At Wednesday’s pastors meeting at the First Baptist Church of LaPlace, we crammed a great deal into two hours and a half. Our friends from the Baptist Convention of New York–Milton Kornegay and Richard Taylor–spoke to the group of fifty or so, offering the support of prayer, volunteer crews, and finances. Later, I overheard Milton extending invitations to a couple of pastors to bring their wives to New York for brief vacations. One of the pastors began, “I don’t know. There are so many more deserving than I.” I said, “Bob. Shut up. You’re going to talk him out of it.” We all laughed. It was a wonderful gesture of our NY friends.
Joe Williams (FBI chaplain with experience at the Murrah Federal Building and Ground Zero) reminded the pastors of plans for a day-long getaway for fellowship and discussion with other ministers and their wives. This event will be provided soon by our North American Mission Board, under Joe’s direction. The director of the State Mental Hospital at Mandeville visited our meeting today and addressed the pastors on the need to take care of themselves. “I’ve talked with two pastors who have been running day and night since Katrina,” he said, “and they’re in bad emotional trouble. I probed a little and found that neither one of them has been keeping up with his prayer time and Bible reading. They say the phone starts ringing when they get up in the morning and they don’t stop running until night and they’re tired all the time.” He explained that a number of suicides and suicide-attempts have been registered since the hurricane, not saying they were specifically among the clergy, only that people have to take care of themselves. He had an interesting philosophy in dealing with potential suicides. “I tell them, ‘Things will be better in fifteen minutes.'”
Ty Salter and Carl Deitz, from the financial department of NAMB, detailed the types of loans our mission board can make to churches, and asked to meet with pastors during lunch. Ty said they came as much to listen and find out what the churches’ needs are, as much as to share information.
“Who needs an electric organ?” I asked. A director of missions in North Mississippi had called me with information about one. “We’d love to have it.” Pastor David Arceneaux of Gentilly Church said, “I hope it’s not too large. We’ll have to store it upstairs since our ruined sanctuary is still wide open to the world.” DOM Frank Lay will drive the organ down here himself. Tangible encouragement to a devastated church.
“The latest word is that Billy Graham is coming to our Festival of Hope!” Pastor Dennis Watson of Celebration Church reminded everyone of the Franklin Graham crusade scheduled for March 11-12 in our New Orleans Arena, the basketball arena next door to the Superdome. “And that’s not all. Billy Graham told Franklin that he and Ruth both want to come. And we understand that George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows will be here! Franklin has said that his father will preach at the Sunday afternoon meeting!” Dennis added, “The only worry now is that the New Orleans Arena won’t hold the crowd.” Nice problem.
Prior to a Graham crusade, classes are held in churches over a broad area to prepare counselors. These “Christian Life and Witness” courses are open to the public, and kicked off a few days ago. Pastor Scott Smith of Highland reported that the sessions at the host churches have so far been packed out. Great sign. “In the second class, you’re given a form to fill out which your pastor has to sign. That’s the only way you can become a counselor.” Scott added, “And if you don’t have a pastor, Brother Joe, our DOM, is your pastor and he’ll be glad to sign it.” So true. The highest compliment given to any director of missions is to be known as the pastor to the pastors. Shepherd to the shepherds. Encourager to the encouragers.
Pastor David Crosby had a conflicting meeting and could not be with us, but sent word that the Baptist Crossroads project is in full swing. During a ten-week period this summer, volunteers will build forty new homes in the Upper 9th Ward, working under the direction of Habitat for Humanity. This is strictly a Baptist project–not that others would be barred from participating, only that we want to do this ourselves–and much of the money to pay for the houses has already been raised. College students coming in the Springtime will pour foundations for these homes. The website is www.baptistcrossroads.org.
I called Craig Ratliff forward and asked him to share his Katrina testimony with everyone. (We reported it here in the previous article.) When he finished, he said, “My wife tells this story better than me. In fact, she’s written the story on our church website: www.fbcarabi.com. Click on Katrina stories.” He went on, “We’ve spoken in a number of churches over the past few months. Cindy will tell our story, then I will preach. It’s a great arrangement.” Toward the end of the meeting today, since we had a little time, I said to the ministers, “Whenever God gives you a great story that takes hold of you and won’t turn you loose, often He’s sending you a sermon. Now, considering Craig’s story of escaping Katrina, what are the lessons you see there?” People began volunteering all over the auditorium. “If the Lord is in the boat with you, it won’t sink.” “Often, you escape one problem only to find yourself in a worse one. Sometimes things grow progressively disastrous until the Lord brings you out.” “God gave Craig the breath to blow up that kiddie pool. Now, I’m 45 years old and overweight and I couldn’t have done it. We’d have drowned!” “The Lord is with you.”
Craig and Cindy are living in Rockingham, North Carolina, but we’re hoping the Lord leads them back this way. As with many of our friends, they have developed a new compassion for the homeless and down and out, having walked in their shoes.
Back in November, Rana Burt, wife of LaPlace pastor Bobby Burt, suggested we invite the ministers’ wives to these Wednesday sessions since they are experiencing the same stress as their husbands and often feel isolated. They need the encouragement and information their husbands are getting. Their involvement continues to grow each week. Sometime in mid-morning, Linda Williams (wife of Joe) will signal that it’s time for the wives to leave our gathering. They will go to a local coffee shop or a room down the hall and spend the next hour talking, fellowshiping, learning, and praying. One said to me, “Hey, if you want to encourage a pastor, help his wife.” Good point.
PRC Compassion is a Baton Rouge based group, loosely allied, I understand, with Focus on the Family. They are extending invitations to all local ministers to bring their wives for a night and a day at a local downtown hotel, all expenses paid. H. B. London will be one of the speakers, along with James Robison and Fred Luter. Fliers were presented to our pastors, encouraging them to sign up.
It’s always fun to see a task find its leader. Some of our pastors have been wanting to have an appreciation dinner of some type for the “first responders,” that vast assemblage of fire fighters, police, emergency workers, and military who came in when the Katrina flood hit and saved so many lives and property. There have been one or two abortive starts that were halted for one reason or the other, the biggest being that this could be a huge job, and few have the time or administrative gifts to pull it off. Some of the pastors met last week and discussed it. Then Pastor John Faull (Williams Boulevard, Kenner) said, “I know just the leader. Cherry Blackwell.”
Cherry and husband Ben are wonderful Christian workers, members of Williams, and significantly, serve as MSC directors for Louisiana Baptists. (MSC = Mission Service Corp. Our MSC people are self-supporting missionaries, often retirees, who can pick up and go where they are needed.) Cherry has directed thousands of volunteers for Super Bowl and PGA events. Today, she spoke to the pastors and told them to get ready. “Write down April 8 on your calendar. It looks like our First Responders event will be held on that date at the New Orleans Arena,” she said to a stunned audience. Because of her work with volunteers for sporting events, Cherry has contacts everywhere. “I called my friend and asked if we could have the use of the Arena free,” she said. “They are meeting as we speak, and we’ll know soon.” Where do the pastors come in on this? Many of the tasks will require their involvement, including, she said, “standing at every door and greeting the hundreds of guests. I want everyone coming in that door to get a big hug.” There will be lots of gifts for these good people, she announced. “Including a couple of cars.” Someone asked, “Katrina cars?” which brought laughter. “Nope,” she said, patiently. “New automobiles.” Big encouragement to a lot of great encouragers.
Encouragement is a compound word built around the word “courage,” which itself is based on “cor” the Latin word for heart. To encourage someone is to give them heart. Often we speak of someone being disheartened, meaning discouraged.
I’ve decided why the attendance at our Wednesday’s pastors meeting stays uniformly high. There’s so much encouragement. People gather early and stay late. We announced lunch at 11:30 and no one left the room. They had pulled together in small clusters all over the building to greet and to laugh, to share information and to ask questions, to make plans, to see a friend. Each meeting is completely unplanned. We never know who’s going to be there, if anyone. But when we leave, we are surprised at how a meeting of nearly 3 hours–without a break of any kind–could be so short and end so soon.
Next Monday and Tuesday, January 23-24, our Louisiana Baptist Evangelism Conference will be held at the First Baptist Church of LaFayette, and many of our people will be there. But on Wednesday morning at 9 am, we’ll assemble at the FBC of LaPlace for our regular meeting. We wouldn’t miss it.