In a couple of weeks, some of our churches plan to have block parties to welcome their communities home, to celebrate God’s goodness, and to strengthen their relationship with their neighbors. One of them, the Vieux Carre’ Baptist Church on Dauphine Street, one block over from Bourbon, will hold theirs in Woldenberg Park, on the river’s edge, next to the French Quarter. One of their workers said, “Help us find a couple of people to give testimonies. Dynamic stories of God’s grace.”
Saturday, I spent a couple of hours seeking out pastors to deliver checks from the Louisiana Baptist Convention and the adopt-a-church program. Significant checks. Ten thousand dollar checks. Eye-popping figures for the pastors who opened the envelopes in my presence.
“May I make a suggestion?” I said to the pastors. “When you tell your congregation about this gift, read the letter to your people.” The accompanying letter from Missions and Ministry Director Mike Canady is such a blessing, assuring the people of the support of the entire denomination. This is welcoming news to people who have lost their homes and church buildings and whose friends are scattered across the countryside. Just knowing that several churches have adopted them and are committed to help them re-establish a presence in their community makes all the difference.
I said to one pastor, “Every church has people in it who wonder what difference the denomination makes. And maybe one or two who are even hostile to the denomination. These are the people who especially need to know the commitment God’s people called Southern Baptists are making.”
“What church are you going to this morning?” Margaret asked me early Sunday. I said, “To as many as I can find, but just long enough to deliver these envelopes.” From 9 to noon, I got to only four of the churches, but traveled 75 miles doing it. I started with Mark Mitchell’s Urban Family Church in Kenner, then Tony Bellow’s Hahnville Mission, then the West Marrero Church where Anthony Barrett pastors, and finally to Oak Park Church under the leadership of Paul Brady. Paul was in the middle of his sermon at that very moment, but I left the envelope with someone to give to him.
“God is really blessing,” said Tony Bellows of the Hahnville church. “Our congregation is multi-racial now. We have a white lady teaching a Sunday School class.” He said, “You know, God rescued me out of two prison terms. I’d been selling drugs big-time. Thomas Ayo, pastor of the Krotz Springs Baptist Church, started coming to the Hunt Correctional Center, visiting prisoners. He witnessed to me and led me to Jesus. Later, he paid my way through the seminary.”
Thomas Ayo. One of my classmates from seminary in the 1960s. Good work, old friend.
I knew I had my testimony for the block party in Woldenberg Park.
Tony Bellows said, “Brother Joe, look at this building next door.” A large steel building with a good parking lot in front. “It belongs to the local Lions Club, but they haven’t used it for years. I know what they have in it–about a hundred thousand dollars. We don’t have that kind of money, of course. Would you pray with us that God will provide for us to buy this building?” We clasped hands and prayed there on the parking lot, just for that very thing.
Sunday afternoon and night brought a change of pace for me. I drove to Jackson, Mississippi, for the retirement celebration for my longtime friend, Dr. Gene Henderson, after 19 years at the First Baptist Church of Brandon. Gene and I go way back, to neighboring churches in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1960s. What struck me about the program Sunday night was the testimonies and tributes to this man–not so much about his preaching which is fine or his public ministry which is outstanding. But his personal work. His being there with people in their moments of need, a marriage, a death, a funeral, a tragedy.
Is there any finer work on earth than pastoring God’s people? Than representing the living God to the community. Dorothy Henderson said, “When I first met Gene, he was going to be the governor. He wanted to be somebody. Then God saved him and made him somebody. From that moment on, the only thing he wanted was whatever would please the Lord Jesus Christ.” Far from losing his ambition, he gained a far greater calling on his life.
I spent Sunday night with the incoming chairman of deacons at Brandon, Roy Lively and his wife Penny, also longtime friends. A hundred things bless me about this couple, but I love the way they give their total loyalty to whoever their pastor happens to be at the moment. When I was their minister and later when Gene Henderson became their leader, they proved themselves to be such wonderful church members, the kind any pastor would give his right arm to get.
“Do you know Wayne Jenkins?” asked Roy. Wayne is the director of evangelism for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. He is leading our New Orleans Prayer Walk next Saturday. He’s one of the finest. “We went to high school together in Baton Rouge,” Roy said.
I saw Wayne Monday afternoon in Monroe at our annual Louisiana Baptist Convention and mentioned this conversation. “Let me tell you about Roy,” he said. “We were on the high school baseball team together. Roy was a great first baseman. I was a utility infielder. Something happened and the coach made us come back for a Sunday practice. Roy said, ‘Coach, I can’t come. I have Bible drill Sunday afternoon at church.’ ‘Bible drill?’ he said. ‘Bible drill?’ Then he said, ‘I’ll tell you one thing, Lively, if you are not here Sunday afternoon, you will not play in the game the next day.’ And Roy went to his Bible drill that Sunday afternoon and sat on the bench the next day at the ball game. I’ve never forgotten that.”
I’ve wondered about Roy Lively. The man is so strong, so respected, such a great man of integrity. Turns out he didn’t get that way overnight. Somebody taught him from his youth. And did I say he is an agent for the Internal Revenue Service?
Fred Luter came into the exhibit area of the convention Monday night, the first time I’ve seen the pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church since pre-K. His administrator Vince Nzinga was with him. They looked great. I wrote down their cell phone numbers so we can stay in touch. “We’re moving into an apartment in Kenner at the end of this month,” said Fred. Good. We need this man. A lot of us are regularly lifting him to the Lord for guidance in his work on the mayor’s Bring Back New Orleans Commission.
This time every year, I prepare a series of cartoons to go along with the book of the Bible which Southern Baptists have selected for their January emphasis. This year, it’s Nehemiah. Sunday afternoon, when my son Marty returned to Charlotte, he took with him the 30 cartoons I had just finished. With the help of Miss Darilyn, his wonderful 8 year old daughter, he posted all the cartoons on our website. Thanks to the gentle prodding of Dr. Bud Traylor and reminders from pastors from one end of the country to the other, in spite of the Katrina related tasks and headaches, I went ahead and knocked these out. Hope they help. They’re available and of course completely free of charge at www.joemckeever.com. Use them any way you can to help teach this outstanding book. And remember…
The verse that fits our situation in New Orleans so much is 2:17. “Let us rebuild in order that we may no longer be a reproach….”