about Him and the world in which He’s put us? An education is not just about knowledge (though it certainly includes that!), but it is also the formation of our character under God and the shaping of our minds according to a biblical worldview.

I fear that the majority of what passes for undergraduate education today is very far from such an ideal. May God allow us to see this tide turned in our generation for the glory of God.

(For more on philosophical and theological roots of the current crisis, see my review of George Marsden’s The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief.)

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Understanding the Blogs

In his daily blog on OpinionJournal.com, James Taranto brings our attention to a useful little essay by Steven Den Beste. In the essay, Den Beste says that all blogs fall into one of two basic categories. He writes:

“Blogs are as different as the people who write them, but you’ll find two fundamental themes, with each blog being somewhere on the axis of how much of each appears. For lack of better terms, I suppose you could refer to them as ‘editors’ and ‘writers’.

“One form of blog is the ‘informal portal’. The general idea is to find cool stuff, link to it, and perhaps add a few words describing it. The link is the point; the words are there to encapsulate and sell the link. These people are organizers, searchers, they’re the web’s editors. They become popular to the extent that their readers like their judgment.

“The other theme is writing. The idea is to actually create something new and add it to the collective data stream. There may be a link involved or may not be, but it’s the writing which is the point. The subject matter may be critical or trivial; it may be driven by current events or by private experience or by the whim of the blogger. Sometimes a link is relevant; sometimes it inspires the writing. Sometimes no link is needed at all” (source).

One of my favorite ‘editor’ blogs of late is Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds. I guess I like his so much because we seem to have all the same interests: the Bible, Theology, and Politics. He is very well read, and I’m finding myself giving him hat tips more and more (I even learned the technical term “hat tip” from him!). Other notable editors that I like include the Drudge Report (of course) and Best of the Web.

Probably my favorite ‘writer’ blogger is Russell Moore, Academic Dean of Southern Seminary. He contributes almost daily at Touchstone Magazine’s “Mere Comments” blog and at The Henry Institute website. Another writer that I enjoy is R. Albert Mohler.

We might also mention Op-Ed “writers” whose printed work appears on the web. My favorite is Peggy Noonan on OpinionJournal.com. A good daily round-up of online Op-Eds appears on the Real Clear Politics website.

There are two staples that I have found very helpful in my daily news reading: “Today’s Headlines” in the New York Times and the “print edition” page of the Washington Post. You can pretty well predict the top stories on the morning news programs by reading these daily editions (especially the New York Times).

Well, this is a little bit of my daily diet. I hope it’s helpful to you.

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Eulogy for My Uncle: Hoy Dickerson

My Uncle Hoy went home to be with the Lord last Thursday, April 7, 2005 (click here to read his obituary in the Dallas Morning News). It was very difficult for our family to say goodbye to him now, as we will greatly miss him. The following is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral service last Sunday. My prayer is that the hope of the resurrection will sustain all of us and help us to face life and death with courage.
___________________________EULOGY FOR HOY DICKERSON
April 10, 2005

INTRODCTION
What do you say on an occasion like this? It’s always best at a time like this to do two things: to remember the deceased and to remember the Gospel.

I have my own remembrances of Uncle Hoy that I can tell. There are many stories. I have always loved Uncle Hoy’s sense of humor and impeccably timed practical jokes. I love the many ways that Uncle Hoy has found to torture my dad over the years. I will miss how he always liked to sneak up behind Dad and “goose” him. Even after all these years, Dad never got used to it. He would jump out of his skin every time Uncle Hoy got him.

The ultimate practical joke happened years ago when we lived in Fort Worth. Dad was connecting the gas line to the oven, and he lit a match and was passing it by the line to check for leaks. Just as dad held up the match to the line, Uncle Hoy snuck up and hit the side of oven as hard as he could. Dad nearly lost his lunch on that one. He also nearly threw Uncle Hoy through the window.

So we need to remember Uncle Hoy. But we also need to remember the Gospel. How do we speak the Gospel in a way that offers real comfort and hope and that does not sound like shallow, wishful thinking? How do we address our grief with the Gospel in a way that rings true with the way God made us?

I think we find ourselves caught between two temptations. There will be a temptation to paper over the very real grief with a sort of “praise God anyhow” kind of an attitude. The idea that Christians don’t cry because they have Jesus. Really spiritual people don’t let anything get to them. No matter what happens, no matter how profound the loss, if you’re really spiritual you will just put a plastic smile on your face, pretend like nothing’s wrong, and “praise God anyhow.”

The other temptation will be to let your emotions overrun you. It may seem that the love that you still feel for Uncle Hoy, the memories of your life with him, and the bitterness of having to say goodbye for now; it will seem that all of these things conspire against you to drag you to a dark place. So there can be the temptation to despair as the emotions run over you.

Yet you know and I know that neither one of these responses really rings true. On the one hand, the “praise God anyhow” response just seems to ignore the fact that you really did love Hoy and that it hurts to say goodbye. Just as we cannot pretend that the flame doesn’t hurt when we put our hand in the fire, we cannot pretend that it doesn’t make our hearts ache to see Uncle Hoy go. On the other hand, losing ourselves in a bottomless pit of despair won’t do either. So as we find ourselves tempted on the one hand to succumb to overwhelming grief and on the other hand to ignore it with a pretend “praise God anyhow” attitude, we desperately need a word from God to make a beginning of putting our broken hearts back together again.

And I want to say to you today that God gives us that. God’s word for us today is from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

God tells us that we need to do two things according to this text. We need to grieve, and we need to have hope.

WE NEED TO GRIEVE (1 Thess 4:13a)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13a).

Notice that it does not say, “Don’t grieve.” It just says, “Don’t grieve as if you have no hope.” In other words, there is a way to grieve and a way not to grieve. God is not telling us not to grieve. On the contrary He is telling us how to grieve. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that it’s wrong to cry. We need to cry.

In John 11:35 when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, the scripture says very plainly that “Jesus wept.” So if we want to be like Jesus in our loss, we have to cry. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This is a command. So we need to grieve. We need to have many tears.

But God tells us that He does not want our grieving to consist of tears only. He wants our grieving to be filled with hope. So . . .

WE NEED TO HAVE HOPE (1 Thess 4:13b-16)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b).

Don’t grieve “as do the rest,” means don’t grieve “as non-Christians” grieve. When they grieve, they have no hope. No expectation that anything good lies beyond the grave. When the non-Christian grieves his tears are bitter because there is nothing more to come. It truly is the last goodbye. But we don’t grieve that way. When the tears flow and the anguish of loss is at its worst, we still have the promises of the Gospel. God comes to you now in your grief, and He’s saying to you, “Remember the Gospel. It’s not over now, and it never will be. There is more to come.”

Because “14 if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

Paul addresses a group of Christians who had placed their faith in crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus. They had received the gospel at a time when it cost them dearly to believe. But they endured the persecution because they believed the word that Jesus had been risen from the grave and that he would come back again for his people. They had become discouraged because in spite of all their faith, the Lord chose to delay His coming, and the Thessalonian Christians were watching their brothers and sisters die. They were grieving because they thought their loved ones had missed it.

Paul’s response is just a reminder of the Gospel. “Just as Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will resurrect from the dead those believers who die before Jesus comes back.”

Therefore, the way to address your tears is to believe that there is more to come:
“15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words”(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

I say to you, Aunt Judy, on the authority of the word of God, as surely as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that there is more to come. You will have him back. You will have him back and then some. 1 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”

Jesus Christ went into a grave dead, and He walked out alive. His physical body was remade perfect and whole. Uncle Hoy will indeed get up out of the grave with his body remade perfect, whole, and complete. You will see him again with your own eyes in the resurrection, just as you will see Jesus with your own eyes. And it will be better then than it ever has been here. And thus you shall always be with the Lord.

Where is Uncle Hoy now? Jesus is seated at the right hand of God right now (Eph 1:20; Col 3:1), and all of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus are with him right now. This is why the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he prefers “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

But even though Paul preferred to die and to be with Christ (Phil 1:23), he knew that there was more to come at the resurrection. Being apart from the body and at home with the Lord is not how he thinks he will always be. Because he says that he knows “14 that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus . . . 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:14, 16-18).

So right now, Uncle Hoy is with Jesus, in paradise, no tears, no pain, only joy increasing forever. And he knows now what you should know too. There is more to come.

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To My Students: A Word of Exhortation

My writing today is dedicated especially to my students at the Criswell College. I am happy to hear that so many have been stopping by to read what I have posted, so I have all of you in mind as I write today. There is a short essay by B. B. Warfield that I read when I first began my trek in theological education many years ago. What Warfield wrote in this essay radically changed the way that I had been thinking about the task that I had before me. He argues with passion and vigor that there should be no bifurcation between the “head” and the “heart” when one applies himself to serious study of the scriptures. Warfield’s words were momentous in my life, and I think they will be in yours too. Princeton Theological Seminary has posted Warfield’s article on their website, and I am encouraging you to click on the link below, print out the article, and read it carefully. Blessings on all of you with much love, Dr. Burk.

The Religious Life of Theological Students – by B. B. Warfield

(About B. B. Warfield)

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My Mentor John Piper and Romans 12:1-2

John Piper discipled me in my car when I attended Dallas Theological Seminary. I used to listen to his sermons as I would commute to and from work and school. Throughout my career in seminary, the Lord used John Piper to shape my thinking about God and the scriptures more than any single teacher that I ever had. I know of no preacher who combines exegetical, theological, and devotional depth like Dr. Piper. His ministry, which is called “Desiring God,” makes all of his sermons (manuscripts and audio) available for free at http://www.desiringgod.org/.

I am teaching on Romans 12:1-2 in a Sunday morning bible study at my church. As is normal for me, I draw on a number of different resources in preparing for my teaching. Five of John Piper’s sermons in particular have been tremendously helpful to me, stimulating not only my mind but also my heart. Therefore, I heartily recommend these sermons to you.

Build Your Life on the Mercies of God – by John Piper
Present Your Bodies as a Living Sacrifice to God – by John Piper
Do Not Be Conformed to This World – by John Piper
The Renewed Mind and How to Have It – by John Piper
What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It? – by John Piper

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