Prayerful Encouragement

“Freddie Arnold was taken to the hospital in Baton Rouge Sunday night. Chest pains. They’re running tests.”

That early Monday morning call got my day started with a bang. With a prayer, actually, lifting Freddie up to the Father for His well-being. I called his room an hour or two later. Said he was feeling fine, and will be there at least a couple of days. We’ll appreciate the prayers.

The Unlimited Partnership teams (7 seminary students, 7 pastors, Bill Taylor, Professor Joe Sherrer, and some out of town guests) were meeting all day today at the seminary’s Leavell Center. I ran by for an hour, long enough to hear the reports from the 7 church teams. Everything is moving well. Wish I could have heard the guests.

At 11 am, I picked up Dr. Charles Wade and his colleagues, Charlie Singleton, who heads up the African-American work with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Rolando Rodriguez, who does the same for the Hispanic Churches. Checked them in at the hotel, then spent the better part of the day touring the city with them—meeting with Dick Randels at Lakeview Baptist Church, touring the seminary campus, circling Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, checking out the Baptist Crossroads/Habitat homes on Alvar Street and the Ninth Ward, then back to a late lunch in Kenner. I’ll be picking them up at 6:15 as we head to FBC Luling for the Spring meeting of our association where Dr. Wade is speaking.

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What Leadership Looks Like

Doris Voitier is about to receive one of this country’s premier awards, the JFK Profile in Courage Award, given to only one or two persons a year for showing courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

Doris Voitier is the superintendent of the St. Bernard School System, in the parish just below New Orleans.

A few weeks after Katrina, when everyone was saying St. Bernard Parish was destroyed and most leaders were still shaking their heads and wondering what to do, Doris Voitier decided if St. Bernard were to get on its feet, the schools would have to be operating. Problem is, they were all flooded and ruined, every last one of them. So, she had a little talk with the FEMA people, found out they weren’t going to do anything, and took matters into her own hands.

She took out a loan for $17 million and ordered 22 portable classrooms and 107 travel trailers for school employees, all of whom had lost their homes. Then she announced that school would reopen only 11 weeks after Katrina. Incidentally, she spent $22,000 for each trailer in contrast with the $60,000 which FEMA would eventually pay, according to all accounts.

Doris Voitier traveled to Baton Rouge and spent a day with the banks consolidating the various accounts her schools had. “We could sort it out later,” she said. “Right now, we needed cash.” She made sure the premiums were being paid on the health insurance for employees, and covered the payroll, all of which came to $1 million a month.

Voitier told a FEMA representative that she needed hot meals for her students. She was told that despite earlier assurances, FEMA would not be able to cover that, and that she should consider cold sandwiches or military MREs. “No,” said the superintendent, “The children will have hot meals.”

She hired a Chalmette restaurant owner to cook the meals on a barge in the Mississippi River and sent FEMA the bill for $27,000. After seven months of haggling, FEMA paid the bill.

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The Next Two Weeks

Think of this as letting you peek over our shoulder at our calendar. For me personally, it may be the busiest two weeks in a while.

Monday night, April 30, 7 pm, Dr. Charles Wade of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is the guest preacher at our annual Spring meeting of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. We’ll meet at the FBC of Luling, which is in St. Charles Parish on the West Bank. Dr. Bill Taylor will also speak on the exciting “Unlimited Partnerships” project. You’re invited.

Tuesday, May 1, I’m driving toward Nashville and spending the night with my parents at Nauvoo, Alabama. Wednesday afternoon, will be setting up for the three day biennial meeting of the National Association of Southern Baptist Secretaries meeting at the Lifeway Christian Resources building in Nashville. I’ve mentioned before that this gathering of perhaps 700 church office staffers is the best audience any speaker will ever find, the sharpest and sweetest bunch of ladies on the planet.

Among the massive slate of conferences the secretaries (call them administrative and ministry assistants) will be attending are six I’ll be doing. How about this for relevant conference subjects:

“Keeping the Joy in Ministry.” “Dealing with Crisis Situations.” “How to Love the People Who Irritate You the Worst.” “How do I Minister When I Need to be Ministered to?” (Four subjects, six conferences, with two being repeats.)

Quick word on each topic.

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Signs of Progress

“I understand Lakeview is gone,” the caller told the Times-Picayune columnist. The writer was stunned. “Gone?” he said. “Yes,” the caller said. “I lived there and lost my home. We’re now in (some distant state) and a group of people want to come help the city rebuild. I know we can’t work in Lakeview, so I was wondering where you think we should put our efforts.”

The columnist assured the lady that Lakeview is most definitely not “gone,” and that people are rebuilding everywhere throughout that area.

In Saturday morning’s paper, another columnist told of a face-to-face conversation along similar lines. A man, perhaps a tourist, was riding a bike through her neighborhood. He saw her in the yard and commented on how sad everything looks and maybe these empty houses will sell in time. The columnist, food editor Judy Walker, had a ready answer for him.

“Sir, that house is already sold. Also that one, and this one over here.” Furthermore, she pointed out, the people who bought them were young adults, people who will be bringing children and raising families, and they’re already working on restoring the houses.

Judy Walker points out that what may look like a mess to a casual visitor is a sign of progress to residents. That pile of junk on the sidewalk in front of the house means someone has cleaned it out and is planning to restore it. That vacant lot means a damaged house has been demolished so a new home can be built. FEMA trailers being towed from the neighborhood indicates that people are moving back into their homes.

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Waylon’s Honey

Martha Bailey is someone you ought to know. Now, unless you live on what is euphemistically called “New Orleans’ Northshore,” so you can drive to the First Baptist Church of Covington where her husband Waylon has been pastor for some 20 years or more, you may not have had the opportunity. Until now.

She’s written a book. And I guarantee you that after reading it, you will feel that a) you know Martha Bailey and b) you like this lady.

Some will recall that in December of 2005, the FBC of Covington hosted all our ministers and spouses for our annual Christmas banquet. Now, they are not part of our association, being separated from us by 25 miles of Lake Pontchartrain, and they had taken massive damage from Hurricane Katrina themselves, but under the leadership of Waylon and Martha, the church did that banquet, did it first-class, and rolled out the red carpet for nearly 200 of our folks. Not only was it free, but they gave everyone gifts of money. Lots of money which was sorely needed by our hurting ministers.

I told you how Martha took it upon herself to fill up gift bags for each couple that night, gifts such as Wal-Mart cards and other nice things, including shelled pecans. She marched into the grocery store, found herself talking to the district manager of Winn-Dixie, and asked if he wouldn’t like to donate pound bags of shelled pecans for the ministers of New Orleans, in fact, 75 or 100 pound bags. The local manager stuttered, “Uh, sir, do you know what these sell for?” The district manager did. He told Martha and his store manager that he lives in Diamondhead, Mississippi, and that when his family evacuated for Katrina, a Baptist church took them in and ministered to them, and he had been looking for a way to say thanks.

Anyway, that’s Martha. Big visions, go anywhere, do anything, just move out of her way. You want a job done; she’s your lady. Martha is most definitely worth knowing.

The book is called “Putting My Dress-Up Clothes Away,” and subtitled “because big girls live in the real world.” The publisher is Insight Press, P. O. Box 5077, Covington, LA 70434. I don’t know what it sells for, but have already ordered 20 copies for some women in my life.

Here’s the story behind the title.

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Preachery Things

Number One.

Since they’re my only congregation now, I sometimes enjoy pointing out a sermon to our pastors, either something they might consider preaching or something that preaches to them. Case in point: our Sheriff of Jefferson Parish, the one and only Harry Lee.

How to describe him. He’s Chinese, but thoroughly, completely, 100 percent American and pure Southern, used to weigh over 300 lbs but had stomach stapling surgery and now weighs considerably less, and has been our sheriff for 27 years. He’s 75 years old, I believe. And he’s up for re-election this fall. And he has leukemia. The really, really bad kind, we’re told. The kind that will be aggressively treated with chemotherapy and who knows what else, treatments that will take a great toll on his strength. But he is adamantly declaring not only that he will run for re-election, and that he will win, but he will whip the backside of anyone who dares oppose him.

He has sounded confident about every election in the past, but there is a strident tone to his pronouncements this time that sounds unhealthy.

The police chief of one of our suburbs, Chief Dale, has been a longtime friend of the sheriff’s. But someone informed Sheriff Lee that Chief Dale plans to run against him this fall. That was all it took for Harry to uninvite the chief to his annual picnic, an affair attended by all the sheriff’s longtime supporters. Not only did the chief get uninvited, but Harry lambasted him up one side and down the other, throwing in some juicy profanity. “It’s a surprise to me,” said the chief. “I’m not running against Harry. I’m his friend and a supporter.”

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Souvenirs of Washington, D.C.

My “flying” trip to Reagan National Airport (up Saturday and back Monday evening) was a delight in every way. (I found out that many D.C. area folks grit their teeth when hearing that airport referred to as “Reagan” and still call it “National,” somewhat like the residents of Mississippi or Alabama would feel if you named their airport “Hillary Clinton International,” I suppose. Funny.)

What I did was this: stay with Don and Audrey Davidson (he’s the pastor for nearly two years now of the FBC of Alexandria); spend the day Sunday with my hostess Sheri Link of the Northstar Network, the Northern Virginia counterpart to our “Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans,” as we worshiped with the Bethlehem Baptist Church, lunched, visited Columbia BC of Falls Church, met with church leaders from around the area from 4 pm to nearly 6 o’clock, then worshiped with FBC Alexandria, and on Monday spoke at the annual luncheon of pastors and church office staffers at Parkwood BC in Annandale. Met tons of new friends, a number of old ones, and of course, sketched a lot of people (it’s what I do) and drew a number of cartoons for churches and pastors. Arrived back in New Orleans at 8 pm Monday night. It’s a wonderful life.

1) “I want you folks to know each other.” The plan had been for Chet and Eva Lee Griffin to pick me up at the Davidsons’ Saturday evening and we’d eat at a restaurant in Old Alexandria, a historic and delightful section of the city. When Don’s plans changed so that the Davidsons were able to join us, I urged them to do so. The Griffins and the Davidsons needed to know each other. They are both so special to me and our family.

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Virginia Tech–and Us

Some 25 percent of locals are planning to leave this area, a new poll shows. Or, to turn that depressing statistic around, 75 percent who responded to a survey last month say they plan to stay in the area permanently. Of that number, 47 percent however admitted they are not hopeful about the future of the New Orleans region.

According to Thursday’s Times-Picayune, that poll was conducted on behalf of the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse for Greater New Orleans. CADA takes an annual community survey of attitudes on matters related to underage drinking and substance abuse. A year ago, the organization added other questions in order to discover attitudes about life here since Katrina.

John King, executive director of CADA, said those who responded to the poll from St. Bernard Parish have a more negative view than other parishes. The telephone poll queried 608 people in the metro area between March 20 and April 3. Fully one third of St. Bernardians say they plan to leave. Once you move into Orleans and Jefferson parishes, the percentage drops to 16, or about one in eight.

Sixty percent of those interviewed said they feel the area is more dangerous now than before Katrina. Again, the numbers are higher in St. Bernard, with 78 percent saying so. But even in Orleans and Jefferson, more than one-half agree.

More to the point for CADA’s purposes, the interviewees were asked if a family member is showing signs of emotional distress due to Katrina and its aftermath. In St. Bernard, 88 percent said yes. The percentage in Orleans is 48 and 46 in Jefferson. This stress is producing a higher rate of divorces, suicides, and incidents of domestic violence, King said. On television Wednesday night, John King pointed out that most of the city’s psychiatrists and psychologists and other workers in the alcohol-and-drug-abuse field did not return to the city after Katrina but moved their practices away.

So the problems are more severe and the health workers scarcer. Anyone see a pattern developing here?

Not sure if this is good news or what, but the father of one of our ministers has won the lottery in Tennessee. He won it to the tune of $2 million, according to the report we received. No one asked, but I think we might want to pray for him, too.


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Choosing Your Disposition

We can always count on our Norco friends Rudy and Rose French for a thought-provoking contribution to the Wednesday pastors meeting. Since they have just returned from visiting family members living in Bangkok, Thailand, we invited them to report. The highlight for Rose was sitting “on the nose” of an elephant, which picked her up and deposited her on top just like you see in the movies. The down point, they reported, was discovering some family members are planning a divorce. That’s always bad news. Rudy continued….

“I realized that I have been unhappy lately. For a lot of reasons that I thought were important. But in Thailand, everyone was so happy, even the poorest of people, some of whom had no legs or were blind. I was really struck by that. So I decided to make a list of the reasons for my unhappiness. I filled up a couple of pages, and then looked at it and thought, ‘Everything here is stupid.’ So I tore it up and threw it away. And I decided I would be happy. I certainly have plenty of reasons to rejoice.”

Rudy continued, “I used to own an English bulldog. That was the most wonderful dog. As he got older, he developed cataracts on his eyes, and when he went in for surgery to have them removed, he had a heart attack and died. Ten years later, I still miss him. But I’ve thought, ‘I’d like to have another English bulldog.’ Now, they are expensive, so I told my family, ‘Count this as my birthdays and Christmases for the next five years, but that’s what I want.'”

Rudy now has his English bulldog puppy. “The cutest little thing you have ever seen,” he said. “And now, I look around and count all the reasons I have to be happy: I have a wonderful wife and a terrific little puppy.” Everyone laughed. Rudy admitted that people who own those bulldogs usually look just like them; we’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Later, when Joe Williams was sharing about the “coping with life’s challenges” conferences he holds for churches still coping with post-Katrina existence, he said, “I can do these with any size group–even down to one person.” Two people called out, “Rudy!”

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The Latest Word from Our City

1) Tony Merida has resigned as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenner to become Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This is the position last held by Tony’s mentor, Dr. Jim Shaddix who now pastors Riverside Baptist Church in Denver. Everyone loves Tony and Kim and is saddened by their leaving the church, except–as was the case when we resigned 3 years ago–they’re not actually leaving. At the moment, they plan to keep their membership in the church. My family is delighted for a lot of reasons, among them the fact that Kim teaches piano to my grandchildren. She also plays for the worship services and is as wonderful a singer as you’ll ever hear. Also a good Bible teacher. Talk about a preacher out-marrying himself; that’s our Tony.

When Tony stands in the pulpit and opens the Word, he’s as good as they come. He’ll be a wonderful role model and teacher for the next generation of preachers.

2) “Safe at Home” has been canceled. Or at least postponed for a year. This evangelistic outreach of the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association seems to be a great idea which did not connect with our people at this particular time. The plan was to buy out all the tickets for the May 20 baseball game in which our Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs would be playing, to print up thousands of vouchers and give to our church people to distribute to their friends, vouchers which would be redeemed for actual tickets (and thus a seat) at the stadium. After the game, the Dawson team would bring a platform onto the field and present a musical program, after which Scott himself would present the gospel.

In all the preliminary meetings with pastors trying to generate interest and participants and local leadership, it would appear that locals were polite and interested but not to the point of “taking the ball and running with it,” as the expression goes.

A 45-minute conference call today, Tuesday, involved a number of local ministers and the Dawson team, and at the end it was decided to call off the event.

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