The Big Easy. Mardi Gras. Voodoo. The French Quarter. Beignets. Bourbon Street.
New Orleans (NOLA) is known for all sorts of things, but church has never been one of them.
Thankfully, many people have chosen to strategically plant their lives in NOLA to be the light of Christ in the darkness.
From church planters to college students, Alabama Baptists are taking root in the Crescent City. One such student is Amber Kern who never intended to move to New Orleans.
She was a freshman at Calhoun Community College in Huntsville when she signed up for summer missions through GenSend, hoping for an assignment to Boston.
Instead, she was sent to New Orleans, and her life would be forever changed.
“I never thought I would end up in New Orleans,” Kern said, “and I really did not think I would love it as much as I did.”
Through six weeks of serving in summer 2017, she quickly realized the Lord had called her to live in the city and work to share the Gospel there on a permanent basis.
Unfortunately, Kern noted, she still had another year at Calhoun. So, at the end of her summer, she told New Orleans — the city she loved — goodbye and promised to return.
Through a string of stressful and life-altering events, she was accepted into New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s undergraduate program, Leavell College, to continue her education starting in fall 2018.
Kern said she was excited to move there but wanted the chance to serve in another city before she lived in New Orleans full-time.
Although she applied through GenSend to be assigned to Chicago, “by the grace of God,” she said, she ended up back in New Orleans.
Leavell College allows its students to receive free tuition if they serve on a church staff. She had already gotten a job at Grace Baptist Church as their missions coordinator and was preparing to start in August.
“The Lord definitely had a hand in sending me back to New Orleans my second summer,” Kern said. “We ended up working in the Bywater area with the church I was already going to work for. I was able to find a strong community before I even unpacked and started my classes.”
She said she became increasingly convinced that moving to New Orleans was the right decision and started her life there in August 2018.
Since moving, Kern works to organize mission teams and facilitate community events for Grace Baptist, while also studying Christian ministry as a full-time student.
“Living on mission every single day is different than a summer-long mission trip, but I think it’s even more rewarding,” she said. “My love for the city grows stronger by the day. God has provided people in my path to make my transition as easy as possible.”
One person in Kern’s path is Ryan Melson, an Alabama native and New Orleans church planter.
As the pastor of West Bank Baptist Church, Melson had met Kern during her GenSend summers, and he said his family keeps in touch with Kern and serves as her “New Orleans family.”
Kern said the support of her church and of Melson’s family have allowed her to feel at home in the Big Easy and help her stay motivated in sharing the Gospel.
“Church planting in New Orleans is like plowing concrete,” she said. “We have to lean on each other because we’re all we’ve got.”
Planting herself so far from home was not easy, Kern said, but she would do it again in a heartbeat. She said New Orleans could use more college students and recent graduates like her to move and plant themselves there as well.
CareerPlant allows students to do just that — starting their lives and careers in New Orleans and other Send Cities across the U.S., pairing them with church planters just like Melson.
“I think it’s a smart decision,” Kern said of the new initiative. “We’re the church, not the church buildings. To find a way to be the church in a city of need like I did … it changes everything.”
To find out more about how you can plant yourself like Kern did, visit https://onemissionstudents.org/careerplant.