Dustin Taylor says there are guys on the streets of New Orleans who are known to talk about Jesus and say mean things with the same megaphone.
He’s not a big fan of that.
For more than two decades, Taylor has taken a group of men to the streets of New Orleans to help people know Jesus — but to know him for his love.
“We sit there and watch when they preach and catch the overflow of that and start loving people,” Taylor, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, told Snead. “Sin is still sin – we don’t sugarcoat it. But our approach is different.
“In the scriptures, we see Jesus preaching harshly to those who were supposed to be religious, and we see him sitting at table with sinners.
That’s what Taylor and his teammates do when they’re there — they eat and talk with as many people as they can and try to show them who Jesus really is.
On an annual trip he calls part men’s retreat, part mission trip, the group spends the day studying the Bible, praying, talking and preparing for the evening. Before dinner, they pray to God to send them to the restaurant He wants them to go to so they can talk to the waiter who needs to see the love of Jesus that night.
“We strike up a conversation with the waiter or waitress and ask how Mardi Gras season is going for them,” Taylor explained. “Then we tell them that we are going to bless our food in a moment and that we will pray for them, and we ask them if they have any specific prayer requests.
“The response has been incredible. I could tell so many stories.
A man said his wife left him recently and he was living with his mother. Taylor told him they would pray for him and his wife to reconcile.
“Before he left, he came and said, ‘You won’t get that ticket until you pray for me again.’ He sat down and we prayed for him, then he got up and he cried. We are all crying,” Taylor said.
It was the Thursday night before Shrove Tuesday. On Sunday, when the group tried to go to another restaurant and couldn’t get in, they decided to go back and visit the waiter.
“As he was walking towards us, one of the guys on our team said, ‘Something on his face looks different,'” Taylor recalled. “And the waiter said, ‘After you all prayed for me, my wife contacted me. I’ve been sleeping in my own bed for two nights.'”
Conversations like this opened many doors for Taylor and her teams to share Jesus’ hope over dinner. After dinner they go out into the streets to meet people where they are, offer help and talk about God’s love for them. They sit on sidewalks and chat with homeless people. They help students like a young woman from Vanderbilt University who was lost and crying.
One night they set up a grill in Jackson Square and grilled 150 pounds of chicken, 135 pounds of sausage, peppers and onions – and gave it their all.
“We fed everyone from homeless people to gutter punks, raised kids to millionaires who owned homes in the French Quarter,” Taylor said. “And when people asked why it was free, we told them that salvation is a free gift. And when some would try to give us money and say, ‘Well, somebody had to pay for that,’ we would tell them how Jesus had paid for our sin so we wouldn’t have to.
The team was doing this after 1 a.m. and Taylor said it was “a blast” and one of the most successful years they’ve had. They plan to do the same next year except at least two nights instead of one.
“It was outstanding,” Taylor said. “God has opened so many doors for us.”
He noted that the ministry began in 2001 when a friend asked if he wanted to go on a mission trip to New Orleans. He immediately said yes and asked if he could bring a friend.
Today, 21 years later, while the team he joined and other teams have ceased to exist, the one at Bethel Baptist still sees the effort as an essential part of evangelizing their church. .
“Everyone comes back so excited,” Taylor said. “Our church has a saying – ‘Be the love’ – and that’s what we want to be, both there and at home.”