Crescent City Craziness

A billboard across the street from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary on Gentilly Boulevard shouts, “You’re Not Crazy.” Underneath is a phone number, with the last four digits spelling “TALK.” What is this, I wondered. In small letters at the base is the name of the organization sponsoring the ad, something about Hurricane Recovery. It made sense then.

Outsiders unacquainted with the kind of regional trauma we’ve experienced over the last two years might think the worst would be over by now, that the initial response to lost friends and flooded houses, destroyed neighborhoods and disappearing shopping centers would be the crazy part. But we’ve learned as bad as that all was, for many, it keeps getting worse.

As the zany disk jockey used to call out through the radio, “And the hits just keep on coming!”

Factor in lost loved ones, departed friends, shuttered houses, streets untouched by repairs and yards that haven’t seen a lawn mower in two years, deserted strip malls and politicians who don’t have a clue–and it’s enough to make anyone a little crazy. Do not leave out the government run-arounds in the various helping programs, do not forget the heavy construction trucks speeding up and down residential streets bringing help, yes, but feeling this gives them carte blanche to ignore traffic laws and intimidate slower drivers, and be sure to include the long lines at the doctor’s office and restaurants. Don’t forget the higher utility bills.

And that’s just for starters.

I saw my new doctor Wednesday. Robert Miles is our fourth family doctor since Katrina. Kathleen Wilson sent word just after the storm that she was moving to Florida. Then Irma Pfister became our doctor and we liked her. A note came in the mail that she was relocating out of the area, and recommending another physician in her building. We transferred our records to him, but before we had a chance to meet, he moved away. Someone recommended Dr. Miles and with our prescriptions running low, we called for appointments. He’s wonderful and the service at Ochsner Clinic was outstanding, to our great relief. A sign in the crowded waiting room advised patients that after they’ve waited 20 minutes to let the receptionist know. Within 10 minutes of the appointed hour, my name was called. Another great surprise was that the doctor took all the time I needed. I had been ready to wait two hours, then be shunted in and out like an express line. But it didn’t happen.

Perhaps this bit of craziness is coming to an end for us.

Outsiders who visit this area sometimes compliment our pastors and other ministers as heroes. Ask those ministers, however, and most will tell you the real heroes–our champions–are people from other states who came to New Orleans to help us and stayed. People like Operation NOAH’s Steve and Dianne Gahagan and David Maxwell, Baptist Builders’ Bob and Jane Christian at Hopeview, Arkansas’ leaders Jackie and Linda James at Gentilly Baptist, and Joe and Linda Williams, to whom I want to pay special tribute.

You’ve read about Joe Williams on these pages. He is an FBI chaplain who labored for long months at the Murrah Federal Building and later at Ground Zero in Manhattan, and is now on assignment from the North American Mission Board to the Gulf Coast area. Joe has been holding–for want of a better title–loss adjustment seminars in the churches, as well as counseling with pastors and their families. He is such a great resource. But Linda is his better half in every sense of the word.

Linda Williams married Joe just a few years ago, he being at retirement age and she somewhat younger, but neither making plans to pull up a rocking chair. They arrived in New Orleans shortly after Katrina, bringing their RV from Oklahoma, and parking it in the RV hookup at Calvary Baptist Church in Algiers. Linda quickly reached out to our pastors’ wives and they found a great friend in her.

A few weeks ago, Joe told me Linda has taken oversight of the Volunteer Village where NOAH hosts up to 400 or more each night, church volunteers come to help rebuild the city. Now, get the picture: that many volunteers would probably be 20 or more church groups from various parts of the country. They are thrown together in large rooms where the rules have to be strict and strictly obeyed in order for the place to function. They take two meals a day there, and have to be inside by a certain time each night. Since the Village occupies three floors of our World Trade Center, 30 stories high, our 400 guests have to respect the businesspeople coming and going. No congregating in the downstairs lobby or just outside the front door. No alcoholic beverages on the premises or in your body. A security guard is on duty, usually an off-duty New Orleans cop.

Friday, Joe told me that Linda gets to the Village by 5:30 in the morning and stays until 10:30 or 11. She returns by 3:30 or 4 o’clock and sometimes she’s midnight leaving. I wondered how she can hold up with that kind of schedule. He said, “She signed on for 90 days, and that’s over the last of August.” She’ll be ready for a major rest. Crazy hours.

But then, here is the really crazy part. One of the rules for the 400 guests in the Village is “no food in the sleeping area.” Nothing other than bottles of water. Joe said, “I saw this fellow with a Pepsi. I said, ‘You know that is not allowed.'” He said, “Who said it isn’t?” I told him the rules were explained to him when he arrived, and he knew perfectly well what they were. This is to protect the area from ants, with which they have had major problems. The fellow said, “Yes, but I’m an adult. I won’t spill this.”

“That’s what you have to put up with,” Joe said.

He hates to get ugly with a fellow like that. These are people who have come at their own expense to help us rebuild the city. And yet.

Out at Norco, when the First Baptist Church hosts out-of-towners come to help, Rudy and Rose French carefully go over what they will expect of the guests. “I tell them we do not have maid service and no church volunteers to come clean up after you.” So, they have to clean up their place every morning before they leave for work. No food is allowed in the bedrooms. They clean the floors and leave the place shining before they depart at the end of the week. “That’s the only way you can do this in a small church like ours,” Rudy says. He adds, “Most people don’t mind doing this if you make it clear from the start.”

But multiply that small church group by twenty and it becomes another matter. Like the fellow who came in with alcohol on his breath last week. He was also two hours past curfew and had misplaced his identification tag . The rules state that he will not be allowed inside. His father came out and interceded for him, then the minister from their group called our leader off to the side. He explained that the father was a member of their church, but the young man was not a Christian, that they were doing plumbing work down here and that is such a needed craft. He added, “Let him in and I’ll sleep by the door and make sure he does not go outside again.”

They relaxed the rules and two hours later, the young man was back outside, meeting some girls.

Village administrators have had to deal with adult sponsors hitting the bars in the evenings, then coming in at all hours and loudly demanding they be admitted inside.

You want headaches? Try to manage 400 church volunteers, most of them teenagers, all at varying stages of maturity. Some adult sponsors take no oversight of their youthful charges, with the result being chaos at worst or disturbance of the other team members at best.

Get tough with offenders and you run the risk of hurting the good work of the rest of their team when you send them all packing (which is what the rules promise will happen).

Part of the solution to this is for church leaders bringing teams to help us rebuild the city to screen their members carefully. No one should come who cannot follow orders. No one who is eager to sample the night life of the French Quarter should come on a church mission. No one unwilling to respect the hundreds of others who will be sharing the same tight living quarters should do this. And church leaders should have the courage and integrity to say ‘no’ and make it stick.

Hey, we have enough craziness down here of our own. We don’t need to be importing it.

Pray for us. Thank you to everyone who comes to help us. A special thank-you to you who make Linda Williams’ job easy. You’re our favorite teams.

One thought on “Crescent City Craziness

  1. Our 15-person April team heard about some these events, but did not personally see any. We had several non-members with us, but all where PRACTICING Christians. Our team leaders set high standards, and we had mandatory meetings before leaving. Everyone we met with at the WTC was a caring Christian. Most where too tired for any horseplay.

    We will be back again in November, and as the team leader, I

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