Thursday morning, visitors in our associational offices represented Southern Baptists from Texas and from Michigan. Freddie Arnold and I pulled up chairs and chatted with them about the best way to bring work groups into New Orleans, as well as how not to do it.
A diverse group met at New Salem Baptist Church in the Upper 9th Ward Thursday after lunch. Pastor Warren Jones returned from evacuation in Grapevine, Texas, three weeks ago and is living in a make-shift room across the street from the church. He has nothing but praise for the fine hospitality the members and staff of the First Baptist Church of Grapevine showed him for months, and for that, we thank them also.
A dozen of us sat in a large circle in the hollowed out sanctuary, with Pastor Warren and BCM director Keith Cating astride stacks of drywall in front. Baptist leaders from Texas and Arkansas were present, as well as Northshore Director of Missions Lonnie Wascom, and others from our local BCM. “Who cleaned out your building?” I asked Pastor Jones.
“Anybody and everybody,” he answered. “I never knew who was going to show up. The doors are wide open, as you see, and people just walk in and we put them to work.” Right now, it appears the folks from Russellville, Arkansas, are going to be helping.
The Upper 9th Ward is, as you would expect, close to the disastrous Lower 9th. The main difference is that its buildings are still standing. But drive down any street and you quickly decide this is one devastated area. Without knowing the residents, you could see yourself as mayor deciding to bulldoze the entire place. Sad, sad, sad. But it is home to Dr. Warren Jones and his congregation, all of whom are scattered across America at the moment. It is completely uncertain how many, if any, will be returning.
Warren Jones is what is affectionately known as a piece of work. He’s one of a kind, a truly beloved and kind man of God. The joy of the Lord seeps out the pores of his skin. “See that sign out front,” he said. “We put a verse of Scripture every week on it. In fact, some of our people and I have a meeting each week about that. We pray and take suggestions, then decide. And when we’ve not put up a new verse, we get calls. People say, ‘What’s the verse for this week?’ There’s a lot of traffic out there.” He was referring to North Claiborne Street, three steps outside the front door. “We’ve had people come to know Christ because of the verse of Scripture on that sign.”
I was glad to hear that. I wish pastors knew what a great tool they have for drawing people into the kingdom and their church just by the creative use of the sign in their front yard. My spirit grieves when I see a nice sign carrying a message about an event that occurred a month ago. And almost as bad, no indication as to when the services begin on Sunday. Worst of all are the negative ones. I recall a sign in front of a Mississippi church years ago that read “Repent or burn in hell forever” and on the other side “Are you driving your children to hell?” Some pastor had a hell fixation and had forgotten the word “gospel” means “good news.”