Early after Katrina, I decided (and publicly announced) that a new facet of my job was connecting people. Churches would call asking us to match them with a local congregation or pastor whom they could assist. People with gifts of material or money would call asking for information on where to send it. That lovely tradition, I’m happy to say, is continuing.
This week, twenty of our churches are receiving $10,000 checks from one congregation not far from here. The amazing part of that story is that this generous church was itself severely hurt by Hurricane Katrina. As their people have returned and restored their church and their community, they’ve reached out to some of our damaged churches. Such wonderful friends.
Sunday, during lunch at Old Union Baptist Church near Nauvoo, Alabama, a schoolmate whom I had not seen in nearly 50 years slipped a church offering envelope to me. On the outside, she had written that I should put this where I thought best. Inside were five one-hundred dollar bills. Today, Wednesday, I handed a bill to each of five men of God and said, “It’s from the Lord.”
It’s the part of my job I love best. Serving as the arms and hands of some pretty terrific people.
Wednesday was our final meeting at El Buen Pastor Iglesia Bautista in Metairie, and the ladies in the kitchen did themselves proud with the terrific lunch. Pastor Gonzalo Rodriguez, his lovely wife, and their wonderful members have set new standards of hospitality for churches. In the dining hall, our people spontaneously rose to give a standing ovation to the kitchen staff. We are so blessed by their love and faithfulness. Gonzalo said, “It was an honor for us to serve the men of God in this way.”
Our attendance at the pastors meeting was in the low 30s since another assembly was going on across town. Tom Elliff, vice-president of the International Mission Board, spoke at seminary chapel this morning, then hosted a ministers luncheon at 11:30 to which all our guys were invited. We assured them last week that all who could should attend. Several indicated that they did not plan to go, and with this being our final session at Good Shepherd, Freddie Arnold and I decided to stay with the flock.
Early this morning, we gave the floor to David Rhymes to tell of an unusual episode from last Friday. Readers of this blog will recall that I have told how Lori of North Carolina contacted us recently to ask if we could move Mrs. Pryor from New Orleans to her new apartment in Baton Rouge. I forget the reasons why the move was necessary, but Lori had taken care of several of our evacuees after Katrina and was now helping this lady, so agreeing to move her was a no-brainer, especially when we were assured that only two pickup trucks would do the job. She needed to move on Friday as her rent was up then. I was going to be out of town, so I asked David Rhymes to take charge.
“This is not in your job description,” I assured him. Actually, he’s our evangelism strategist for the 27 Zone Ministry. “But then, it’s not in mine either,” I laughed. He took the assignment. Today, he told us what that ended up involving.
“Last Wednesday at church, I was unable to get any volunteers. These days everyone who has a pickup is using it.” It was just as well he did not get pickups, he said, as it turned out. On Friday, he decided to rent a 17-foot U-Haul truck and move the lady himself.
“Then my phone rang. It was a friend from the seminary who is a counselor and hospice worker. I told him what I was doing and he said he was about through for the day, so he would come and help me. We agreed to meet at FBC Kenner. When we got there, we ran into Guy who was helping to decorate for a wedding the next day. He said, ‘I’ll help you.'”
“So now we had the U-Haul-It truck and my seminary buddy’s pickup. Good thing. When we got to Mrs. Pryors at about 2 o’clock, the house was filled with boxes and appliances and furniture. No way would we have gotten it all in two pickups. In fact, it filled both trucks to overflowing. Mrs. Pryor had no automobile, so she rode in the truck with us. Everything was going fine. We’re going to get up to Baton Rouge and unload and get back home at a decent hour.”
“It was not to be. I’m familiar with that portion of Baton Rouge. It’s low income, but not too bad. But the apartment was something else. The floors were buckling. It had major plumbing problems. The electrical plugs were hanging outside the wall. It was a fire trap. The place looked like it was ready to be condemned. Mrs. Pryor had rented it without seeing it. She refused to move in and we couldn’t blame her.”
“The question now was what to do. That’s when I called Brother Joe.”
It must have been 8 o’clock Friday night when David caught me at my parents’ house in north Alabama, playing rummy with my 94-year-old dad. David told me what had happened. I said, “All right, I’m going to give you some names. Start with the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge. Dr. Burn Page is a friend of mine.” (I hope he still is.) He wrote down two or three more names in case the pastor wasn’t available. The first was sufficient.
Dr. Page came out–it was late by now–and helped them. They put Mrs. Pryor up in a hotel and stored the truck and furniture at a satellite campus the church maintains.
I think they got some more Baton Rougans involved, and they’ve found the lady a better place to live. It was in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the three Good Samaritans returned to their New Orleans homes and crawled into their beds.
I do not know the seminarian who helped David. But I know Guy Farnsworth, a longtime member of the US Coast Guard and deacon at Kenner. If God ever made a sweet-spirited man with a servant heart and a strong back, Guy is the man. In 1994, he helped to move us from north Kenner into the house where we live now. Time and again, we have turned to him when we had a tough, thankless job. He’s the finest.
I wish you knew David Rhymes. He’s a younger version of Guy Farnsworth. Never a harsh word, never “why me, Lord?” A great spirit, a humble man, a willing heart, pure gold. A preacher’s kid, incidentally. David’s parents presently serve as house parents at the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home in Monroe, after pastoring churches through the years. David and his wife Jamie work with the Girls-in-Action and the (boys’) Royal Ambassadors at the Kenner church. They are high-return on low-maintenance.
When David finished the story, I said to the pastors, “David can preach a sermon around this event. What would you say are the lessons it teaches?” Someone called out, “When Joe asks you to do something, run!” Someone else volunteered that it illustrates the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, that your neighbor is whoever needs you.
It reminded me of something Margaret said forty years ago when we were getting started pastoring and had knocked ourselves out trying to help a family in our community. “I know now why most people don’t do things like this. It takes over your life. One thing leads to another. It’s so much easier just to put an offering in the plate and pray the Lord to raise up someone else to do the dirty work.”
I’m going to end today’s blog with this. But allow me to add one more thing. These three men–David, Guy, and the seminary friend–by their wonderful actions and Christlike spirit give the lie to the radio preacher who pronounced that all churches today are backslidden or dead. God has some outstanding people in this world, and they are proof indeed that the Body of Christ is alive and well.
We’re all the richer for such dear people.