This past Tuesday, NOBTS and Leavell College descended upon the city. It was our missions day. And so groups divided and spread out. Some of us went to the University of New Orleans. Others went down to Global Maritime, a ministry to cruise ship workers. Others went to the Baptist Friendship House (a ministry that helps women stuck in hard places), while others still went into neighborhoods.
My group went to the French Quarter.
I’m a native of New Orleans. And all that really means is that I grew up here and hardly did any of the touristy stuff that most people know the city for.
Walking through the French Quarter, though, I was struck with another thought.
New Orleans, quite simply, is a unique place.
I’ve visited a good bit of the country. And I’ve travel abroad. But walking through these old streets last week, I was reminded about how special this place is.
We walked by a half-dozen different street bands, all playing during normal business hours (not an unusual occurrence). We met a woman standing on a corner handing out free hats (she was doing evangelism). And at one point, our group had the chance to dialog with Planned Parenthood representatives.
But what really struck me — what I was reminded of again so clearly was the openness of the people in this city. On just about every corner, no one is alike, and yet there is always someone to talk to.
One of the things that makes New Orleans so accessible is that there really is no local unified style. There is nothing to blend into. No specific dress or worldview to adopt and be accepted by.
In short, people accept you when you are your genuine and approachable self.
That’s what I saw as I walked with a group from the seminary. Some looked nervous, because this was outside of their comfort zone. While others blended well. But as the day progressed, none of them had a problem connecting.
I couldn’t help but think about the new slogan we’ve been using here at the school: Prepare here to serve anywhere.
The idea is that New Orleans offers a special kind of cultural interaction that is rare. It’s not something that can be manufactured.
And walking down streets that I haven’t been down in almost twenty years, I was struck by this. And as I walked, I thought, this really is the kind of place that will prepare someone to serve anywhere.
Joe Fontenot is the marketing strategist New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College.