“You’ve been chosen to represent our school on a missions trip to New Orleans.” Wayne Northup, then a student at North Central University (NCU), struggled to conceal his excitement. Chosen. Even today, 20 years later, he can’t help but grin at the word. “I found out later they’d already asked 10 people,” he laughs.
Fortunately, Wayne’s ego was quick to recover, and in 1997 he arrived in New Orleans. On the first night there, Wayne and some friends headed to the French Quarter for dinner, a tourist’s haven in the heart of the city. But as they drew closer to their destination, something unusual happened. “For some odd reason,” says Wayne, “I just started crying.”
By the time they reached the restaurant, Wayne only felt more overwhelmed. He stared at the menu through salty tears. Another drop plopped on the table, and an uncomfortable silence fell with it. “Guys,” he choked, “I think I’m going to go back to the car. I think God’s trying to say something to me or I’m having a nervous breakdown or something.”
As Wayne sat in the car that evening, God spoke—convicting Wayne’s heart and filling him with a passion for a city he hardly knew.
Seven months later, Wayne’s calling grew clearer when he received a vision from the Lord about Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, this holiday triggers a massive celebration, but it also provokes hostile groups and vulgar activities. Alongside his vision, Wayne heard the Lord speak yet again. “I want you to take a generation to reach a generation.”
That same year, Wayne led his first mission trip to New Orleans for “Mardi Gras Outreach” with 12 students from NCU. The next year, 80 students participated. On the third trip, Wayne’s wife Kristi attended—along with 240 students. “The numbers just kept climbing,” says Wayne. “We estimate that between 4,000 and 5,000 young adults have been involved in that outreach.” Following the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Northups felt their relationship with New Orleans strengthen as they joined efforts to rebuild the city. “God just kept putting a deeper love for the city in our hearts,” says Wayne.
Finally, at the Assemblies of God General Council in 2009, Wayne received the mission he’d been anticipating. Wayne had spent the years since his graduation traveling across America as a full-time evangelist, but New Orleans continued to appear on his schedule. Herbert Cooper, a fellow evangelist, shared from the stage about his own life in ministry—how he left the road and planted a church in Oklahoma. As Wayne listened intently, images of New Orleans crowded his thoughts. “I just heard God say, ‘It’s time.’”
By then, the Northups had relocated to Texas to direct some internship programs at a Dallas church. “What we didn’t know,” says Kristi, “was that God was putting the pieces in place for a team of people to come with us.” As they began preparing for the transition, Wayne and Kristi invited these interns to join them if they felt a personal call to New Orleans. “Every single one of them had their own story of how God had already prepared their heart to come,” Kristi shares. After years of anticipation, in January of 2011, the Northups and 20 dedicated students moved to New Orleans.
Thrive and Survive
Following their arrival, the team quickly encountered multiple obstacles to planting a thriving ministry, beginning with a lack of property. “The city was still about half-destroyed,” says Kristi. “Wayne went to literally 52 venues. We were seriously considering opening the church in a funeral home.” Eventually, after months of searching, a middle school three blocks from the Northup’s home opened their doors, and in October of 2011 the team officially began Saints Community Church (SCC).
SCC’s next challenge was quick to follow. “I’m a missionary kid, and everything I ever learned I have put to use in New Orleans,” Kristi explains. “This is a place where all the techniques don’t work.” Among many quirks and preferences, the natives of New Orleans weren’t interested in a church that doubled as a middle school. “People would say, ‘Well, when you get a church, then we’ll come,’” Kristi shares. Wayne adds, “We started looking for a new building, because we knew we would never grow if we didn’t.” Two years after their first service, the Northups launched a capital campaign to prepare for their eventual church home. “Wayne just felt like God had led us to get ready,” says Kristi.
Despite these complications, Wayne and Kristi knew all along God had called them to New Orleans. But in 2013, their battle to succeed turned to one of survival as Wayne’s health began to deteriorate. “He had 12 bouts of pneumonia and six surgeries in 18 months,” says Kristi. “He was going to die.” As Wayne’s lungs attacked his ability to pursue God’s calling, friends and family urged him to escape New Orleans. “The opposition we faced from the enemy was so intense,” Kristi sighs. “Everybody told us to leave.”
Through this time, Wayne and Kristi continued to search for a new building. Even as his lungs failed, Wayne’s faith never wavered, Kristi’s strength never faded, and their Lord never left. In late 2014, after significant prayer and fasting, they finally received a diagnosis. “It was not only super bad allergic asthma, he also had a disease called bronchiectasis,” Kristi explains. Following proper treatment and daily therapy, Wayne was able to lead a mission trip by November of 2014, and the next month he and Kristi walked through what would become their new church home.
Since their move to SCC’s current facility in July of 2015, the church has welcomed hundreds of guests and added new outreach programs like their C3 Festival. “The three C’s are for community, compassion, and connection,” says Kristi. SCC donates dozens of backpacks filled with school supplies and honors organizations that serve the community, including a firehouse, a police station, and a recovery treatment center. In addition, they’ve continued the Mardi Gras Outreach. Every year in February, SCC members flood the streets of New Orleans with a mission to share Christ. “We’ve done dance routines, prayer tables, face painting, anything we can to disarm people and get into a conversation about the Lord,” says Kristi. “It gives our people a chance to learn how to share their faith.”
After several years in New Orleans, God’s faithfulness through trials has given the Northups a relentless determination to reach their city with the Gospel. “Our dream is to have 12 locations in the greater New Orleans area,” says Wayne. This year, they announced the beginning stages of this plan: a second SCC campus in Algiers. “Finding a new property is exciting and a little scary,” says Kristi. “But you know what we’ve learned? God does miraculous things to provide a home for His people.”
In the years since Wayne’s first night in New Orleans, God has repeatedly assured him of his purpose in the city. As Wayne sat in the car that evening in 1997, God’s voice was distinct and profound. “All God said was, ‘I’m going to give you a love for a city,’” Wayne recalls. He knew then that despite the 10 other individuals who’d been chosen to represent NCU, he’d been chosen by God to represent the Kingdom. “I didn’t have a specific call to pastor or even to church plant,” he smiles. “I had a call to New Orleans.”