A Long Day and a Day-Long Observance

Let me say it officially here: we appreciate the nation’s turning its eyes in our direction for these few hours this week. Every news program on television seemed to be doing recaps on Katrina-land today. We appreciate it. Mostly. But as with the rest of the nation, this is one anniversary we’re glad to get behind us.

Someone said, “The President is coming to a church service tonight. It might be ours,” referring to the Prayer Rally at the First Baptist Church of New Orleans Tuesday night at 7 pm. It wasn’t, but that’s all right too. The nature of meetings change when the president is there, and honestly, our meeting tonight did not need him. It needed nothing. What we had was two power-packed hours of praise and prayer, of rejoicing and loving. I don’t know when I’ve been more blessed.

The day started too early for me. I knew Scott and Lorri on FamilyNet Radio’s early morning talk show would be calling at 7:05 for a half-hour interview, so–groan–I woke up at 4 o’clock and could not get back to sleep. So, I did some Bible study and other things, some exercises and then my usual walk/prayer-time on the levee, then a shower and it was time for their phone call.

I spent a couple of hours in the office this morning, then drove to the seminary to get in on the last of their disaster relief training for students and faculty before the 11 am worship service. I stood in back of the Leavell Chapel and marveled at what I saw–nearly a thousand young adults crowding the building, adorned in the obligatory yellow t-shirt, taking in this training before fanning out into the community for some of the hardest work any of them will ever do, gutting out houses. During the worship service which followed, Jay Adkins and Byron Townsend shared their Katrina testimonies–both were spectacular–and I told a couple of stories illustrating how God not only knew this hurricane was coming but had put certain people in place in preparation. After the service, the students ate a lunch provided by the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief team, on the front lawn.

As a seminary student and a member of the staff of Edgewater Baptist Church, Jason Sampler has worked with a large number of church teams spending their vacations here gutting out houses. Jason instructed several hundred of his classmates on the gutting out work they would be doing this afternoon. What touched me was his concern that they respect the homes they would be entering. “You will be putting your hands where they have no business going,” he said, referring to the apparel drawers, family albums, and the like. “Do not call this trash. Don’t call it junk. This is precious material to these homeowners and it represents a heartbreak.” He told how to pile the discards into five piles out front, for electronics, appliances, wood products, etc. “Keep it off the streets,” he said.

I wondered how the afternoon went for these student teams, and received a report from two tonight at FBC New Orleans. “I prayed with the President,” one young lady said. How’s that? “He came to the Baptist Crossroads where we were working, building houses. We stopped and talked with him. He was telling how he appreciates the prayers people offer up for him and we were promising to pray for him. So I just said, ‘Could we pray for you right now, Mr. President?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ So we all gathered around him and everyone put their hands on him and someone prayed. It was awesome.” A couple other students told of the prayer-walking they did on Franklin Avenue and the people they talked with. Me? I took some out of town friends to the Praline Connection for a real New Orleans lunch, then worked in the office until late afternoon.

“This is the fifth service I’ve been in today,” Pastor Fred Luter told the houseful at FBC-NO tonight. These Katrina-anniversary-commemorations are going to be the death of some of our leading pastors. When I got home tonight, C-Span was running one of the interdenominational services held earlier today. I think that was the one which one of our pastors said was the worst thing he had done all day. “It was held in the Morial Convention Center,” he said, “and we had these Muslims and Buddhists and I don’t know what all to pray. Some were mumbling and chanting and we couldn’t understand a thing they said.” I didn’t have the patience to watch much of it, but had to admit that the governor and the mayor looked like they would rather be anywhere else on the earth than there.

George Huff of American Idol fame did not perform tonight; he rocked. He led worship, he brought everyone to their feet, clapping, singing along, answering him. It occurred to me that one big difference in the typical Black service and the typical White service (what completely unreliable generalizations! I know!) is that the Caucasians are more likely to stay uninvolved in the praise and prayer time, but become spectators. The African-American worship leaders will have none of that. If you’re in the building, you’re expected to get up off your pew and put your hands together and take part. Which is a terrific idea, once you stop to think about it. Anyway, the service was off to a rollicking start.

Saturday after reporting on Anne Graham Lotz’ message at the New Orleans Arena, a reader commented on the website that I had captured the essence of the occasion. Well, about tonight’s prayer rally, no way will I even try. It was two hours of complete involvement by the congregation in prayers and recognitions and praise. It was a two-hour stress reliever, making it one of the healthiest things I’ve done in a long time.

Pastor David Crosby told the crowd, “In an interview today, I was asked if the racial situation in New Orleans was improved. I said, ‘I can’t speak for other people, but I will tell you that there has never been a time when I have loved my brothers and sisters more, regardless of race and ethnicity!” With the crowd close to 50/50 Black and White, that line brought the house down. We all prayed together, worshiped together, laughed together. It was a love fest in every sense of the word.

Fred Luter preached from Job 23. “But he knows the way I take. When I am tried, I will come forth as gold.” God pre-approves every test that comes our way, he said. God prepares us for every test. And, God preserves us through every test we face.

Trying to describe Fred Luter’s preaching would be like trying to draw Katrina with a tablet and number 2 pencil. I’m licked before I even start, so I won’t try. But he was really something. I was seated beside Frank Bailey of Victory Fellowship and Dennis Watson of Celebration, two preachers who know how to rouse a crowd. As Fred Luter walked off the platform to thunderous applause and cheering, I said to them, “I’ll bet this is the first time the Pentecostals are wishing they could preach like a Baptist!”

We gave recognition and gratitude to representatives of Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Operation Blessing, Habitat for Humanity, PRC Compassion, LESEA–Feed the Hungry, Convoy of Hope, School of Urban Missions, and Operation NOAH Rebuild. We hate to think what this city would look like today without the great involvement of these wonderful friends.