Brianne Painia was the only teenager on last night’s program at the Second Anniversary of Katrina Prayer Rally, held in the impressive worship center of the First Baptist Church of New Orleans on Canal Boulevard. She sat just to the right of me the entire evening; I thought she was an adult, maybe the wife of one of the speakers. Then, she walked to the podium.
Brianne looked out at the houseful of worshipers and said, “When they asked me to pray a prayer on this program, I thought, ‘It’s just a prayer. I can pray. No big deal.’ When people would ask me about it, I still said, ‘No big deal.’ Then they sent me the program and I saw that I’m praying just after two preachers, and I thought, ‘Uh oh. Big deal.'”
But whoever put Brianne on the program knew what they were doing. She did precisely what she was asked to do and which every child of God is meant to do: she approached the Father’s throne in faith and humility and prayed the prayer of faith on behalf of our schools, their leaders, and the teachers.
Fred Luter prayed first. Fred prays a lot like he preaches; he gets with it. He talks to God and talks to us in the same way–with energy and faith and conviction. When Fred Luter prays, there is no neutral ground.
This pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church earlier had told of the rebuilding of their buildings on “the Avenue,” with plans to return there before the year is out. He smiled and said, “I’ll tell you this. When we do get back, bring your lunch because we’re going to be a while!”
Fred’s prayer Wednesday night was on behalf of the police and fire fighters, with particular reference to the crime problem plaguing New Orleans.
Luis Soto prayed next. This Hispanic pastor of Verbo Church in Kenner is well worth knowing. In addition to being a pastor, he’s a heart surgeon and one of the best from all I hear. Long before he became pastor of that church, we at FBC Kenner knew him as the father of some of the students in our school. Dr. Soto is married to the prettiest girl in town and their children, naturally, in addition to being gracious and good-looking, are some of the brightest you’ll ever meet. In time, when that congregation became pastorless, they turned to him.
He prayed Wednesday night for the new residents of our city and for the construction workers who are helping us to rebuild.
Filling in for Linda Green, co-pastor of Faith Church, was her husband Michael. Driving out Interstate 10 from downtown toward Slidell, you pass their huge church plant sitting on the north side. It’s locked up now with a “for sale” sign in front. So few people live in that section of New Orleans East now, the diminished congregation meets in Clearview Mall in Metairie while they seek a more permanent location.
Michael prayed for the women and families of our city.
A combined choir of FBC-NO and Franklin Avenue, led by choral director Beverly Criddle, and the congregational worship led by Ellis Lindsey, kept the building rocking through the evening. Lisa Pierre sang, and boy, did she. What a voice and what a heart.
George Shinn, owner of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, gave a talk about the team’s commitment to New Orleans, and worked in some of his standard motivational speech he’s given over the years. Twenty years ago, he gave me copies of two books he’s written along the same line. George has a great message: after graduating dead last in his high school class–I think he was, like, 238th in that class at Salisbury High in North Carolina, maybe–he went on to business college, ended up buying it, then purchasing others. In time, when David Stern and the NBA decided to put a franchise in Charlotte, George was chosen as the owner. A few years ago, after the relationship between him and that city broke down, he relocated the team to New Orleans which had built the New Orleans Arena for a basketball team they did not have. Following Katrina, the Hornets played in Oklahoma City, apparently a win-win situation for everyone.
Shinn said, “To give you an idea how tough that was, every time I’d say something nice about Oklahoma City–I was trying to sell tickets!–the media here would pounce on it and say I was planning to move the team there permanently.” He assured everyone they are in New Orleans permanently.
Will Graham, son of Franklin and grandson of Dr. Billy, was the main speaker. A former pastor and now full-time with the BGEA in Charlotte, he spoke “not to other people, not to the person you are with, but to you.” His text was I Kings 8:61, “Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments as at this day.” He called for our hearts to be devoted to the Lord. At the altar call, a number of people came to pray in commitment of their lives to Christ.
Karen Willoughby, managing editor of the Baptist Message, our state weekly, was present, I was glad to see. She took photos and will have a much better recap of the evening in next week’s edition. David Hankins, executive-director of our Louisiana Baptist Convention, also drove down from Alexandria for the occasion, which is an encouragement to all of us who are so dependent on and blessed by his leadership. From day one, he has shown a total commitment to helping the churches and God’s people in our area.
So, now–back to work. There is no storm in the Atlantic that we know of and volunteers continue to pour into the city. The politicians are still bickering over how much money Washington actually sent this way and how much is Louisiana’s fair share, but the citizens are getting on with their lives and the task of rebuilding.
In an op-ed piece in Thursday morning’s paper, originally written for the Los Angeles Times, Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss likened the city’s present state to watching a friend recover from a massive stroke. The recovery is slow, and outsiders keep asking, “Is he back to normal?”
Amoss writes, “One day he utters a complete sentence–a paltry achievement for someone who once spoke eloquently. The strangers are shocked at his diminished state, but you who’ve been at his bedside rejoice, for you remember the early days of incoherent stammering.”
He continues, “We who have not left since the storm ravaged our city find ourselves somewhere between the stammering and the eloquence of old. The city tourists know is back to being its beloved self–the French Quarter, the Garden District, St. Charles Avenue’s mansions and live oaks, our restaurants and music. But the vast urban expanse that flooded–an area seven times the size of Manhattan that stewed for three weeks in 5-12 feet of saltwater–is still struggling back to life.”
Amoss calls for a new “Marshall plan” for this city. Old-timers (and history students) will recall that this was the United States’ answer to the devastation which World War II wrought on Europe. We did not abandon these people, but went in with personnel and money and helped to rebuild their lands and to restore their lives.
And so, along with Brianne, we’re praying. We make no claim and no effort to praying like “a bunch of preachers,” which I suppose means “experts” or “professionals.”
Just a simple request from a loving child to the gracious Father in faith and love will do, thank you.