New Orleans refugees find shelter at Southern Seminary

Communications Staff — September 8, 2005

When Hochel Song and his family left their home on the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus Aug. 27, they expected to return within a couple of days.

Song—along with his wife Yunja and children Yejin, 4, and Joshua, 1—headed for Baton Rouge, La., where he serves as associate pastor at the Korean Central Church of Baton Rouge. The family heard that a storm was approaching New Orleans, so they planned to wait an extra day before returning home.

But when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans Aug. 29, the Songs, natives of South Korea, were left with no home and just one small suitcase of clothes. Desperate to find food and shelter, the Songs called The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Southern housed the Songs along with three other New Orleans families in the Legacy Center, the campus’ conference center and hotel, for several days. Southern also provided all meals for the refugees at the seminary cafeteria.

“We never expected this situation,” Song said. “Every morning when we wake up, we’re surprised. We thought we would go home Monday at first. Then we heard next week. Now we hear it could be two months or even a year before we can return.”

Song completed his master of divinity at New Orleans Seminary last spring and planned to begin work on a Ph.D. this spring. But with both his home and the seminary campus ravished by the Hurricane, Song plans to “watch the New Orleans website then make a long-term plan.”

For the immediate future, Song will live in Baton Rouge so that he can be near his church. The pastor asked Song to return to Korean Central Church as soon as possible to minister to the large numbers of Korean refugees from New Orleans approaching the church for assistance. Being in Baton Rouge will also allow Song to travel to New Orleans quickly when he is allowed to retrieve belongings from his house, he said. Song departed Louisville Sept. 2.

“Many people from New Orleans are rushing to Baton Rouge,” he said. “And the pastor called to ask for help ministering. Many people feel fear and ask for help from the church.”

Initially Song was concerned about the loss of his possessions, including important legal documents permitting him to live in the United States, he said. But as time progressed, Song became thankful just to be alive.

“At first we were concerned about our stuff,” he said. “But now we’re just thankful that God saved our lives. We can’t make our house again. But can make our lives again. We’re just having faith in God.”

Mike Withers, Southern’s supervisor for international and disability services, said the seminary is assisting students like Song by meeting their physical needs and allowing them to enroll at Southern free of charge. The Seminary is offering free housing, as it is available, to all New Orleans students, Withers said.

“NOBTS students are arriving on our campus with little,” Withers said. “So with no more than a completed admission file, we have already begun admitting these hurting students, providing them free on-campus housing and tuition. They have been advised into courses that we believe will count toward their NOBTS degree requirements. The assistant registrar is manually registering them for courses.”

Song noted that the destruction in New Orleans gives Christians an opportunity to speak with people about their need to store up treasures in heaven rather than in this world. Many New Orleans residents are bogged down in sin and do not think about spiritual matters, he said.

“Jesus said one day, ‘This night, God may take your life,’” Song said. “I believe God wants us not only to build a home on earth, but also think about a home in heaven. Many people in New Orleans just enjoy their lives on the earth. … But I think God will handle this situation and save people.”

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