I wondered what kind of turnout we would have at our weekly pastors’ meeting at First Baptist-LaPlace since our Christmas banquet was just Monday night. But 40 or more of our ministers showed up, including several for the first time and perhaps a dozen wives, also for the first time. We roped off the rear of the sanctuary, forcing everyone to sit closer to the front in order to hear one another. Today, the primary speakers were the ministers and their wives themselves.

“How has life for you changed since the hurricane?” I asked, adding that this is not about the church, but your personal situation, your family. I wrote down the responses.

Jose: “We’re eating a lot of fast food. We’re in a lot of churches these days, a different one each week. Expecting to get a FEMA trailer soon, and then we can cook for ourselves.”

Lionel: “My wife cooks great ribs. But none since the storm. We go to a lot of churches, but no church means as much as your own. We’re all separated. My sons are in New Mexico and Houston, and my wife is back and forth between here and Atlanta, where she’s working. It’s tough.”

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Monday morning, for the first time since the hurricane, I heard from David Arceneaux, pastor of the ill-fated Gentilly Baptist Church. Perhaps no storm-related church photo has been more circulated than the interior of that lovely church, with its shredded pews and upturned furniture, the result of high, polluted, and long-lasting floodwaters. “I’m standing in front of the church waiting on the insurance adjuster,” he said. I said, “I’ll be there in an hour.”

I had a check from the Louisiana Baptist Convention to give to the Gentilly church, a part of the “adopt-a-church program.” When I arrived, the adjuster was just leaving. I heard him call to the pastor, “God bless you.” After we hugged, David said, “That man was really something. We went through the building and you could tell he was really moved. At the end, he said, ‘Pastor, I want to make a contribution to the church.’ Would you believe he wrote a personal check to the church for $2,000.”

A few hours later, David Arceneaux stood before our ministers’ banquet and related his story of riding out the storm with his family in their East New Orleans home, then fleeing to the second floor when the levees broke and the water rushed in. “I talked the family into staying,” he admitted. They were rescued by helicopter. An insurance agent himself, he said, “My job is in jeopardy. After all, I don’t have any customers. They’ve all lost their homes and can’t come back. So, the company has put a lot of us on notice.”

Around noon, I heard from Warren Jones, pastor of the New Salem Baptist Church in New Orleans, for the first time. “I’m in Grapevine, Texas,” he said. “I’ve been worshiping with the First Baptist Church over here.” I told him I had a check from the LBC for his church, as well as some cash which the Arkansas Baptist Convention sent. I could hear the smile in his voice. I stamped the envelopes and dropped them in the mail chute an hour later. Warren is coming back to start working on restoring his church. They’ve been adopted too, and a group has already been here and started on his buildings.

Monday night, the First Baptist Church of Covington, located on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, hosted the annual Christmas Banquet for the ministers and spouses of our New Orleans association. Normally, we might draw 75 people for this. This time, we had nearly 175. “We want to do this for you,” said Pastor Waylon Bailey. But the real power behind the occasion, the one who conceived it and made it happen, was Waylon’s wife Martha. She has worked tirelessly for weeks making this banquet a reality and a blessing and an encouragement to our people. Tonight she told one story in particular that resonated with everyone present.

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Al and Kay Meredith picked me up at D-FW airport Saturday afternoon. They’ve been pastoring Wedgwood Baptist Church something like 18 years, as I recall. “We have a birthday celebration to attend tonight. We’ll drop you at the hotel, then I’ll be back later for a cup of coffee with you,” Al said. On the way to the Holiday Inn South in Fort Worth, I picked the story out of him.

“I know Wedgwood is the church that had the shooting a few years back. You were in all the news stories. But I don’t recall the details. Tell me what happened.”

“It was 1999,” he said. “This fellow was mentally unbalanced and just drove to our church that Wednesday night. From where he lived, he had to drive by several other churches to get to ours. As far as we know, he had no connection with our church. This wasn’t someone we had failed in some way and a guilt we had to deal with. As bad as it was, this made the healing easier.”

“Jeff Laster is our minister of adults. He’ll pick you up for church tomorrow morning and take you back to the airport. He was shot by the gunman in the foyer of the church. The youth were having their ‘Saw You at the Pole’ meeting in the sanctuary that night, and several churches were participating with them. So we had a number of unfamiliar faces in the church. This fellow just walked in and started shooting.”

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Once in a while something happens that lets you know the prayers a friend is sending up are being heard. Such an event occurred Thursday morning.

A fellow named Bob called, wanting to talk over a personal situation, saying he had been praying about it and felt the Lord wanted him to contact me. We chatted for a half hour and resolved the issue as much as we could. At one point, I apologized for the hammering in the background. “Workers are all over my house, installing a new roof.” An hour later, Bob showed up at my door. “Do you mind if I check on the roofers, to make sure they’re doing it right?” Mind? I was honored. Others had said owners need to keep an eye on roof workers so they’ll not cut corners, but I was not sure what to watch for.

A few minutes later, Bob stepped inside and said, “They’re tar-papering over some damaged decking.” The plywood covering the roof had taken water, perhaps before the storm, and had weakened in some places. We placed a call to the contractor who arrived two minutes later, heard Bob’s concerns, and ordered his workers to strip the felt off and check the condition of the decking. Later, Bob returned and pointed out that the air vents had rusted and needed replacing. I’m not sure how much the contractor valued my friend’s interference, but he certainly saved the day for me.

Great timing. A friend I had not seen in six months calls just in time to hear the roofers working, then comes over to make sure they’re doing their job. Thank you, Lord.

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When the hurricane hit New Orleans on Monday, August 29, the main damage my home experienced was the roof. Shingles were blown up and down our street and some of the underlying tarpaper was torn off. Rain poured in, which did not help the interior of my home. Not a lot of damage, but some. While we were in evacuation, a friend nailed blue plastic tarp over much of our rooftop to protect it from rain. Rain that, fortunately, did not come for two months. But when it did come, it arrived with a vengeance. It tore the thin plastic to shreds. One night last week I was enjoying the sound of the rain outside. “Just like old times,” I thought. Then a sobering thought hit. “Hey–we don’t want rain!” I checked the kitchen and sure enough, streams of water were entering through the ceiling. Margaret and I manned the bucket brigade and laid out towels and mopped up. Fortunately the hard rain was short-lived. Next day, I went looking for a contractor; we need a new roof.

Today, Wednesday, the roofers arrived. A half-dozen were crawling over the housetop all afternoon. The job is supposed to take two days. My insurance company is impressing me with their thoughtfulness. I called them last week with a complaint. “The adjuster was here on October 29. He said we would receive a copy of his recommendations within four weeks, and a check one week later. But we can’t wait. The rain is worsening the situation. I need a roof now. The roofing companies, however, want one-third down and the rest on completion.” The claims person said he had not even received the paperwork from the adjuster. “That’s about par,” he said. Bad news. Then, good news. “I tell you what I can do,” he said. “Back in early September, we sent you a half months’ living expenses. I’m going to send you a check for the rest of September and all of October.” Really? Will it count against the insurance check you’ll be sending later? “Not at all. This is free and clear.” The amount of this preliminary check is two-thirds of what I need to re-roof the house. We can do this now. Breathing easier now. (Today, as I write this, the paperwork arrived from the adjuster. His recommendation is much more generous than what I had expected. Good news is so uplifting!)

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