NEW ORLEANS — When Bobby Williams looks around at his hometown, he sees a city that’s exhausted but has the grit to keep going.
In New Orleans, “you grow up with the survival mentality,” he said. “And Hurricane Katrina definitely taught you to really survive and keep pushing forward.”
So, though he sees buildings that are still boarded up and abandoned more than 15 years after the storm, he also sees a community of people who have taken their situation and learned to roll with it. That’s where Bobby and his wife, LaKeisha, come in. They want to offer their neighbors something better than just survival. They want to offer hope.
And for their community, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, that involves meeting practical needs while sharing the gospel.
The area around the church plant is predominantly low-income and was even classified as a food desert for a while. It didn’t get a grocery store back until several years after Katrina. There’s a lot of drug use and prostitution happening in the neighborhood, even up to within feet of the Williamses’ church plant. There’s a motel with a bad reputation right behind it.
But the couple sees that as an opportunity.
Striving for more
“A lot of what we strive to do is provide resources,” Bobby said. “We try to educate people spiritually, financially, educationally, you name it.”
That’s how their church, Next Level Church, got its name. The Williamses wanted to see people take their life to the next level starting right where they are. To help get that started, the church provides its neighbors with all kinds of assistance, all with the goal of leading them to Jesus.
LaKeisha’s public health background goes hand-in-hand with that. The church holds fitness camps for kids, along with offering services for adults like health fairs, haircuts, cooking classes and events where they can pick up food, clothing, school supplies and hygiene items. They’ve even brought in a mobile HIV testing unit on the church grounds and offered that service free of charge to their neighbors.
“I’m passionate about the community’s health, both the physical and the spiritual,” LaKeisha said.
Offering exercise classes at the church gives her a chance to help people be more active but also hear about how God is the One who really gives them strength.
“That’s more of the approach that we wanted to take with our church. We wanted more of a holistic approach,” LaKeisha said. “There are so many things we want to pour into the community. There are a lot of people who are hurting, who are in need, who are lost, and we want to be able to meet them where they are to bring them closer to Christ.”
She and Bobby pray that as their felt needs are met, the community will feel something else too—authentic love. They hope that as their neighbors experience personal love from Christ’s followers, they will begin to equate that with the love Christ has for them.
Bobby says for many of them, it’s the first time they’ve felt that kind of care.
“The unique thing about our church, we’ve always for some reason attracted those who were either unchurched or previously hurt by a church,” he said.
The events have helped the church relate to its neighbors and “build a relationship and open up the door to share Christ with them,” Bobby said.
Love in a pandemic
The bridges they’ve built have also helped Next Level Church keep on serving as COVID-19 deepened the area’s physical needs. Most of their members opted for online services as the virus spread, but the Williamses found ways to continue ministering.
During the height of the pandemic, LaKeisha held video chats with people in the community to offer health advice, and Bobby continued to offer opportunities for discipleship. The church continued to serve hundreds of meals on a regular basis, and they offered online Vacation Bible School for the kids in the community.
And as people have felt more comfortable returning to services and ministries in person, the Williamses have begun to see God work in new ways.
“Kids are back in school, and life has kind of picked back up,” Bobby said, noting that their compassion ministries are picking back up, too.
The church is praying for clarity on the best ways to reach the community in the midst of this new crisis they’ve had to survive. The grit has held steady, they say, but so have the needs. And that means new opportunities to serve.
“We’re praying for God to provide the resources we need for this new phase of ministry,” Bobby said. “We want to be a beacon of hope and light for those in the community.”
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to serve missionaries in the field. The offering is used on the field for training, support and care for missionaries like the Williamses and for evangelism resources.
Published March 12, 2021