Acts Of God Are Seen In The Deeds Of His People

“I CAME TO SEE WHAT GOD HAD DONE”

The city is allowing residents of the Lower 9th Ward–that most devastated portion of New Orleans–to return only by bus. Gray Line Tours has regularly scheduled runs in and out of that portion of the city. The hourlong tours leave each 30 minutes, from 8 am to 4 pm, ending on Sunday. The area is so dangerous, authorities are not allowing riders to get off and walk around to investigate their destroyed homes or neighborhood. The media says they are still finding dead bodies in houses, two or three a day.

Friday’s Times-Picayunes recorded some of the comments of those seeing the area for the first time. “This used to be a park.” “Houses sitting on top of cars. Fridges on houses. I’m hoping and praying there was some lives saved.” “Nothing there. Like there was never nothing there.” “I came to see what God had done.”

God has done a lot of things here, and He’s still at work.

Greg Hand, pastor of the Vieux Carre Baptist Church on Dauphine Street, one block over from Bourbon, called me Friday. “You need to come see our place,” he said. The Louisiana Baptist Builders have torn out the termite-infested wood throughout much of his building and rebuilt it. “They moved our kitchen into a larger room, and are laying tile. It’s just gorgeous.” The builders are preparing the small church’s facilities to host church groups coming to witness and minister in the Quarter.

Greg said, “Oh, and on the third floor, the workers uncovered a lot of baking pans. We knew that this used to be a bakery in the late 1800s and here is the evidence.” I asked him to hang on to them; I want to see them.

The owner of the bar down the street invited Greg to attend the poetry reading the evening before. What was that like? “Honestly, I’m not sure,” Greg laughed. “Poetry in a bar is not my thing. The owner introduced me to the twenty customers and said if anyone had a problem, I was a good one to talk with. A lady came over and said she needs help in cleaning out her place, so we have a team that’s going over to help her. This may be a breakthrough.” Pray for Greg and Vieux Carre Baptist Church.

Continue reading “Acts Of God Are Seen In The Deeds Of His People” »

What Directors Of Missions Do On Sundays

We go to church. I had no specific place I had to be Sunday morning, so I dropped in on four churches on the West Bank. West St. Charles in Boutte, Chuck Lowman, pastor, was first. Rudy French, an independent missionary from Canada, was there, waiting to preach for Chuck who was out of town. Rudy and his lovely wife Rose have moved to Baton Rouge temporarily to make themselves available to serve the Lord anyway He leads in this part of the world. They are an inspiration to all of us.

Next, I dropped in on the First Baptist Church of Avondale where Marc Daniels serves. Marc is a fascinating man. He used to be Jewish, and was led to Christ by his wife and the ministry of this very church, as I recall. And now he’s the pastor. Marc owns a Ph.D. in biology and serves as a professor at the William Carey School of Nursing, New Orleans campus. He was standing outside on the church parking lot, greeting people arriving for Sunday School. When Lisa drove up with her young daughter Monique, Marc said, “She was saved last Sunday night. Just walked into the service for the first time. None of us knew her. I preached to the saints on having a servant heart. Afterwards, Lisa introduced herself and said, ‘You were talking to me.’ We prayed and she gave her life to Jesus. She’s going to be baptized soon.” Lisa told me she works at a Best Western motel, and was now living temporarily in New Iberia.

My third church Sunday morning was the First Baptist Church of Westwego. (All these communities are on U.S.90. west of New Orleans.) Pastor Jay Adkins was also standing in front of his church, welcoming worshipers. He greeted me warmly and I asked for a couple of minutes to address his people. Inside, perhaps 50 people sat on folding chairs in a sanctuary stripped bare of water-damaged sheetrock and ceiling materials. The carpet had been discarded and blue plastic covered the roof, including two holes opening to the sky above. One side of the auditorium was lined with “Dole” banana boxes, filled with foodstuffs they’ve been giving to the community. “I heard about your new redecorating,” I told the congregation, “and wanted to see for myself. I love the skylights!” They laughed. This is one happy, relaxed congregation. You would love to be a part of this loving fellowship. I thanked them for the ministry they have performed in this part of the city, almost from the first day following the storm.

Then I drove back out Highway 90 to the First Baptist Church of Luling in time to hear Pastor Todd Hallman preach on Romans 8. He’s a good communicator and sure seems comfortable leading the church. Under the previous pastor, Dwight Munn, Todd was the minister of music. When Dwight left for West Monroe, everyone said, “Todd, how about you?” It was a great choice. He gave me a couple of minutes at the end so I could thank the members and staff for their wonderful ministry. I mentioned Judges 5:2 where Deborah sings, “That the leaders led in Israel and that the people volunteered, O praise the Lord.” Sometimes leaders try to lead and no one follows, so nothing gets done. And at other times, people volunteer but no one leads; again, nothing happens. The ideal situation is for leaders to lead and the people to step up and volunteer, which is what we have been seeing all over greater New Orleans.

I am well aware that once you start singling out churches for praise, you run the risk of omitting others that also served faithfully. But it’s a risk worth taking, to give honor where it is due. I invite readers to drop down to the end of this article on our website and leave your own tributes to churches doing a great job.

Continue reading “What Directors Of Missions Do On Sundays” »

What’s Happening In New Orleans On Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Times-Picayune for today. Fascinating stuff. For instance…

1. “Want Answers? Don’t Ask FEMA.” reads one front page headline. Reporter James Varney says “…getting FEMA to release any information has proven a maddening process….” FEMA says it has to protect the privacy of all the people it’s helping. Local officials cry, “Can’t you at least tell us who is at the various locations around the country so we can contact them?” Nope; sorry.

2. “Jeff chief admits disaster plan flawed.” Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard has purchased a full page ad in tomorrow’s paper to defend his behavior during and after the hurricane. He’s tried this before, but to little effect. Paper says he’s spending $38,000 of the parish’s tax money to buy four such ads. On the levee this morning, an 84 year old neighbor stopped me to say, “I’m campaigning for Aaron Broussard.” I knew he was setting me up. “For what office?” “Dog catcher.”

3. “Officials knew about weak soil under levee.” Diagrams in the top center of the front page show how the flood walls beside the canals were built atop peat, which is decayed organic matter from long ago. Soft, soft, soft. Back in 1981, soil samples were taken and the truth was learned. Just 8 years ago, that soft soil became part of a lawsuit filed by a construction company against the Corps of Engineers. No one can plead ignorance. Except the truly ignorant.

This area of the world is the delta of the Mississippi River. There’s not a rock or a hill within a hundred miles. The ground is soft, the streets are terrible. So we drive pilings down until we hit something solid, then we build our structures atop them. At least, that’s the plan. When they were building one of our churches on the West Bank, some years back, the builder said they had to tie a chain on the pilings to keep them from disappearing into the soft soil. Then they built their church. There are major cracks in the walls of that house of worship at this very moment. Anyone remember what Jesus said about building on the Rock and on the sand? Matthew 7.

Continue reading “What’s Happening In New Orleans On Saturday, October 22, 2005” »

Katrina Log: Seeing Ourselves in His Reflection

Last Sunday morning Pastor Bobby Burt told the First Baptist Church of LaPlace about a silver smelter who was skimming the impurities off the top of the hot metal. Someone asked, “How do you know when you’re through, when it’s finished?” He said, “When I can see my face reflecting in the surface.” (II Corinthians 3:18 came to mind.)

FOR THOSE PLANNING TO COME HELP RESTORE THIS CITY

On Thursday, Freddie Arnold and I sat down with three of our North American Mission Board missionaries for some planning. Larry Miguez heads the Rachel Sims Center and the Carver Center in the inner city; Toby Pitman leads our work with the Brantley Center, just off Canal Street, normally a place for the homeless, but either there are no homeless in the city right now or hundreds of thousands are homeless–take your pick–so the center is being diverted to our use; and Terry Henderson, who heads Disaster Relief work for all of Southern Baptists. Since these centers, and the Friendship House too, have lost their clientele at the present, they are making themselves available for mission groups coming to help rebuild this city.

Here’s what came out of the meeting. This will be of interest to you only if you plan to bring volunteers this way anytime in the next 12 months.

Continue reading “Katrina Log: Seeing Ourselves in His Reflection” »

Katrina Log: Contradictions In Our Fair City

The headline of Tuesday’s Times-Picayune announced that since the storm, over 280,000 new applications for unemployment insurance have been filed. Lots of unemployed people. Meanwhile, half the businesses in town are clamoring for workers. “Hiring!” say the signs in front of everything from accounting firms to hospitals, from builders to fast food joints. I suppose the unemployed who are not taking these jobs are trained in other areas. I suppose.

I saw an accident in front of the airport Tuesday morning. A pickup pulling a FEMA trailer sat in a turn lane, waiting for the light to let him go, when another pickup headed in the opposite direction plowed into him, head on. Not a high rate of speed, no one hurt, although one guy plenty mad. What was the driver thinking, I wondered, to have turned right into that fellow. Later, I figured it out….

He was on the phone. Everyone in this town is on the phone. Every driver has his hand cupped to his ear, presumably holding a tiny communication device. We’ve laughed about the way we do it ourselves. I’ll be in Ed Jelks’ pickup truck with Ed, Freddie Arnold, and one more rider, and all four of us on the phone. What in the world did we ever do before these things were invented and made tiny?

Let me tell you a funny memory. Sometime about 1975, the Baptist ministers of Lowndes County, Mississippi, were meeting in the chapel of the First Baptist Church of Columbus. Steve Brown, serving Antioch Church, kept running out of the sessions to his car. Finally, I said, “Brown, what’s going on?” He said, “The members of my church gave me a car phone for my birthday. The way it rings is it blows the horn. I’ve been running outside to answer it.” I said, “What do they have against you?” Thankfully, phone technology has come a long way. For better, mostly.

Continue reading “Katrina Log: Contradictions In Our Fair City” »

Katrina Log: Longing For Normalcy In New Orleans

Saturday, the weather was delightfully Octoberish and felt almost normal, so I spent much of the day working in the yard. The parish trash people had hauled away the pile of limbs from my back yard, my pastor had come over and cut my grass (really), and many of the stores were open. In football, LSU won and so did Alabama, although both had tough fights. The Saints found a way to lose to Atlanta at the very end. Things were returning to normal.

But not quite.

I ran by the Wal-Mart Supercenter late this Monday afternoon. The hand-sprayed sign on a sheet of plywood read: “CLOSE.” I was musing over what that might mean–the word must have 500 meanings–when the guard in front said, “We closed at 5 o’clock.” Oh. Closed. My dry cleaners opens from 7 am to 2 pm. Most of the McDonalds and Burger Kings and Wendy’s have restricted hours too, and some are open only in the drive-through. Today, Wendy’s was interviewing applicants for jobs under a tent in their parking lot from 1 to 4 pm. Many residential streets are still lined with piles of litter and brush, and at least half the businesses in our part of town have not started up again after the storm.

The streets of Metairie and Kenner are congested day and night, due to the large number of construction workers who have taken the high-paying jobs. Where are they living? Everywhere–motels, rentals, tents. And in camper cities. Groups of RV campers, the kind you pull behind a pickup or Suburban, can be found in parks, parking lots, on levees, anywhere there is a clear space. FEMA is parking the same kind of campers in people’s driveways, giving them a place to live while their houses are being renovated. This town has more trailers than Arkansas! (That’s a joke, razorbacks!)

Continue reading “Katrina Log: Longing For Normalcy In New Orleans” »

Katrina Log: A Potpourri Of Local Happenings On This Saturday

“Clamoring Clergy” is the headline from Friday’s Times-Picayune, announcing a meeting of some 50 African-American ministers last Tuesday to discuss the situation in New Orleans. Subtitle of the article by Religion Editor Bruce Nolan read: “Pastors push for leadership roles in rebuilding city.”

As the various ministers stood to speak, Nolan says many began with, “My church was in the Lower 9th. I guess that tells you everything.” Many lost their church buildings and their homes, a situation repeated throughout much of the rest of New Orleans and completely throughout St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Only the West Bank of New Orleans and most of Jefferson Parish and everything west were spared this kind of total devastation.

I admit to being a little puzzled by what the ministers had in mind. They seemed concerned that Fred Luter, pastor of the 12,000 member Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, was the only Black minister on the mayor’s 17-member “Bring Back New Orleans Commission.” Nolan says the ministers in the gathering, all of whom serve smaller congregations–who doesn’t–“clearly thought his appointment did not address their concerns.” What are those concerns? Jobs and education.

What got me, however, was a quote from a Reverend Wardsworth. “There’s an element in this city that doesn’t want this city to look anything like it did before Katrina.” Nolan writes that he said this to general approval.

So, let’s see now. Before Katrina, you had thousands of poor Blacks living in the worst section of town, the Lower Ninth Ward. The unemployment rate was horrendous, drugs and murder were out of control. The city’s schools were widely acknowledged to be the worst in the state if not the nation. Festivals like Southern Decadence displayed everything sordid and ungodly in human sexuality. And the ministers are concerned that some people do not want the city to change? I confess to being completely puzzled.

Local politicians are up in arms because congressional leaders are afraid to send billions of dollars down here due to Louisiana’s reputation for corruption. Idaho Senator Larry Craig told the folks back home that “fraud is as much a part of the fabric of Louisiana as it is in Iraq and that flooded sections of New Orleans should be abandoned.” The article in today’s newspaper quotes him: “Louisiana and New Orleans are the most corrupt governments in our country and they always have been….A rookie cop in New Orleans, they pay him or her $17,000 starting pay and then wink and say you better make the rest of it on the street.” And Craig is not alone in that assessment.

Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo has urged fellow congressmen not to let our state’s politicians get their hands on the $62 billion appropriated because of “mind-boggling incompetence” in dealing with the storm and our state’s “long history of corruption.”

I will spare you the uproar from our senators and mayor and governor, all of it predictable.

Before commenting on these charges, let me make a confession. I am an Alabama farm boy and not an insider down here in the swamps. I do not know what goes on inside City Hall or the state house except what I read in the paper or see on the TV news. I do not tell Cajun jokes because with my Alabama accent, they don’t work. But I love this city. I lived here three years in the 60s as a seminary student and pastor, and have lived here a second time since 1990, as a pastor and now as director of missions for all the 135 or so Southern Baptist churches. I did not lose my house or my church in the hurricane, although 27 of our pastors lost both. The one thing that grants me the right to say what I’m about to say is that I personally paid for this website out of my pocket. Furthermore, no honest and knowledgeable person will dispute this.

Continue reading “Katrina Log: A Potpourri Of Local Happenings On This Saturday” »

Katrina Log: Blessing And Blight On The Same Days

When I’m not talking with someone about bringing a ministry group to New Orleans, I worry that I may have promised someone else I’d get back to them and didn’t. If someone reading this falls in that group, please forgive me and call or e-mail me again. And when you call down here, please expect to redial a few times. Even when we call across town, the recording announces that all circuits are full or the network is down. Hit re-dial once or twice and it will ring.

For those given to impatience, you’ve arrived at a difficult time.

I’m given to impatience. I’m having a tough time.

No doubt, the Lord is trying to hone some of the rough edges off my character. Like this refrigerator business. Both our fridge and our freezer still sit outside the house, and will until the insurance adjuster sees them, sometime between 10 and noon on Saturday, October 29. Back on September 22, anticipating the ruined appliances, we stopped in Dothan, Alabama, at the Home Depot and bought a fridge. Delivery was promised for October 4. At home, we began living out of ice coolers, then later a small fridge and ice coolers. On Friday before October 4, a call came that the delivery would be made as promised. Alas, no fridge. Margaret stayed home the rest of the week so as not to miss it. Our calls went unanswered. Home Depot said they couldn’t get through either.

Finally, we had waited long enough, especially when we saw our son buy one locally and pick it up himself the same day. So Monday morning, October 10, we walked into the Home Depot and told our story. The lady made some calls to the delivery company and announced, “They don’t know where it is or when it will be delivered. There’s nothing more we can do. Sorry.” I said, “There’s something we can do. Where’s the manager?” The assistant manager, Marty Ayo, is a perfect embodiment of the Biblical phrase “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” He was kind and competent and exactly what we needed. We purchased another fridge, one we liked even better than the first, one which cost more but for the same amount as the first, and canceled the first one. Neil drove up at 5 pm and we carted it home. It’s the nicest refrigerator we’ve ever had; it’s beautiful; we have ice. My wife has decided to stay married to me a little longer. I thanked Marty Ayo for his kindness and apologized for our attitude. He showed his character even further when he said, “This was nothing. You should hear the way some people talk to me.” Yet he seemed completely unruffled.

As the old saying goes, God, give me patience–right now!

Continue reading “Katrina Log: Blessing And Blight On The Same Days” »

Katrina Log: Cleaning Out, Clearing Up, Moving In

People are coming and going in our city. The headlines this week announced that the mayor is firing 3,000 city workers, the St. Bernard Parish sheriff is laying off half his police force, and the Archdiocese of New Orleans is letting 800 employees go. Not enough people living in those areas to justify the workers or support the payrolls.

At the same time, Burger King is giving $6,000 bonuses to new hires, payable in increments over the next year. All the fast food places are competing for employees and with a minimum wage of $5.15, they’re offering rates of $8 and $10 per hour. Meanwhile, every reputable construction company and a lot of fly-by-night outfits are hiring every live body they can find. Someone told me FEMA is paying chain saw owner/operators $1200 a day. The hotels are booked solid, with long waiting lines, most of them temporary workers in to help get the city running again. Even if you decide to take one of these jobs and move to the New Orleans area, you’d better have a place to live. I notice a sign–every intersection seems to be growing these stick-in-the-ground signs–in which some guy says he’s buying houses, any house, that sells for less than $200,000. My guess is he will rent them out so long as the construction industry needs them, then count on the housing market having stabilized.

A note from Mary, our “adopted daughter” from when she was a student at Mississippi College and Margaret and I on her ministerial staff at First Baptist-Jackson, who belongs to Istrouma Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Their student minister Aaron told me Mary and husband Steve were knocking themselves out helping the church take care of the vast number of evacuees they took in. Mary and her good friend Anne are walking wounded, one from falling over a box in the shelter, the other from overusing an already sprained hand. Their church is moving a family from BR back home to Marrero (a suburb of New Orleans, West Bank) today and bringing a full contingent of workers to get the job done in a few hours. They will be cleaning the house (no flood damage) and stocking it, removing a fallen tree in the back yard, cutting the grass, and all the things one has to do when re-entering a house after six weeks away.

Istrouma Church is a great example of what I’m hearing every day: God’s people all over this nation have literally knocked themselves out taking in our dispersed citizens, without the first consideration to color or class or condition, and have showed them the love of Jesus Christ. And they did not require them to become Baptists either.

I’m just one person down here in New Orleans, but perhaps I can speak for many of our people when I say to the people of God everywhere: thank you; you’ve done an incredible job.

Continue reading “Katrina Log: Cleaning Out, Clearing Up, Moving In” »

Katrina Log — For Those Who Are Still With Us

My wife said, “I’m tired of hearing nothing but hurricane news on television.” I said, “If you are, how much more the rest of the country.” She said, “They don’t hear it every time they turn on the TV.” I wonder.

We all know about compassion fatigue. Twenty years ago, every time you turned on the set, you saw the hungry children of Somalia and Ethiopia. At first, you gave money and prayed and contacted your congressman. You gave more money and prayed. Eventually, when the face of another starving child appeared on the screen, you switched to another channel. You just could not deal with it any more.

That’s what we on the Gulf Coast fear will happen. And yet, here in the New Orleans area, we’re just suiting up for the recovery yet to be done. If our friends are tired already of hearing about it and praying for us and helping us, we’re in a lot of trouble.

That said, I need to tell you about Tuesday’s visit into Saint Bernard Parish, the area immediately downriver from New Orleans. The residents have complained for years that New Orleans considers St. Bernard its poor cousin. You’ll find refineries there and fishing villages, but mostly lower-middle-class neighborhoods for people who work in New Orleans. St. Bernard was almost totally obliterated by Katrina. Seeing it this morning, Hiroshima came to mind.

Continue reading “Katrina Log — For Those Who Are Still With Us” »