For Those Who Like Facts

A few days ago our article, “The Misrepresenting of Billy Graham,” was posted on our website. We invited anyone with information on who wrote the spurious account claiming Mr. Graham went into the French Quarter preaching the gospel following his March 12 appearance in the New Orleans Arena, to leave that information in the “comments” section following.

Today, a local pastor told me who wrote the false story. At his request, I’m leaving names out of it. The author of the article is not someone I know, but he appears to be upset that the Graham team did not go into the French Quarter with the gospel, but instead holed up in the New Orleans Arena and invited everyone to “come hear us preach.” My pastor friend indicates that he and the author have had similar conversations in which they agreed to disagree on this subject.

My understanding is that the man wrote the article and that he mailed it out to many pastors and churches in the New Orleans area. We would have to ask him what his motives were, and will have to let the Lord be the judge of those motives. That suits me fine; I have enough trouble watching over my own.

I have gone to that article on my website and left an explanation to clear it up. The bad news is that this fake news-release the “concerned soulwinner” wrote is now circulating planet Earth, leaving people with false impressions of what happened in New Orleans. In fact, today, Monday, I received an e-mail from a leader of our Louisiana Baptist Convention asking if I knew whether that article was true or not.

If indeed the author-of-the-article wrote this out of resentment over Christians not heading to the French Quarter for soulwinning ministry–and it would appear to be what he did–I would say he reminds us of some church members we have known over the years who started weekly church visitation and soon became angry at all the other members who were not joining in that ministry. Sometimes, the most critical and mean-spirited person you’ll ever meet is a lazy, back-slidden church member who suddenly wakes up and gets busy for the Lord, then turns around and sees a lot of people precisely the way he was a few days ago.

My suggestion to such a church member is to keep working steadily for the Lord for a few years, then you will earn the right to turn around and rebuke the stragglers and urge the believers onward.

I keep thinking, however, of one of the last conversations the disciples had with Jesus. The Lord was telling Simon Peter what he could expect in the future, when Peter pointed out the Apostle John. “Lord, what about him?” he asked. Jesus’ answer still works for us today. “What is that to you?” He said. “You follow me.” (John 21:21-22)

Would you like some numbers? I have numbers to end all numbers.


Mike Flores is a deacon in the First Baptist Church of New Orleans and an executive with GCR & Associates, Inc., in New Orleans. In his business and as the executive chair of the Baptist Crossroads Project, Mike has access to information on the status of this city such as the rest of us see only occasionally in the newspaper. Consider, for example…

IN THE SUMMER OF 2005, NEW ORLEANS HAD

–a resident population of 455,000

–215,000 housing units (188,251 occupied)

–A viable Central Business District

–a thriving medical community

–a successful convention industry

And the city’s infrastructure adequately supported both the residents and businesses.

THEN, AUGUST 29, 2005, HURRICANE KATRINA HIT.

–The city was flooded and the waters remained for weeks.

–Virtually all the 454,000 residents were dispersed.

–134,344 housing units sustained reportable damage (and 105,155 were classified as major or severely damaged.)

–The economy was brought to a standstill. (Over 50 percent of businesses were in areas flooded by more than 2 feet of water.)

–Infrastructure was severely impacted. School system destroyed, criminal justice system inoperable, health care system decimated.

THE POPULATION CHANGES

–Over 335,000 residents lived in areas that sustained flooding of 2 feet or more.

–Today, we have a resident population of about 230,000, which is about 50 percent of pre-K level, and a slightly different demographic profile.

–In contrast, the metro area is at over 80 percent of its pre-storm population.

THE CITY RECEIVED THE BRUNT OF THE STORM

–Over 57 percent of all major and severe damage reported in Louisiana was in Orleans Parish.

–Over 134,000 (over 70 percent) of our occupied housing units had some damage.

–Over 108,700 housing units had more than 4 feet of flooding.

–Over 105,000 occupied units were classified as having major or severe damage.

–Over $14 billion in damage to residential property in Orleans Parish.

–A majority of rental stock and work force housing was lost.

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY

–Sales tax collections today are at 75 percent of pre-K levels in the city.

–Our major economic generators were not hurt as badly as our residential areas.

–Major industries are rebounding. Tourism is recovering, the Port of New Orleans has surpassed pre-K cargo volumes, and employment in the metro area is 70 percent of pre-K level.

–Four out of our ten pre-K hospitals are operational today.

–We have lost perhaps one-half of all our physicians and health-care professionals.

–Major investments are being made to rebuild and renew medical facilities. (LSUHSC and the VA have plans to invest over $1.2 billion in a major new downtown medical center; Ochsner Health Systems has acquired 3 shuttered hospitals and plans to restore service.)

THE SCHOOLS IN THIS CITY

–106 of the 126 public schools were severely damaged by Katrina.

–56 facilities will be ready to host an estimated 25,000 returning students by this fall. (Pre-K, the system had 62,000 students.)

–Private and parochial school enrollment this fall is expected to be at 70 percent of pre-K levels.

–Colleges are reporting enrollments of 75 percent of pre-K.

THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IN NEW ORLEANS

–Every aspect of the justice system was impacted by Katrina. (Civil and criminal court operations shut down for weeks; courts are now operating but at a diminished capacity. The DA’s office is running with limited staff and resources.)

–Some 1300 of NOPD’s 1670 officers have returned to service, and as of November, a new training class has begun to fill vacancies.

–Louisiana State Police and the LA National Guard are reinforcing NOPD’s presence in selected areas of the city.

SALES TAX COLLECTIONS ARE UP

–Jefferson Parish, up 42 percent

–Unincorporated St. Tammany Parish (the northshore), up 56 percent

–Mandeville, up 31 percent

–New Orleans, at 78 percent of pre-K

–Tangipahoa Parish, up 40 percent

–Livingston Parish, up 29 percent

POPULATION RE-DISTRIBUTION

By the first of next year (1-1-2007), the population of the metropolitan area is expected to be 1,200,000, compared with 1,400,000 pre-Katrina. Here’s how that shakes out.

–Orleans Parish pre-K had 35 percent of the population; now 20 percent.

–Jefferson Parish had 32 percent; now 39 percent.

–St. Tammany had 13 percent; now 19 percent.

The balance is scattered over St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, St. Bernard, etc., with each one having from 2 to 5 percent, up slightly over pre-Katrina numbers.

A famous preacher once brought a sermon on Romans 16 where the Apostle Paul ends his remarkable epistle with greetings to and comments on this person and that one. It’s a long list which most people only skim. The title of his sermon was, “Don’t Call It a List.” It’s not a list, he said, but the naming of each person, individuals, human beings with a character and a story all their own, people who are special and unique and beloved.

We might say this about Mike Flores’ “list” of numbers and statistics. Our eyes may glaze over at all these percentages and facts, but each number tells a truth about this part of the world, a fact we are having to deal with on a daily basis.

I sat in Mike’s office one day and saw how his computer is tied into the utility hookups of the city. “I can tell you at any given moment exactly how many electrical connections Entergy has in this city,” he said. Which leads me to say this: Mike’s numbers are not fancy guesswork like so much of the stats some community leaders throw around. He’s a lot like Sergeant Joe Friday.

He just wants the fact. Nothing else.

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