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(New Orleans, La.) Dillard University head cross country and track and field coach Bobby Williams is a man of faith. Almost exactly 10 years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated his home, his church and his city. "On Monday, August 29, 2005, all of what we began ended," said Williams, who is also pastor at Next Level Church in New Orleans.
In June 2005, Anchored in Christ Ministries was born. Although there was no actual building, the church was able to use Milliet Academy of Dance on Downman Road in New Orleans East. About five people made up the congregation, but it was the start that Williams and his best friend and brother in Christ, Travis Ford were looking for.
"I remember calling people from my church that Saturday night before Hurricane Katrina hit and letting them know that we wouldn't have service on Sunday," said Williams. I was contemplating staying in town through Sunday for church service, but I ended up in Lafayette with my in-laws for a few days." On top of that, Pastor Williams got word that his father needed bypass surgery, so he was forced to gather his things and head to Atlanta to join his father and mother after his parents fled to Georgia right before the hurricane.
"After the surgery, my dad recovered," Williams stated. "Shortly after, I was accepted to occupational therapy school at Louisiana State University School of Allied Health, plus my wife eventually returned to Xavier University for her first year in pharmacy school. God burdened my heart to return to the city and instructed me to finish building what I started (a church) and rebuild my home and also support my wife through school. To me, faith means going when God says go, not knowing the when, the where, the how or the what, but just going," Williams explained.
Coach Williams did not always know he would become a pastor. It was back in 2002 when he says he received a calling. But this was no ordinary call; it was a call from God.
"In 2002 when I broke my foot, I was on bed rest for six months while I was preparing to graduate the University of New Orleans (UNO) with a degree in exercise physiology. I had a lot of time to think about a bunch of things, but through prayer and my quiet time with the Lord, I found out he had a calling on my life to be a preacher," said Williams. "Right after I graduated from UNO I began teaching at Dillard University and Delgado Community College in 2002 as an adjunct professor, and in pursuing clarity, I found out God was really preparing me by teaching people and that I would eventually be a pastor for people."
Athletic accomplishments since joining Dillard University
"One of my biggest challenges is figuring out a way to balance a full-time job and ministry," Williams explained. "Ministry is very demanding in itself, let alone being in charge of four sports teams at Dillard, but God makes a way. He has truly blessed my family throughout the years."
Once again moved by the spirit, Williams decided to change the name of his church from Anchored in Christ to Next Level Church towards the latter part of 2012. "God was calling us to go to another level in terms of ministry, and we were experiencing tremendous growth since our post-Katrina return, so we decided to change the name," said Williams. Earlier this month, the church celebrated its eighth year anniversary by hosting a back to school bash and giving back to his community.
His congregation now averages out to about 90-100 people from Sunday to Sunday. That number is on the rise considering the location of the church, because Eastern New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In fact, 80 percent of New Orleans became flooded as a result of the natural disaster. But instead of giving up, Williams kept faith alive by trusting God. He continues to be a difference maker in his community and on the campus of Dillard University. His church recently hosted a back to school bash where they provided several free services and items including school supplies, haircuts, nail supplies, health tips and blood-pressure check.
"I'm the type of guy that really strives to please God every day," said Williams. "I ask myself every day, is God pleased? Can I do more? Because of his grace upon my life, that's the least I can do is work for him and lead people to Jesus Christ."
*Photos provided by B. Williams