Outside the seminary’s gate, about a mile away, is a small church with a wide-angle view. Stand on the front steps of Gentilly Baptist Church and get a feel of what it means to live in New Orleans. Look closer, and the world comes into focus.
Ken Taylor, Gentilly Baptist Church pastor and NOBTS professor of missions, sees New Orleans as a mission field unmatched by any other.
“It’s the people. It’s the challenge,” Taylor said. “I see it when I go out in the neighborhoods of New Orleans as if I’m going on a mission trip overseas. I feel that same excitement, never knowing what I’m going to find around the next corner.”
Neighbors are valued in New Orleans. The city hums with community spirit. When it comes to serving and loving neighbors as Christ commanded, the opportunities in New Orleans are limitless.
DIVERSE AND SINGLE-MINDED
Taylor, along with associate pastor and Old Testament professor Dr. Dennis Cole, leads Gentilly Baptist Church, a congregation known for its diversity and singleness of mission.
As a student more than 36 years ago, Taylor stepped onto the NOBTS campus with his eye on international missions. Called to either the Andes Mountains region of South America or to a country in South Asia, Taylor intended to stay in New Orleans only long enough to get his degree.
A simple church visitation outing during Taylor’s student days changed everything. Taylor’s team that day led a neighbor of Central American and Middle Eastern descent to faith in Christ and then watched him grow to be a faithful Christ follower.
It was a lesson Taylor didn’t forget. He discovered “the world” is here in New Orleans.
“So, I was hooked,” Taylor said. “God used that, as well as my time on a church staff, to give me a passion for ministry in the city.”
A LABORATORY FOR URBAN MISSIONS
As Taylor leads students on mission trips around the world, he brings back to the classroom a wealth of knowledge and experience. But Taylor never forgets that the mission field right where he lives is a “laboratory” for urban missions.
Whether it is ministering to church members, sharing the Gospel with neighbors, or showing love to families of crime victims somewhere in the city, Taylor leads his students to live out urban missions as they learn about it in the classroom.
“There are so many different cultures, so many different personalities. New Orleans is just an interesting place to do ministry and serve the Lord,” Taylor notes with affection.
As students learn and serve in an urban setting, Taylor watches them grow.
“When students plug in and really decide to be a part of the church, they make such an impact in the church, the community, and in the lives of New Orleans’ residents,” Taylor said. “The needs, the openness that people have here. It’s a rich, rich place of ministry.”
LOVE FOR NEIGHBOR, GATEWAY TO THE WORLD
For Dr. Sandy Vandercook, Leavell College Associate Dean, growing up by the Florida beach with a dad who was a golf pro meant a lifestyle of certain comfort and ease. New Orleans – with its quirky, eclectic ways – seemed a world away.
“New Orleans was never in my plan. Why leave the beach to come to a city like New Orleans?” Vandercook quipped.
But after college, Vandercook served as a missionary journeyman in the colorful, diverse city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she taught a classroom of students from 15 different countries. When Vandercook arrived later in New Orleans, she discovered a city much like Sao Paulo.
“New Orleans is a diverse city. It’s an international city,” Vandercook said. “If you keep your eyes open, you’re going to find an opportunity to minister.”
Vandercook lives in a New Orleans neighborhood she calls an “eclectic mix of people” of other religions, worldviews, and lifestyles. As the Vandercook family lives life in their neighborhood, they find their home is known as a place where neighbors can come for comfort and prayer.
“It’s a ministry that we didn’t necessarily seek out, but that just happened as we lived out being good neighbors,” Vandercook said.
THE WORLD IS HERE
Where can you serve in international missions without leaving home? How can you gain access to countries that are closed to the Gospel?
The answer – come to New Orleans.
The Port of New Orleans welcomes thousands of seafarers from around the world every year as cargo and cruise ships come through the port. At Global Maritime Ministries (GMM), the ministry headquartered along the Mississippi River in New Orleans’ Uptown, its ministry to crew members puts the Gospel in the hands of those even from countries closed to the Gospel.
“The fastest way to the ends of the earth,” is GMM’s motto and each year chaplains and staffers there lead dozens to faith in Christ as they serve seafarers and port workers along a 150-mile stretch of the river.
The ministry is directed by Vandercook’s husband, Philip Vandercook, and welcomes student volunteers to serve at the center where seafarers find computer access for contacting families, transportation to stores, and rest and relaxation away from the ship.
Serving at GMM—alongside Dr. Vandercook and other staffers—means having the experience of an international mission trip “without the travel and expense,” Vandercook said.
“Students realize, ‘I don’t have to fly on an airplane for 16 hours. I don’t have to have a passport. I don’t have to worry about learning a language,’” Vandercook said. “They come and visit and think, ‘This really is a ministry I can do.’”
For two student workers, the port ministry opened the world to them, Vandercook said. As the two men, along with their families, shared meals with seafarers on board the ships, they came to see those from the other side of the world as friends and neighbors, rather than people of a different culture. Today, as graduates, the two men and their families serve on the mission field, one in a restricted area.
“When students catch a vision of the possibility of ministry here in New Orleans, it really gets them excited about what they can do,” Vandercook said.
In New Orleans, the world is already here. A mission field awaits.
- This series originally appeared in Vision magazine. To read the full issue online, visit https://issuu.com/neworleansseminary/docs/visionwinter2020-21.