Dustin Taylor says there are some men on the streets of New Orleans who are known for talking about Jesus and saying unkind things from 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 — and to know Him for His love.
“We stand around and watch when they preach and catch the overflow from that and start loving on people,” said Taylor, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Snead. “Sin is still sin. We don’t water that down. But our approach is different.
“In Scripture, we see Jesus preaching hard at the ones who were supposed to be religious, and we see Him reclining at the 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.
Part retreat, part mission
On an annual trip he calls part men’s retreat, part missions trip, the group spends the day in Bible study, prayer, conversation and preparation for the evening. Before dinner they ask God to send them to the restaurant He wants them to visit so they can talk to the server 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 we are going to bless our food in a little while and will be praying for them, and we ask if they have any specific prayer requests.
“The response has been unbelievable. I could tell so many stories.”
One man said his wife had left him recently and he had been living with his mother. Taylor told him they would pray for him and his wife to reconcile.
“Before we left he came up and said, ‘You’re not getting this ticket until you pray for me again.’ He sat down and let us pray for him, and then he gets up and he’s crying. We’re all crying,” Taylor said.
That was the Thursday night before Fat 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 over to us one of the guys on our team said, ‘Something about his face looks different,’” Taylor remembered. “And the waiter said, ‘After y’all prayed for me, my wife contacted me. I’ve been sleeping in my own bed for the last two nights.’”
Conversations like this have opened a lot of doors for Taylor and his teams to share the hope of Jesus over dinner. After dinner they go out on the streets to meet people where they are, offer help and talk about God’s love for them. They sit down on curbs and talk with homeless people. They help students like one young woman from Vanderbilt University who was lost and crying.
One night Taylor’s group set up a grill in Jackson Square and grilled 150 pounds of chicken, 135 pounds of sausage, bell peppers and onions — and gave it all away.
“We fed everyone from the homeless to gutter punks, train kids to millionaires who owned houses in the French quarter,” Taylor said. “And when people asked why it was free, we told them about how salvation is a free gift. And when some tried to donate money to us and said, ‘Well, someone had to pay for it,’ we would tell them about how Jesus paid for our sin so we don’t have to.”
The team was out doing that past 1 a.m. and Taylor said it was “a blast” and one of the most effective years they’ve had. They plan to do the same thing next year, except at least two nights instead of one.
“It was outstanding,” Taylor said. “God opened so many doors for us.”
He noted the ministry began in 2001 when a friend asked if he wanted to go on a missions trip to New Orleans. He immediately said yes and asked if he could bring a friend.
Now, 21 years later, while the team he joined and other teams have stopped going, the one from Bethel Baptist still sees the effort as a vital part of their church’s outreach.
“Everybody comes back so fired up,” Taylor said. “Our church has a saying — ‘Be the Love’ — and that’s what we want to be, both there and at home.”